There are many interesting Utah political races in 2022, from county commissioners to state legislators to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. And I believe that it is our responsibility and duty as U.S. citizens and residents to care about all of this, even though it can be stressful, and yes, even painful at times. Who we pick to represent us matters.
Through the years, I’ve had many people tell me that when electing someone to public office, the most important thing is that he or she is a “good person” and that gender doesn’t matter. And I agree with the first premise. Goodness matters. However, hundreds of rigorous studies have made it clear that gender also matters. Research continues to confirm that when both men and women serve together in more equal numbers within communities, counties and states, residents are better served and more likely to thrive.
So how are we doing in Utah? For an in-depth picture, check out the Utah Women & Leadership Project’s comprehensive report titled, “The Status of Women in Utah Politics: A 2020 Update.” Additionally, I would like to provide a few details about the top four political office categories that are used by WalletHub in its “Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality.”
Year after year, WalletHub has named Utah as the worst state in the nation for women’s equality in its annual reports. Its analysis compares the 50 states across 17 key indicators of women’s equality, and four of these metrics focus on “Political Empowerment,” where Utah ranked 49th of 50 states in 2021:
- Disparity in share of lawmakers in U.S. Senate: All states have two U.S. senators, and Utah has never elected a woman to serve in this role.
- Disparity in share of lawmakers in U.S. House of Representatives: Since Utah gained statehood, only four women have served in Congress, and two of the four served a single term. Currently, Utah has four representatives, and all are men.
- Disparity in share of lawmakers in state Legislature: Utah currently ranks 40th of 50 states in terms of this indicator. Currently, only 26% of Utah legislators are women.
- Disparity in share of state-elected executives: Utah has five elected statewide executive office seats: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor. With Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson now serving, Utah ranks 39th with this indicator.
Yes, we need honest, good, and wise political leaders. To best serve Utah and its residents, political bodies need to include more equal numbers of men and women. Yet, it is challenging. Women have been socialized to avoid being “visible” and using their voices in public spheres, so we need to do more to raise the political aspirations of girls and women.
Even more profoundly, our state presents a biased picture — both conscious and unconscious — that leaders should be male. Year after year, that’s what we see: a sea of suits in positions of power in our spheres of public influence. Unless we are intentional about learning more and being open to different styles of leadership, we often naturally vote for men. It’s what we are used to, particularly in highly visible roles.
We must be intentional, go off autopilot and make a conscious effort to seek out the good women who can represent us. They might do it differently, but perhaps new perspectives are what we need.
American democracy is based on the concept of representation, and about 50% of Utah’s population is female. Men and women can both be powerful politicians, and currently we have a host of high-quality women candidates who are running for office, providing us with a wonderful opportunity to diversify. Having good men and good women will elevate our state; this is a unique chance to elect more people who reflect the population.
So, all things being equal, choose representation. It matters.
Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.