SALT LAKE CITY — As Monday was declared Women’s Day in Utah, shining examples of female leadership spoke together about lifting others and the lessons they’ve learned to balance their lives while pursuing their passions.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson recounted the history of Utah’s prominent women and how they broke glass ceilings for future generations, such as the first female vote cast by Seraph Young in 1870.

“Women in Utah have a long track record of doing, not just talking. And there’s plenty more to do,” she said.

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Henderson joined other female leaders as the Women’s Business Center of Utah commemorated International Women’s Day through a conference via Zoom, with a panel of speakers including Henderson; Heidi Kuhn, CEO and founder of Roots of Peace; Patricia Jones, former state representative and CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute; and Rachelle Morris, vice president and client adviser at JP Morgan bank.

Pandemic’s impact on women could last decades

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionality affected working women, Henderson said.

Utah women faced low college graduation rates, high domestic violence and unequal pay for equal work before the pandemic even started, she explained. From the pandemic onward, Henderson said the disruption to work and education has set women back by 30 years in their economic progress as they returned home to become the primary caregivers of their families.

“As our state and nation emerge from this pandemic, we have a tremendous opportunity to rethink our support systems for women and families,” Henderson said.

She joined Gov. Spencer Cox in releasing a formal declaration to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History month, or the month of March.

The governor’s and lieutenant governor’s declaration states that Utah women own over 89,000 businesses that employ about 80,000 other Utahns, makeup 45% of the workforce, and contribute over $15 billion to the state’s economy, not including the work they add to creating and caring for their families’ child care, elder care, housework and more through their unpaid labor.

The declaration acknowledged “the ongoing work to equip women with enhanced access to opportunities for economic and other advancements, including: improved access to affordable and flexible child care resources; wages and income in better alignment with their contributions as participants and leaders in Utah’s workforce; and a concerted response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact upon the economic opportunities and workforce participation of women.”

In this Monday, March 8, 2021, screenshot, Utah Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson shows her signed declaration commemorating International Women’s Day. | Screenshot, Zoom

Utah women ‘doing’

One small-business owner found a way to be entrepreneurial despite the pandemic and financial mountains before her.

Kristen Kropp, co-owner of Backyard Urban Garden Farms CSA, was looking for new ways to expand her business of community grown and sold fruits and vegetables. She said she was able to work through a small business loan company named Kiva.

Efigenia Neofitos, business adviser and Kiva capital access manager, said Kiva focuses on providing the missing microloans that business owners, like Kropp, were looking for. Together, Neofitos and Kropp explained during Monday’s presentation how other female business owners could utilize loans to fund and grow their entrepreneurial ventures.

“It just feels really exciting to actually see these things that we were just dreaming about actually becoming a reality. ... I think that’s an amazing resource to have here. And I’m really grateful for it. And so excited to start this season out with these new resources and infrastructure that we didn’t have before,” said Kropp.

Women helping women

For Jones, supporting other women has been personal. The former state legislator said she never knew how she’d influenced others until she saw her granddaughter campaign for president of her senior class and spoke at her own commencement. She said her granddaughter did it all because Jones was her role model.

“But it made me think how important it is that we are role models for our young women and other women in our lives; that the things that we can do really do matter, and that people watch us, a lot of times we don’t realize it,” Jones said.

Morris said that though she wouldn’t have traded her time working at Goldman Sachs before JP Morgan, she did feel a difference in role models and female support at JP Morgan. She said half of the operating company and many leadership ranks were filled with women.

“But with that said, company culture does matter ... and that then distills across the entire organization. That it’s just an easier place for women’s voices to be heard, respected, appreciated, and for flexibility to be there ... and, to me, it’s all about finding the company where you feel like you’re being stretched appropriately, given flexibility when you’ve earned the flexibility, and then have a collaborative atmosphere,” said Morris.

Henderson said she was inspired by the many remarkable women who came before her and she has hope in the next generation of Utah women.

“Through collaboration, imagination, courage and hard work, we too can expand meaningful opportunities that will truly improve the lives of women and families and Utah generations to come,” said Henderson.

‘Doing’ doesn’t mean ‘overdoing’

Jones said lifetime achievements and climbing the ladder to where she, Henderson, Morris, Kuhn, and many other women have arrived was not because they balanced their work life and home life fifty-fifty.

“I really don’t think there’s any such thing as balance. It’s a matter of prioritizing the same 24 hours, each day that we all have, and setting our priorities — what’s most important to us? We do have different seasons ... that is so important that we know that we cannot do everything,” she said.

She said each woman can be intentional about planning and planning ahead on what she can specifically do, what is in her own power, to bring value to herself and to others.

“We all give back in different ways,” says Jones.

Morris said she found that her personal prioritizations in her schedule weren’t a cookie-cutter match to those of her friends.

On vacation in Hawaii with some female friends from college, Morris said this difference was readily apparent. Morris wanted to exercise, while another friend wanted to not even think about exercising, and another friend wanted to go to new activities more quickly than the group did.

“We’re all high-achieving women who love each other and can be totally vulnerable and honest, and we learned over the course of the weekend what those priorities are ... (they’re) going to be different for each of us,” she said.

Kuhn said her highest priority has always been her family. She said she’s worked hard to prioritize the balance between home and her work.

She experienced a horrific event with her Roots of Peace organization that gave her perspective on how to face future challenges that dealt with balancing her life.

“(On) March 28, 2014 ... I got that horrible call and Roots of Peace was under attack by the Taliban ... and I endured a four-and-a-half-hour gun battle. When that last young boy ... blew himself up, I thought, ‘This has just gotten too hard. I need to go back to California, back to my family.’ And my family said ‘We’re with you, Mom,’” said Kuhn.

She said the past year with the pandemic has been the hardest when it comes to being fully balanced, but past experience helped her through it.

“I guess the biggest challenge I would have to conclude on, (are) balance and thoughtfulness and really listening. Listening to your God ... but just turn your eyes up in those times of challenge,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson was the first woman elected to the position; Olene Walker was elected in 1992 as the state’s first female lieutenant governor prior to becoming Utah’s first female governor in 2003.