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Guest opinion: By lifting women, you also lift men and families

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A December tradition in many families is to make a wish list of the presents we want to receive for the holidays. As a child I remember taking my list quite seriously. Should I ask for a softball mitt or basketball? A guitar or new books? Our family was large, and I did not want to appear greedy. My parents, however, knew that most of the items on my wish list were linked to facilitating the growth and development of my talents. There was no guarantee I’d get everything I wanted, but no shame in asking either. And I’ve learned over the years that asking can be essential to having one’s needs met.

As the director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project I find myself once again making a list this season, on behalf of the women and girls of this great state. Here are three things I continue to long for: 

First, I wish more people would understand that by lifting women you also lift men and families — it is not a zero-sum game. It can be tempting to think of rights, education and opportunities as a finite thing. We picture a pie chart and imagine that giving one group a bigger slice means a smaller slice for someone else. That’s not how it works.

A better metaphor would be fire, where lighting another’s candle doesn’t take away your heat and light, but just spreads the power. For example, history teaches that women’s rights go hand in hand with the development of democracy. Democracy is informed not just by the types of institutions and opportunities it has, but also by the different types of people who have access to those institutions and opportunities. And in developing countries, the increases in women’s and girl’s education correlates with higher levels of economic growth for the nation. As one person shines her light, we all feel the glow. If people understood this, it would make it easier to achieve my next two wishes.

Second, I wish more women would attend and complete all levels of college/university degrees, including graduate degrees. Higher education correlates to higher earnings and greater stability. It enhances life expectancy and the quality of that life. As for families, study after study shows that kids with college educated mothers have economic, academic and health advantages over peers who do not. Again, greater education enhances individuals, families and hence, society.   

And third, I wish Utah’s lawmakers would thoughtfully consider and pass more legislation that supports women and families. We need more money for teachers’ salaries, better support for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and legislation that decreases Utah’s gender wage gap. Let me reiterate that any laws that promote and protect the well-being of women will improve our communities and strengthen our families. Lifting women also lifts men and families.

So, light a fire this season by supporting and advocating for women. A wish for one is a wish for all. And that is not too much to ask.

 Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.