Opinion: What women can add to the workforce — if we remove these obstacles
If we can tackle the gender pay gap, get women into leadership positions and solve child care needs, Utah women will thrive
As we celebrate women’s history this month, it is important to remember all that women contribute to our present and future. The Salt Lake Chamber is tackling the obstacles women face and working to ensure continued progress on a host of issues. Central to our work is the belief in our mission to champion community prosperity, and one way we do this is through empowering women!
Several local organizations provide a complete suite of services to support women in our community from starting a business to leading change in society. For Utah to reach its full potential, and I believe that is one of expanded prosperity, we each can do more to combat the challenges associated with gender pay equality, women’s leadership in business and government and child care needs.
Pay equality is an area of opportunity for Utah businesses and one that continuously needs addressing. According to new research, Utah’s gender pay gap is the third worst in the nation with women making 37% less than men in the same jobs. Salt Lake City has less of a gender pay gap than statewide numbers, but remains 23% lower for women in the workplace. The gap widens when we look at women of color and other underrepresented groups when it comes to representation in leadership. The good news is the Salt Lake Chamber and the Women’s Leadership Institute are working together to close the gender wage gap and elevate women in the workplace.
Some best practices are contained in one of Women’s Leadership Institute’s signature programs called the ElevateHER Challenge. These start with conducting a workplace analysis of pay by role, level and gender to understand where gaps exist. Then you set goals to hire and promote more women to build your leadership pipeline, include more women on your board, and mentor those you currently employ. A strong business case exists for women in senior-level positions as it increases return on investment, helps retention and boosts morale. The bottom line is this issue will not resolve itself, but we have the solutions available to reverse this trend if we take action. Business leaders can start with the ElevateHER Challenge.
In addition, the Women’s Business Center of Utah is making significant inroads in women’s leadership in business through entrepreneurship training and development. This year marks the 25th anniversary of WBCUtah and they have served more than 50,000 business owners to date. Signature services include a Diverse-Owned Business Accelerator and Minding My Own Business program to help women entrepreneurs take their product or service to the next level. Entrepreneurs especially know the kind of effort it takes to start and run a business, and our women founders are some of the brightest startup minds in the state.
When we support women who run businesses, we encourage growth, seed community with opportunity, expand the middle class and point our compass true north — standing with any person attempting to improve themselves and improve the community. The Women’s Business Center of Utah does this daily by lifting others, one business at a time and one individual at a time. This effort is foundational to creating a more prosperous economy and stronger community for the next generation.
Lastly, removing current obstacles to women’s progress takes more than commitment, it takes policy and workplace change. To do this we must understand the impact child care has on the economy. Utah Community Builders, the Salt Lake Chamber’s nonprofit foundation, partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, United Way of Salt Lake and Voices for Utah Children to study our untapped potential. One astonishing conclusion was that child care-related issues cost our state over a billion dollars annually. The report and its conclusions are meant to inform businesses and policymakers on how important child care assistance remains for Utah.
As we seek to expand opportunity and remove obstacles so that women can experience equal pay and upward mobility our state will thrive. These and other organizations support and catalyze our current and future women business leaders. Most of these services are free and only require the courage to act and change. Utah businesses can lead together on these issues to make sure our future is more prosperous than our past.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.