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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, speaks during the 10th annual Women Tech Awards in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — While Utah companies continue to struggle in achieving employment equity in the technology sector, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Oracle CEO Safra Catz helped celebrate Utah's women tech leaders at an awards event Friday.

The Women Tech Awards is a program to "recognize women across all technology disciplines who are trailblazing new paths, leading and founding technology companies, and building innovative tools, technologies and experiences," according to the Women Tech Council, the Utah-based organization that's been hosting the event for the past 10 years.

Council co-founder and President Cydni Tetro said while Utah is home to a thriving innovation sector with more than 5,000 companies specializing in tech services and products, statistics reflect the Beehive State is lagging woefully behind the rest of the nation in the number of women represented across numerous tech employment categories.

"Less than 5 percent of tech executives in Utah are women, compared to 11 percent nationally," Tetro said. "And almost 40 percent of the women who go into tech leave the industry after seven years."

In addition, almost 40 percent of Utah women tech executives, when looking for a new position, look outside the state, she said.

One of the strategies embraced by the Women Tech Council to boost those numbers is helping young women who have yet to take that first step down a chosen career path envision themselves in tech leadership positions by exposing them to success stories.

"Hearing and learning from role models is a very powerful experience," Tetro said. "When they see these women leaders like Safra Catz, it translates for them, and they can see that, 'I can be one of these women.'"

Catz is one of the highest-paid woman executives in the country, with Forbes reporting her earnings at $40.9 million in 2016. She took over the reins as CEO of software giant Oracle in 2014 from company founder and billionaire Larry Ellison.

Catz, who has been with the company for nearly two decades, said it doesn't take more than simple logic to highlight how important it is to work toward equitable outcomes in the expanding realm of tech employment.

"It's very important that we have women in tech because tech is about solving problems that nobody realizes they have yet," she said. "You don’t want to exclude half your group. … You want the best people looking at things from different angles."

Hatch, an advocate for Utah's innovation business community who heads the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, lauded Catz for her exemplary success in a realm still dominated by male CEOs, as well as the Women Tech Council for working toward creating more women technology leaders to follow in Catz's footsteps.

"It didn't take me long to realize the greatest woman in tech today is Safra Catz," Hatch said. "Today, this is you. … You're laying the groundwork here in Utah to have some of the most innovative and creative things come to fruition."

Later in the day, the Women Tech Council celebrated seven award winners, 17 finalists and two university students chosen from more than 100 nominations.

Tetro said her group has recognized more than 190 women tech leaders since beginning the program, and the exposure has played a role in achieving the council's equity goals.

"We really focus on the economic impact that women have in technology and creating programs that demonstrate that impact," she said. "Studies show that when you have women in senior positions and on executive teams that they outperform other companies in revenue and profit.

"We believe the recognitions we make through the Women Tech Awards help accelerate the careers of the women we showcase, which amplifies their impact."

One of those awardees, Michelle Jackson, associate fellow in the metallurgy discipline for Utah aerospace leader Orbital ATK, said she'd seen a lot of changes in the three-plus decades she's been in the tech sector, adding that she believes Tetro's group is making a difference.

"I think this is a great program," Jackson said before the awards ceremony. "The work the Women Tech Council is doing in working with women and helping women to succeed is outstanding. … All of this helps."

While Tetro noted Utah's statistics reflect a lot of work still to be done, she said she's encouraged by the movement and improvements she's been able to be a part of since launching the Women Tech Council a decade ago.

"We’ve seen an acceleration in the last couple of years of people understanding what we first started talking about 10 years ago," she said.

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"What do we need to do in our culture and in the way we bring people together and in the way we ultimately want to operate to achieve success at every level with really great, talented people? I really believe the conversations start to eliminate some of the things that have been hidden, and in doing so everyone becomes aware, and when we become aware, we make better choices," Tetro said.

"If we use our talents and energies together to get positive outcomes, we’ll get them," she said.

For a complete list of Women Tech Award recipients, visit womentechcouncil.com.