SALT LAKE CITY — Utah already scores poorly on America survey data looking at women in business leadership, but a recent study shows the state isn't getting any better or even staying the same: It's worsening.
“The Status of Women Leaders in Utah: A 2018 Update,” published by the Utah Women and Leadership Project, reveals since 2014 the percentage of women in top leadership roles in Utah companies with 100 employees or more has dropped nearly in half, from 11.6 to 6.4.
"We need to do better in Utah in getting woman leaders," said Susan Madsen, the study's main author and founder of the Utah Women and Leadership Project. Madsen started the project in 2013, which publishes research, provides workshops and seminars and collaborates with other entities that have related goals, all in the name of encouraging leadership among Utah women.
Madsen said she was surprised when the results came through for this 2018 study, because of her and other organizations' efforts in Utah to encourage women's careers since Madsen's first study in 2014.
"I was like, really, seriously? All this work and we haven't made progress," Madsen said. "But I think we have made progress, it's just not showing yet with that influx (of tech companies). But it shows that this work really is needed."
The study's sample size consisted of 775 organizations in Utah that had over 100 employees or were on Utah Business magazine's list of 45 largest public companies or both. The study's authors originally found 902 companies that fit this criteria but were unable to gather data from all.
The study also found that out of all in-state corporate CEOs, only 4.7 percent were women — another decrease in data since the first study in 2014.
As for company board members, the study's author was only able to obtain information from 143 Utah companies about the gender of the board chair and from 141 the genders of their board members. The results showed in Utah public companies, 10.7 percent of the board members were women; while in private companies, 12.8 percent of board members were female.
"Unconscious bias is as strong as ever," Madsen said. "Even though there's progress and really great companies looking at gender issues … there's still lots of organizations and CEOs and boards that just don't get that it's important. They don't care if there's a woman in their leadership."
Madsen said she believes one of the best ways to encourage more women to aspire to leadership careers is to simply expose them to women who are already doing it. Some offer these women a look at obstacles they faced early on.
Rosemary Card, CEO, Q.Noor
A few years ago, Rosemary Card was sitting in an LDS Church temple wondering what she was going to do with her career.
She had left her media producing job and was looking to start down a new path.
"I had the idea that someone needs to start making cute, comfortable temple dresses," Card said "I felt inspired by the women that were already doing little clothing boutiques, and I thought, ‘If they can do it, so can I.’"
From there, Card said her entrepreneurial progress was slow moving, but after 11 months, in 2015, she launched an online shop, Q.Noor. After some substantial growth in her company, she decided she could do her own shipping and warehousing better than her contracted fulfillment center, and she found a shop in Millcreek with a warehouse in the back and a retail area in the front.
"One of the reasons why I felt this is so doable for me is because I saw my mom do it," she said, adding that her mom raised her while running an interior design business.
Card said one of the challenges she faces is being taken seriously as a viable, growing, sustainable company rather than a "cute" job.
Recounting one experience, Card said her date, who had just started working at Adobe, asked her what she did. She told him about her company, and he responded by asking in a doubtful tone, "Does it make money? Is is profitable?"
Card, laughing at the memory, said she responded sarcastically: "I was like, 'No, my dad just pays for it so I can do it and keep busy till I get married.'" She then assured that Q.Noor is actually a very profitable business.
Card said she feels a lot of women doubt themselves when it comes to taking risks with their careers, which she thinks is a contributing factor to fewer women holding business leadership positions.
"I always say I didn't know anything about starting a company," she said. "I literally Googled the first night that I thought of (Q.Noor), 'How to start a clothing company.'"
Laura Butler, senior v.p., Workfront
Laura Butler is no stranger to participating in business meetings dominated by men. But she's found many male co-workers played a fundamental role in helping her advance her career.
"Men have had my back and have helped champion me when people in a meeting were talking over me," Butler said. Some men would speak up in those situations, she said, and interrupt by saying, "You know, I think Laura had something to say."
Butler, who moved from San Francisco to Utah early last year to work for the tech company Workfront, said despite Utah's low statistics on women in business leadership positions, she encountered an impressive, unique culture of women supporting women when she moved here.
"There's a tremendous network of women here that are extremely welcoming and inclusive and supportive," she said. "They reached out to see if they could help me be succesful when I started here. I've never seen a community who fosters women's confidence as much."
Butler said she wants to communicate a "yes you can" mentality to the upcoming generation of women considering their careers.
"Why not you?" she said. "As a woman you feel often times a sense of 'I don't want to rock the boat.' Have confidence, be bold, get out there."
Sydne Jacques, CEO Jacques & Associates
Sydne Jacques sat among a sea of men at her 1989 BYU graduation. She was only one of two women to graduate in civil engineering that day.
"I had so many guys tell me all the time, 'Aren't you just going to get married and have babies? You're wasting your time,'" she said.
Determined to prove better than the gendered commentary she endured, Jacques went on to found and run her own million-dollar engineering consulting company, start two nonprofits and a woman empowerment mentoring program — Empowering Women — all while being "just" a mom as well.
"I think it's probably unconscious a lot of times, but I think there definitely is a bias that men are better at engineering and construction than women are," she said. "We just grow up thinking that's what boys do and it's not what girls do. And so I think it's hard to change that bias and prove that we can do it, too."
After graduation, she worked long enough to get her professional license, but soon learned she didn't enjoy office life.
"Sitting in a design cubicle made me crazy, and so I started my own business," she said.
Twenty-four years ago, Jacques started out on her own, consulting companies in the engineering and construction fields. But then her company grew, and she started adding employees, and after five years, when the company was making over a million dollars a year, her husband left his job to join her company.
"Honestly, I think in engineering and construction, we (women) are even less represented," she said. "When a father has children it doesn't affect their career path, whereas with a mother there's a lot more expected as far as balancing the roles."
Jacques said one of the reasons she started her own business was to have the freedom to raise her kids but still have a career.
"One of the biggest challenges is that a lot of us want to be mothers and be successful in our careers," she said. "And sometimes other people think that you can't do them both, which I disagree."
One of the main messages Jacques communicates to the women she mentors, many of who, are engineers themselves, is "wherever you are right now is perfect for this time."
"I really do think that more and more opportunities are opening up and the future is just getting brighter and brighter than it ever has been before," she said.
Elle Griffin, editor, Utah Business
For Elle Griffin, it only took one role model to inspire her to be ambitious in her career.
"Growing up, my father was a successful businessman, and I was able to see what it would look like to have my own career and my own income, and that was very empowering to me," she said. "Being able to imagine an independent life for myself made all the difference."
As editor-in-chief at Utah Business, Griffin oversees the yearly feature "30 Women to Watch," highlighting 30 nominated women creating waves in the Utah business community.
Griffin said Utah demographics are unique, with its largely white population and the highest percentage of stay-at-home mothers.27 comments on this story
"There is nothing wrong with either of those things, but it means our companies are comprised of mostly white males," she said.
As for changing Utah's statistics for women in business leadership, Griffin said it's up to women themselves.
"I think it’s less a matter of trying to get women into the workforce and more a matter of empowering women who want to, to take a seat at the table," she said. "For a lot of women that might mean exposing them to the business environment, and allowing them to experience a sense of success with it."