By most accounts, James Clarke is a wealthy philanthropist who cares about his community. He and his wife Andrea have reputations for supporting women, especially single mothers, through their donations to Utah Valley University and the Stella Oaks Foundation. They donate to the Ronald McDonald House.

Their family foundation, the Labor and Honor Foundation, focuses on people with disabilities, poverty alleviation and artistic experiences. They’ve given Labor and Honor Awards to Emily Bell McCormick and Kristin Andrus for their work with The Period Project (now The Policy Project), helping young women in need obtain free feminine products.

In a November 2022 interview with Utah Business magazine, Clarke said “I think a big part of the economic outlook of any state, but especially here in Utah, is how we as a business community come together and take care of our most vulnerable communities.”

In a separate interview with UtahValley 360, he said, “One of my least favorite statements is, ‘It’s not personal, it’s just business.’ There is no such thing. Everything is personal.”

So it’s befuddling to some and enraging to others to hear his comments to employees at Clearlink in April, saying that mothers juggling full-time work and full-time child care may be acting in ways that are neither “fair to their employer, nor fair to those children.”

Rescinding a late October statement that there were “no plans to require anyone to work in the new Draper office,” Clearlink sent out an email on April 3 mandating that anyone living within a 50-mile radius of the Draper campus come in to work four days a week. Following internal backlash, Clarke held a company video meeting, where he accused some employees of “quiet quitting,” and said many content creators were using AI to do their work. He praised the sacrifice of one employee who sold the family dog so they could meet the demands of commuting and in-office work.

“This has hit single mothers the hardest,” he said on a nine-minute video excerpt shared on social media, then adds “working mothers ... breadwinning mothers.”

“You have tried to tend your own children, and doing so while managing your demanding work responsibilities.” He continued: “While I know you are doing your best, and some would say they’ve even mastered this art, but one could also argue that generally this path is neither fair to your employer, nor fair to those children.” He goes on to say that while he doesn’t necessarily believe that, “I do believe that only the rarest of full-time caregivers can also be productive and full-time employees at the same time.” YouTube has since taken down the full video due to copyright claims from Clearlink, but excerpts are widely available.

Certainly economic stressors are causing a tightening economy and businesses are having to navigate the right path forward. No one should be judged forever on having a bad day. I freely admit that too often, people fail to give grace with missteps. But there’s also no doubt that charting a successful course involves championing mothers and providing them opportunities, including potential remote and flexible work where possible. To be clear, I’m not saying women or mothers shouldn’t have to shoulder their fair share in the workplace. They should. But, I do worry about what messages mothers may internalize when hearing statements like Clarke’s.

Research since the global pandemic began has shown us that women, in particular, benefit from the ability to work remotely. In the 2022 Modern Workplace Report, conducted by Care.com and Mother Honestly, over 75% of employees reported that their quality of life improved under hybrid and remote work schedules, with 58% of managers and 55% of workers saying that productivity is up.

Additional 2022 research by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company found that “remote work has been game-changing” for women. In fact, the report found that only 1 in 10 women want to work mostly onsite and that women who can choose where they want to work — remote, on-site or hybrid — are “less burned out, happier in their jobs and much less likely to consider leaving their companies.” Findings from YouGov polling found that job flexibility is more important to women (57 % vs. 44% for men) and 72% of women want flexibility in their work location.

Clarke is the chairman of the board of trustees at UVU, has a building named after him and, in February, Clarke and his wife received “Honorary Alumni Awards” for their service to UVU. In the past, the Clarkes have seemed supportive of women — including single mothers — working toward their educational goals.

When I reached out to UVU for comment, Scott Trotter, the university spokesman, told me: “James Clarke has served Utah Valley University with distinction, first as a member of the board of trustees, and eventually as chair. He has given his time and substantial resources to assist students in reaching their educational goals and to help UVU succeed. We are proud to call him our friend. Any questions about his leadership and management of Clearlink should be directed to the company.”

The company has issued a statement to various media outlets saying they look forward to having team members join them in the office to “help achieve our collective goals.” In an open letter on the company website, Clarke acknowledges that “some of my statements have caused apprehension and distress,” which was not his intent, he said, as he laid out the “current market position and future of this company.” Additional requests for statements from Clearlink were not answered.

I’m a proud UVU alumna. I returned to school to complete a bachelor’s degree at age 49, with a house full of children, and found the culture at UVU to be welcoming and supportive, even for an outlier like me. I hope that other women attending UVU and in the Utah business community continue to feel supported too.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.