Why This? Why Now?
UTAH IS ON THE CUSP OF A TREMENDOUS WAVE OF GROWTH. THE STATE’S POPULATION IS PROJECTED TO GROW BY 2.5 MILLION RESIDENTS WITHIN THE NEXT THREE DECADES.
Our tech sector is competing with Silicon Valley and only a handful of other locations throughout the country for vibrancy and productivity. Our state representatives lead national committees and participate in national discussions. We have one of the most educated citizenry in the country. But those accolades are mostly the successes of men. The story of our women is very different: Utah ranks last in the nation for the number of women in state leadership positions. Utah ranks last in the number of women who are graduating from college and university. Our pay gap is one of the most severe in the nation. If Utah is going to continue to lead and rise in the coming decades, we must elevate our women to the same level of opportunity and visibility as we have our men. Better Days 2020 can help.
The year 2020 offers an opportunity to celebrate two auspiciously linked historical events: the 150th anniversary of a woman first voting in Utah (February 14, 1870) and the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment (August 1920), granting voting rights to all women nationally. Utah women led out 150 years ago in the fight for a woman’s right to vote. In the year when the whole country will be celebrating women’s political participation, Utah can lead the country again with a multi-channel campaign that educates, inspires and catalyzes important conversations about women.
With this landmark only three years away, our organization, Better Days 2020, is committed to having Utah lead out in the national celebration of women, just as Utah led in the emancipation efforts of the 19th century.
USING HISTORY TO IMPROVE TODAY
We have chosen to center the Better Days 2020 campaign on the suffrage anniversaries not just because suffrage was a turning point in women’s engagement in the modern world.
As historically significant as it is, we are more interested in using the historical context as a framework for telling stories about women who should be household names here in Utah. Women like Emmeline B. Wells, Martha Hughes Cannon and Sarah Kimball who established some of the first institutions in the state and represented the young state to detractors abroad. The historical context offers an abundance of stories and characters. As we tell their stories, we reflect on our own identities today. We examine our character, test it against the past and strengthen it for the future. What have we gained since then? What have we lost?
Additionally, the stories of multiple figures from the past frees us from putting too much burden on one or two token figures, and instead gives us a range to refer to and learn from. Specifically, Utahans are unlikely to be able to name a single woman from early Utah history, despite the fact that Martha Hughes Cannon’s statue resides outside the state capitol as the first female state senator in the whole country. And despite the fact that Emmeline B. Wells was one of the national leaders of the movement granting women the right to vote, and a bust of her stands in the capitol rotunda. The tragedy is that there are many women like these two to draw from, but their stories and identities are largely unknown, even among Mormons. Utah women today can have a broader spectrum of examples to look to from the past, if we but excavate their stories and hold them to the light. Being able to have a spectrum of Utah women’s experiences is contingent on the stories of Utah women getting told, not just the women who were the “firsts” or the “onlys”. If it’s just the first and the onlys, we will never get to the manys.
HOW UTAH WILL BENEFIT
Celebrating the stories of Utah’s founding mothers isn’t just good for the soul of our state. It’s good for our economy too. Better Days 2020 will improve the state’s brand and the productivity of our industries.
Right now, Utah is struggling with a brand crisis. This crisis might be getting lost in the accolades about our business environment, which often rank Utah high as a place to start or grow a business. But lurking beyond those stories are others: In 2014, Utah was titled “the worst state for women” by 24/7 Wall St. The New York Post included Utah on a list of five places in the world where women should not spend their travel dollars. These negative narratives about Utah directly affect the perceptions outsiders have about our state. This results in people not wanting to vacation here or move here because of what they hear. “I’m nervous to tell our clients in L.A. that I’m from Utah,” said one businessman recently. “I tell them I’m from Park City so they don’t think I’m provincial.” A female business student at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business recently told a conference crowd that she really didn’t want to come to the U for school. “I knew that if I went to business school in Utah, my first job would likely also be in Utah. As a woman, I was really nervous about working in Utah because of the horrible things I had heard about being a woman here.”
If Utah is seen as leading a nationwide celebration and having serious conversations about women in this state, the perceptions of Utah as a bad place for women will begin to shift. This will directly result in businesses being more willing to work with Utah companies, better recruitment opportunities for Utah companies who want to bring in outside talent, and a higher caliber and more diverse body of students coming here for school.
Currently, Utah has one of the lowest rates in the country of women on corporate boards, in executive positions, and in state leadership positions. Whereas in the past, advocates for women’s representation have stressed that having equal representation of women is simply the “right thing to do,” advocates today can point to a range of new research that shows that having diverse decision-making bodies directly correlates to increases in bottom line revenue.
A 2015 report from McKinsey Consulting, for instance, details how righting the gender inequity in the United States could result in $4.3 trillion increase in our annual GDP by 2025. The country’s 50 largest cities, can increase their own GDP by 6-13 percent. While the rest of the country is working on tapping into that economic potential of women, Utah cannot afford to sit aside or we will lose the momentum we are currently enjoying.
The McKinsey report also states, “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” This productivity comes as a result of smarter decision-making and market insight when women are involved, especially when the corporation’s primary target is women. (Incidentally, one of the primary researchers proving this improved decision-making power is BYU political science professor, Christopher Karpowitz.) Additionally, research also confirms that having three or more women on a corporate board outperform competitors by 53 percent. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for data points supporting the engagement of women in corporate and political bodies.
WHAT’S GOOD FOR WOMEN IS GOOD FOR UTAH
Businesswoman Sariah Toronto recently moved to Utah and, after reviewing some of the concerning statistics regarding women in Utah, said, “[These statistics] matter to me because I care about you, and I firmly believe that your standing at or near the top of one set of rankings is untenable over time if your standing at or near the bottom of the other set of rankings remains unchanged.” We echo Sariah’s sentiments: the accolades for our business environment and our political leadership will not last if we do not widen our embrace of our women politically and economically. Gender parity in government and the workplace is an issue that corporations and governments are putting more and more resources and dollars towards, and Utah cannot afford to fall behind.