We hope you enjoy listening to this episode of Therefore, What? — a podcast from Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson — and hope you will consider subscribing. You can find and subscribe to this and other podcasts from the Deseret News at DeseretNews.com/Podcasts. You can also find us on iTunes, on the Apple Podcast App or on Google Play. And remember to rate this episode and write us a review. The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
The October 2018 Time magazine cover story asked the question, "Can American men and women ever be equal?" Answers and positive models come from an unexpected, yet not surprising place. Sheri Dew shares her experience on this week's edition of Therefore, What?
Boyd Matheson: Sheri Dew is the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation. She also served in the past in leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints women's organization, the Relief Society, and she was the White House delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women to the United Nations. Sheri, thanks for joining us today.
Sheri Dew: Nice to be here. Thank you.
BM: So recently, you were up in Seattle, Washington. President Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was speaking to 50,000 people at Safeco Field, and in an event prior to that event, a special meeting with community leaders, religious leaders, business leaders, you had the opportunity to address that group in terms of what was happening in Seattle and around the world. Share a little perspective in terms of what you shared up in Seattle.
SD: Well, I was invited by some of those event organizers to take literally four minutes. So this was not a discourse by any means. But they said in four minutes, could you please outline for, again, the business leaders, the community leaders who will be there, what the role of women is in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I said, four minutes, really? OK, well, how much damage can one do in four minutes? But it was a privilege. And in fact, I had a lot of conversations with individuals who were there prior to and after this preliminary event. So my purpose that day was basically to give a very broad stroke of explaining the different capacities in which women work and serve inside of the church. I talked about my time in the Relief Society general presidency, what I saw on the humanitarian side, reflected for them about this call that was made to the women of the church, essentially, when the conflict was going on in Kosovo. And I think we needed 40,000 quilts to help prepare refugees in Kosovo, or refugees from that conflict, for the upcoming winter. And we sent out a call to the women of the church. And within like, 60 days, we had 140,000, and we could never turn the spigot off. I'm guessing that even today, trucks are rolling in out at the humanitarian center with quilts in them, just because there is a readiness. Women in the church are at the ready. They're ready to serve, they're ready to help, they're ready to do anything.
And part of that is because of the way we're trained in the church. It's a remarkable training program, when you think about it. Sometimes there are those who think that women don't have a very distinguished role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I just always find that really puzzling. And a little perplexing. I mean, a couple weeks ago, I'm watching as a 14-year-old girl in my own congregation walks to the pulpit in sacrament meeting, for our regular worship service. She's poised, she's smart, she's articulate, she gives this great discourse on joy, talking about where joy comes from. And I'm thinking, OK, where do you see that? Where you see that kind of preparation? So from the time we're little we learn to speak in public, we learn to lead, we learn to organize, plan, prepare, rally people, it's just, we just get trained, and we get trained, quote, unquote, because we're usually serving. And one of the things that I've learned through the years is that once you've been in charge of something, so you've been the president of some organization in the church, let's say, that's when you actually really know what you hope everybody else does, right? So when you're no longer the leader, you know how to help the leader. So we know how to lead and we know how to follow. And that's part of the reason that I think women, Latter-day Saint women, they're just capable, they know how to do things, they know how to reach out, they know how, again, they know how to lead, and they know how to follow.
BM: Yeah, very fascinating. I had a conversation with one of my daughters, who is down in California now, but working with a lot of her peers across the country. And she called me yesterday, and we were talking about that preparation that you're talking about. She said no one knows how to give a talk in public, no one knows how to organize or, you know, hold people accountable or follow up. So those lessons are critical, not only in preparing women for leadership, but there's also a component of that, that prepares men to follow that kind of leadership.
SD: And to listen, to be willing to listen to — I mean, I would guess that if you start doing the math, women have in the church about as many leadership spots as men do. Maybe not quite as many. But almost, they probably give about as many lessons, they probably speak from the pulpit about as many times, probably teach about as many classes. So again, if you are a regular participant in the church, you're going to have what we call a calling, an assignment, that lasts for some period of time, and you're going to do it, and then you're going to get a new one, and you're going to do something different. And then you're going to get another one, and they're going to do something different. So one day, you can be the stake Relief Society president and two years from now, you could be planning sharing time for the children, which is a primary activity for little children. I would add to that, that again, if you just do the math, we've got congregations in, oh, 190-ish countries or so. I don't know the exact number of congregations that we have. But if you just add up the number of women serving in legitimate, bona fide leadership positions, right now, as we speak, there's probably four or five hundred thousand women in all these countries who are leading. They're leading women, they're leading children, they're leading young women and they're teaching doctrine, they're proselytizing as missionaries. We just learn to do things. It's real simple.
BM: Absolutely. So going to this Time magazine cover, it was so interesting, they had the Declaration of Independence on the front cover, October issue of Time Magazine. And they had of course, the famous line all men are created equal. And then of course, you had in red with a little up arrow, and women, but then they posited the question, "Can American men and women ever be equal?" And to look for solutions to that. It was kind of a surprising, not surprising thing in terms of where that is actually happening. And one is right here in the state of Utah, as it relates to higher education. We've got five out of eight of the colleges and universities in the Utah system of higher education that are being led by extraordinary women leaders. Over 70 percent of the college students in Utah are led by a woman president. And again, why do you see that happening? Why is that? Should we be surprised or not surprised by that?
SD: Well, and I'd add one more thing. BYU has announced the new incoming dean of the Marriott School (of Business). I don't think she's in her post quite yet, but will be very soon. Her name is Brigitte Madrian, I believe. Currently a professor of public policy at Harvard, this is a talented woman. So you start to look — you can look around, the former dean of the University of Utah medical school, Dr. Vivian Lee was a very accomplished leader. I think it's an interesting thing because sometimes Utah gets the rap that says, well, women, you know, they're — I don't like this phrase, but I'm going to use it anyway — that's a state that's just barefoot and pregnant. And nobody actually knows how to do anything. And the women are oppressed and dah dah dah. And again, it just hasn't been my experience. Now, I acknowledge there are many remarkable women in this state who have devoted themselves to their families and they're remarkable mothers and some work outside the home and some don't. They all work. I don't see a harder job anywhere than being a mother. So they're all working. But yes, we may have — I don't know, I don't even know that we have more full-time mothers in Utah than we do in other states — but what I would say is, I think our state is conditioned to listen to women. Again, if you look at the dominant faith group, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they're listening to women every week alongside the men, going back to the "can men and women ever be equal." I hate the equal word. I think that's the wrong word. But can men and women both flourish and shine and achieve their own maximum capacity? Yeah, for sure. And my experience also is that in any setting, and I think I've learned this in work, at work, actually, that better decisions, better results come out when men and women are working together because they all contribute something slightly different to the mix.
BM: Fascinating, it's interesting — Susan Madsen, women leadership project at Utah Valley University, made an interesting comment on that very issue in terms of getting to the best results and talked about, particularly in academia and research places, that it really wasn't so much about how many were in there. But she said that having women and men in the conversation can affect the nature of both the questions asked, and the findings found. I think that's interesting in terms of that it's really a oneness is not sameness as opposed to equal.
SD: Equal's a funny word, and sameness is a funny word, but boy, I'm telling you, sometimes I could go back to a company that I used to lead. And inevitably, if there was a really bad decision made, a really bad mistake, where we just missed it on something, we just blew it on something, when you tracked it back to say, OK, where was that decision made? Only in the spirit of how do we improve it for the future. Inevitably, it was made by either all women or all men. It was just uncanny. And so I like to be in a room where there are men and women counseling together, because I think the questions do change, I think we hear things differently. We tend to, I think we tend to focus on certain things. And I would readily acknowledge that I am often in a room where I'm the only woman, with lots of men and I love actually working with men. I respect them, I admire them, they tend to have talents and gifts I will never have. And I think it's fair to say that when I can see other women in the room, they're hearing different things, and it contributes to the overall conversation in a very distinctive way. I just think that's true. I just think that's a true principle, that men and women coming together, actually counseling together, they come up with very good results.
BM: I want to go through these five women who are leading the major colleges and universities here in Utah, because each one has a unique story and a unique perspective that I think leads to a principle, and I'd love to have you play off of these thoughts with your experience, both as an executive in business, also as an auxiliary leader of the largest women's organization in the world in the Relief Society. So let's start at UVU. We had the opportunity as the editorial board of the Deseret News to have President (Astrid S.) Tuminez in last week. And wow, talk about a firecracker of a person. But the principle that I came away with was, she kept referring to it as a community of kindness, starting back when she was 5 years old. And these nuns literally lifted her out and gave her an opportunity to get an education and then to see that roll into her ability to speak seven languages and advanced degrees and international experience and studies in Russian as a diplomat and negotiations and running Microsoft in Asia, just amazing things. But it started from this community of kindness and a focus on that. From a women's leadership perspective, how do you see that in both business, in our communities, and in our country?
SD: I would almost compare it to something my dad used to say. And that was, and he's not the only one, he just used to quote it. He used to say, it's hard for people to do their best when they're worried about where their next meal comes from. And that, for me, compares with the statement that there's no creativity in a minefield. And I just, I suppose that one of the things that — look, there are women who are leaders who are hard to deal with, there's no question — but I would guess that most female leaders have a tendency to see the human side and to care about the human side and to care about, which is not to say men don't. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying there is a natural empathy that when you're sitting across the desk from someone who's just blown it, maybe cost a lot of money or done something that didn't work well, there is an instinct to say, how will we do it better next time?
BM: That's a great, great, great leadership lesson.
SD: And look what she's learned. She's had that, it looks like, her whole life.
BM: Yeah, exactly. So let's go to Ruth Watkins up at the University of Utah. Small town Iowa, graduate of Kansas, so go Jayhawks — I know that matters. But she has focused on this idea of making a contribution. And this idea that we're never really happy or satisfied. Unless we're contributing. We're using our gifts and talents on a regular basis. And you've been able to see this and many unique situations determine how do we maximize our talents and abilities to contribute to society.
SD: Couldn't agree more. I think we each have a divine orbit. That's the way I like to talk about it. And I've seen her say that and I've thought oh, President Watkins, I'd like to meet you and talk to you. Because I totally agree. I think we have a divine orbit. There are people we are uniquely prepared and able to reach and influence, and places that were uniquely prepared to go and to have influence. And I think that we're wired that way. And that if we're not there, we're not happy. So I'm totally with her that I think part of the challenge of life is figuring out where are we supposed to be, and then being there and doing the best we can, whatever that is in the moment.
BM: Yeah, I love that divine orbit, because it also plays into why so many are unhappy. That divine discontent, because we're not using those natural talents. Alright. Noelle Cockett is up at Utah State University. Another farmer's daughter. Grew up on a ranch in Montana. And she came away from this experience — when she was young, her father passed away, they had six children and her mom put herself through nursing school. And so it was kind of that grit, determination, and we're going to be OK. And I know you've seen women do that around the world.
SD: It's often the strength of the mother, that, if I just even look at my own family, let alone friends. It's often the strength of the mother, that when it comes to the penetrating influence on the children, when their world is rocked by something, maybe the death of a father or something else, it can be a divorce, it can be other things, or serious illness or something that just rocks your world for a period of time. It's again, I am not ever minimizing the impact of fathers, which I think is absolutely, fundamentally, profoundly important. But that mother, that woman often is the one that pulls those kids through. I've seen it in my own family. And I just think there is a kind of courage that's instinctive, almost, inside of women. I'm not sure we credit women with that. But I believe that's a true statement.
BM: As someone who has seven sisters, a mother, a wife and three daughters, there is definitely that kind strength.
SD: If for nothing other than political safety you better agree with that.
BM: Yeah, no, I mean, I still have a bruise on my shoulder from when my sister Vicky taught me how to box-out in basketball. Or a bruise on my hip from my best friend's mother.
SD: That's a girl after my heart. In Kansas, you learn how to play basketball, and you absolutely learn how to box-out.
BM: That's right. All right, Deneece Huftalin at Salt Lake Community College, her focus and the focus of her organization is really centered in this idea of the strength of diversity, of valuing diversity. She often talks about how their classrooms are at their best when they are diverse. And they have classes that have, you know, 16-year-olds and 69-year-olds and every ethnic group. And she talks about a class only being at its best when there is strength in that diversity, valuing it, recognizing it and looking for the lessons there.
SD: Totally agree with that. That's just a better amplification of what I was trying to say earlier about I want men and women in the room when we're discussing something difficult. And yes, if now, you can add in different cultural points of view, different points of view about life and about how things work, whether you're talking about socioeconomic status, or marital status, or anything else. I just think it makes the conversation richer. It's part of the reason that travel, though it's exhausting, has its benefits, because you see people everywhere who are confronting the same problems, but finding often different kinds of solutions for those problems. I couldn't agree more. I think she's exactly right.
BM: All right, then, finally, Bethami Dobkin at Westminster College. And I love how she frames that what everyone really wants, particularly in a college setting, as she looks at her students, is looking for identity, community and purpose. Give me an example of women leading and helping people attain that identity, community and purpose.
SD: Again, I resonate very much with that. I'll tell you an example that struck me. And this is not somebody I know personally. But some years ago, I happened to flip on a program on TV. And it was a feature story on a female Marine, and she was being lauded for some heroic act that she had performed. So whoever was interviewing her kept saying, how did you do that? How did you do this very heroic thing under difficult circumstances? And she would give her answer, and clearly the interviewer was not happy with the answer because he kept coming back, now let's talk again about that episode. And how did you do that? Well, you know a Marine is — they characteristically have this demeanor, they do not break, right? But after about the fourth time that this guy asked her that she finally kind of broke her marine-like demeanor. And she said, Look, I'm a Marine, OK, and that's what Marines do. They're brave under fire. I thought, wow, you want to talk about the power of identity, how you see yourself? Absolutely, I think propels you in terms of what you're able to do, and willing to do. That's why I think someone coming to understand who they are, and who they've always been, is a crucial life learning and that once you start to get a feeling for that it helps you figure out what your divine orbit is.
BM: Yeah, excellent. Very good. So as we look at these women, and we start to look at different leadership components and what that means, I want to hit just a couple of other things. One interesting thing that with all of the political shenanigans going on in the country today, women in politics is an interesting thing. Obviously, there aren't as many women as men, even though the numbers prove out that when a woman does choose to run her chances of winning are every bit as good as her male counterpart. What do you think needs to happen in order for that number to continue to grow? What do you think the advantages are of women leadership in the political space?
SD: I'm probably not the best one to respond to that question. Because there are others in this state who are much better versed on this. But from my observation, it looks as though that's one of the areas in this state, in the state of Utah, where we're lagging a bit behind. Now, there seemed to be a number of very accomplished women who are in the Utah State Legislature. But with one or two exceptions, I haven't seen them have a dominant voice, and I'll get myself in major trouble here and you and I will both get horrible letters. But I think the political situation in our state really needs some help. It's so dominantly controlled by one party, that I think that that's problematic and actually runs counter to what works best in our society. And I would like to see women have some dominant roles alongside men, not instead of, but alongside. Because I'll just repeat it again, what I said earlier, my personal experience has been that better results occur when there are men and women in the room who all have a voice. It can't just be secretaries lining the wall. It needs to be women and men who have a voice and who contribute in a spirit of collaboration to try to reach not what their best idea is, but what the best idea is. So I do think that's an area in this state where we need some help, and maybe we do in the country as well.
BM: Definitely across the country. This is not a Utah specific challenge, for sure. So I want to hit two things quickly, that I think often are a challenge for women, particularly as they try to move into leadership roles. And as they use those gifts in that divine orbit to really make a difference, and that the two areas are first, this whole social media driven comparison thing. I've always said that viewing life through comparison is always fatal vision. And I think women have a particular challenge with that. And then the second component is the imposter syndrome, that feeling that if people knew how really insecure I am, or if people knew how, you know, awful a person I really am, or how weak I really am, you know, they'd run me out of the building. So address those two things from a woman's perspective in terms of comparison to that imposter syndrome.
SD: So, let's go with the imposter syndrome first. Yeah, I totally get that. A very good friend that I have, whom I've known for years, says, you know, Sheri, you're one of the two most insecure women I've ever met, and I finally said to her, and what's your point with that? Like, what's the problem with that? I'm not sure I've ever had the sensation in my life that I had something under control, or that I actually deserved a seat in the room or at the table. It's just not a position from which I operate. And so I don't actually know how to address that. I finally decided at my age to just roll with it. It is what it is, and I'm going to do the best I can with the things I've been asked to do and go forward. I do think it's real. I don't think I'm particularly unique in that, probably. The other question in terms of comparing, oh, my goodness, it's a trap. I'm not sure if men do it like we do. It doesn't look like you do. But you can never know. Right? But we fall into that trap sometimes. And I remember something that Sister Marjorie Hinckley, who was the wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who is a former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, something Marjorie Hinckley said, that just cracked me up. She said, You know, I think that I would like to be 55, that age, through all eternity, because it's before your body has started to break down. But you've stopped competing and just settled down to living. There is a certain thing that comes with age. I wish that I had a prescription for helping you get there before you hit 50, or 55, or 45, or 65, or wherever it works, wherever it happens. I do think that the best way to try to attack stopping worrying about how you compare with a woman next to you, because there's always somebody fatter and always somebody skinnier. There's always somebody smarter, and always somebody that doesn't have your particular training. You can find everything, but to me, it's finding your divine orbit.
BM: Yeah, definitely. I remember Sister Hinckley sharing, I think it was a note she wrote to her daughter that said she was on the sixth day of her new training program, and she was pleased to report she was only five days behind.
SD: Yeah, exactly. So there's just this thing about saying, if you figure out where your orbit is, and if I could put it this way, what does God want you to be? How can you help your fellow man the most? Where can you, with whatever talents and gifts you've been given, where can you have the most influence and do the most good for others? If you can figure out where that is, some of the tendency to compare and compete melts away.
BM: Definitely. So as we as we come down the homestretch, I want to hit one last area.
SD: This is about your fourth last question.
BM: It's the false finish. OK, I've mastered it. So there are many movements for women and women leadership. And some of them seem to be caught in this grievance mentality, that everything is a grievance against men, that it's women or men, and they seem to get caught in what they don't have, or what's not there. And you've had experience as a biographer amongst very extraordinary men, you've worked in corporate settings in the United Nations, you've been in all of those settings. And I think you have a unique perspective there. And I heard you share one time, an example from President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in terms of that. Not having a scarcity mentality as he was doing his early research in the heart. So maybe you can tell us a little bit how do we get past the grievance mentality, and how do we get to the abundance mentality?
SD: You know, I had somebody tell me just the other day, somebody who works very closely with him every day, who himself is an extremely bright, capable, talented person said, President Nelson is a remarkable combination. He said, he may be one of the brightest men I've ever met, which in and of itself, was quite a statement because this person has traveled in very elevated intellectual circles. And he said, but he may be the most humble person I've ever met. And that's an amazing combination. And whether we're talking men or women, to me, that's what we could aspire to. So the circumstance you're telling about, if we have time to tell it, I'll tell you the story. It's amazing. So here he is, in medical school he's taught that you cannot touch the human heart, any physician who attempts it will be discredited as a physician, then he's off to University of Minnesota medical school as an intern, where he lands himself on the team building the first ever heart-lung machine and goes on to become the first person to do open-heart surgery in Utah. One of about the first three or four in the country. He's absolutely recognized around the world as one of the preeminent early open-heart surgery pioneers. He tells the story about how in those early years of pioneering, where they're now doing open-heart surgeries, but patients are dying. I mean, they're learning. Some are living, some are dying, and they're learning as they go. So when they would go to medical conventions, and again, they're just a few of them, they would share everything. What they were learning, what worked, what didn't work, have you tried this? I just tried that. Here's why I think that works and so forth. And he was describing just this interplay and sharing of information and knowledge. Somebody in the room when I heard him tell the story said, weren't you worried about getting the credit? And he said, you know, getting the patent or getting written up in the medical journal that you are the one who did this for surgery or whatever. And he said, he kind of had this stunned look on his face. He said, Oh, no, our competition, direct quote, our competition was not with each other. Our competition was against death, disease and ignorance. That's what we were competing against. And in that moment, I thought, oh, my goodness, what would happen in our world? If men and women everywhere said, I'm going to share anything that I've learned? I'm going to share with you, will you share with me? We'll all get better together. I know it sounds kind of, you know, like a walk through the hollyhocks and it's hard to imagine with what we see playing out on the stage in our world today and in Congress today and so forth. But can you imagine — his belief I think, I don't want to put words in his mouth. But his belief is that we are so accomplished today in heart surgery because of those early years where really great men and women shared what they were learning. And if you could write a formula that's the one you'd write.
BM: So President Nelson, going from a surgeon with that abundance mentality to the leader of a world religious organization as prophet and president of the church, who also has been influenced in interesting ways by women, nine daughters, and Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, who is ...
SD: Remarkable in her own right, as was his first wife, Dantzel who passed away, ironically, from a heart attack with him sitting next to her holding her hand — he tried to revive her and couldn't. And she was a remarkably strong woman. And Wendy is a remarkably strong women, talented, smart, educated, and he has nine daughters, who are just amazing, and a whole raft of granddaughters, and even more great-granddaughters. You see their influence with him and his influence on them. Again, it's this beautifully reciprocal situation and arrangement.
BM: Well, normally at the end of the program I get to do the Therefore What? — what do we do next? What does it mean? So the first time in our Therefore, What? history I'm going to let you give the Therefore What? What should we come away, as we've talked about these extraordinary women, we've talked about leadership, we've talked about women around the world. What's the Therefore, What? that we all should be thinking about, as we leave today?24 comments on this story
SD: For me the Therefore, What? is the point that you've hit on several times, and I've tried to as well, and that is that we do better when we work together. When we learn from each other, we drop in each other's strengths rather than kind of bristle. Because I'll tell you, in an earlier stage in my career and working, and I never really thought I'd have a career but that's what happened. And so I remember being kind of annoyed at some of the men in the room, just thinking, oh, my gosh, don't they get it? And boy, did that ever change when I became the leader and I realized how much I needed what they had, because they had things I did not have and would never have them. So for me, the Therefore, What? is imagine if we can actually pull out of each other the strength that everybody has and put it together, because we'd be solving some of our big problems faster if we did that. I think that's the nub of this issue for me.
BM: Fantastic. Sheri Dew, thanks so much for being with us today. Remember, after the story is told, after the principle is presented, after the discussion and debate have been had, the question for all of us is Therefore, What?