SALT LAKE CITY — When 100,000 men and women were asked to respond to a series of simple statements in a survey, some wildly different responses were forthcoming.
Here are a few examples, capturing the net sentiments from each gender group:
• What does it mean when someone asks you, "What do you think?"
Women: It's an opening to a conversation.
Men: It's being asked to give an opinion or make a decision.
• Arguments are best supported by what?
Women: My personal experience and the experience of others.
Men: Facts, surveys and careful logic.
• Define success.
Women: Being valued while continuing accomplishments.
These starkly different answers, perhaps based on equally disparate understandings of the questions, are evidence of the hurdles that need to be overcome in the workplace to achieve gender equity, according Barbara Annis, a widely recognized expert on inclusive leadership and gender issues, and founder and CEO of the Gender Intelligence Group.
Annis was the featured speaker Tuesday for the Women's Leadership Institute's third annual ElevateHER Challenge Luncheon in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Women's Leadership Institute is a local education and advocacy group that has helped more than 150 Utah businesses adopt a committment to elevating the stature of women within their particular and unique business cultures. The group also encourages women to seek political office through providing nonpartisan training and resources.
Annis said the functional differences between men and women are far more elemental than the gender roles that come out of cultural socialization factors.
"These are differences that are hard-wired in," she said. "Our sense of ourselves as male or female is cemented into our brains in the first trimester of pregnancy."
And when it comes to creating "gender intelligence" in the workplace, Annis said, the challenge is learning to understand that men and women see and navigate the world differently, and there are no "better" or "worse" value statements to attach to those differences. Different, she said, is just different.
"For more than a quarter of a century, I've been involved in the effort to get women and men to speak the same language and to work together with gender intelligence," Annis wrote in her book, "Same Words, Different Language." "That is, with an understanding of and appreciation for the natural differences between men and women."
Pat Jones, former state senator and co-founder and former president of public polling and research firm Dan Jones and Associates, is the CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute, which formed in 2015. Jones said working toward gender equity could be a boon for Utah, whether it's in the corporate board room or the halls of the state Capitol.
"In her writing and speaking, Barbara does a great job of illustrating how the inherent differences between men and women are also complimentary, particularly when it comes to problem-solving," Jones said. "When there's a woman's voice and experience at the table, there's a better chance at getting to the best, holistic decision."
Annis said there's a triple bottom-line aspect when workplace gender equity is achieved that includes improved innovation, better market responsiveness and superior financial performance.
Jones noted that while her group continues to work against what she described as an "underappreciation of the value of what women bring" to jobs and political office, that a tide shift is underway.
"There's a growing awareness in our business community, and great supporters like our sponsors today, of the importance of this issue," she said.
The challenges, however, continue to be sizeable. Nationally, women only represent about 4 percent of CEOs and 1 in 4 senior executives of companies on Standard & Poor's 500 index.
In Utah, the political landscape skews heavily toward men, with women filling just 20 of the 104 elected positions in the Legislature.
Maxine Turner is the founder of Salt Lake catering business Cuisine Unlimited Catering and Special Events, and chairwoman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Council on Business.
Turner said she's been a supporter of the work of the Women's Leadership Institute since its inception, and she shares Jones' optimism for the direction Utah is moving on workplace gender equity issues.
"I'm encouraged to see a new realization by organizations here in Utah of all the positives that come with advancing women," Turner said.