Around this time last year, Gov. Spencer Cox made an important decision on his path to the governor’s office — he asked Deidre Henderson to be his running mate.
At the time, Lt. Gov. Henderson was serving in the Senate and proved herself a formidable leader among the majority male members in the Legislature. She was (and still is) well-respected, talented, smart and had the skills to manage challenging legislative issues and keep order in contentious legislative hearings.
He didn’t ask her to run because she was a woman, but he also didn’t pass her over for that reason. He was not afraid of the optics of selecting a woman as his wingwoman or threatened by her intellect. The leader of our state selected the best person for the job while also embracing the value of diversity and perspectives that would result in a stronger Utah by resisting the pull of the familiar and selecting someone whose life experiences as a woman were different than his own.
Cox has asked Henderson to lead important initiatives for the state, from the logistics related to vaccination distribution to their administration’s legislative agenda. He recognizes that her talent and perspective are important assets to meeting the priorities of the state, and he is not afraid to share the important work of his administration with her. He is seeking her involvement well beyond the ceremonial to the highly meaningful. After selecting Henderson, he could have stopped there and taken credit for having a gender diverse administration simply by having her working alongside him. Instead, they both are demonstrating that diversity requires more than a token representative from a particular gender, race or ethnicity.
The Cox-Henderson administration is striving to break barriers for women in government by creating a senior staff and Cabinet composed of more women leaders at the highest levels of government. We are the seven female Cabinet members who bring experience, knowledge, diversity and perspective to advise the governor in meeting the priorities and challenges voters elected him to address. We are mothers, spouses, daughters, sisters, neighbors, friends. We represent different faiths, political views and life experiences, and we bring these perspectives to work everyday on behalf of the citizens of Utah.
While we are proud to work for an administration that values diversity, we believe, along with Cox and Henderson, there is more space for women in senior governmental leadership. A recent Utah State University found 39% of women in government are in managerial positions despite comprising roughly 50% of the workforce in state government.
We are here because our governor believes that improving outcomes across this great state requires inclusion and diversity of all voices.
The Cox-Henderson administration has been bold in its effort to be an important agent of that change. They are leading by example to ensure workplaces include gender, race and ethnic diversity and speak out against discrimination in workplaces, schools, the criminal justice system and in partisan politics. We are part of the progress toward the goals included in the Cox-Henderson One Utah Roadmap to prioritize equity, diversity and inclusion in state government and encourage private businesses to do the same in their C-suites.
We know when women are purposefully at the table and not simply token voices among men, performance improves and our voices are heard rather than minimized. In fact, a recent BYU study found that having a single seat at the table reserved for one woman does not mean having a voice. When women are the sole voice, they hesitate to use it and are viewed as less authoritative and frequently ignored.
Utah leaders have the opportunity to respect the perspectives of women who bring their intellect, talents, opinions and life experiences to the table to achieve goals as well as solve complex challenges and problems, be it in business, nonprofits, universities or government.
We are here because our governor believes that improving outcomes across this great state requires inclusion and diversity of all voices. We are respected for our skills and talents first. We are proud to serve the Cox-Henderson administration to demonstrate a woman’s place is in the home, the boardroom, the Legislature, the Cabinet and anywhere decisions are being made.
Tracy Gruber is the executive director of the Department of Human Services. Margaret Busse is the executive director of the Department of Commerce. Casey Cameron is the executive director of the Department of Workforce Services. Tiffany Clason is the executive director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Jenney Rees is the executive director of the Department of Administrative Services. Jill Remington Love is the executive director of Department of Heritage and Arts. Kim Shelley is the executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly named Kim Shelley as the director of operations of the Department of Environmental Quality and Casey Cameron as the deputy directo fo the Department of Workforce Services. Ms. Shelley and Ms. Cameron are the executive director of their departments.