“Through the support of Utah’s key business leaders, we are making headway in changing Utah’s business culture to advance women leadership,” Patricia Jones said from the dais in the Zions Bank Founders Room in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Leadership Institute — an organization committed to advancing inclusion of women in Utah business and training women on how to run for political office at every level.

With the Salt Lake cityscape as a backdrop, Jones, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute and co-founder and former president of Dan Jones & Associates, said she had good news to share about how Utah workplaces have improved for women.

The institute was launched a decade ago when Jones was preparing for retirement after her successful career in business and a 14-year stint in the Utah Legislature. Scott Anderson, the former president and CEO of Zions Bank, had approached her about starting the institute to help get more women in senior level business positions and in elected positions, as well as to address the gender wage gap.

Anderson said in 2013, he read a paper from the Center for American Progress that ranked Utah as one of the worst states for women.

“I was befuddled by this because I grew up in Utah, raised on stories of remarkable things women did to lead and to build the community,” Anderson said. “They helped tame the wilderness, they farmed, they pushed for the right to vote, they established schools and hospitals and art councils, they started and ran businesses, they ran for political offices and they raised families.”

After seeing Utah’s ranking, Anderson said he wanted to change the reality and make Utah a place where it could be rated as the best state in the country for women. He encouraged Jones to lead the charge.

Over the last decade, Jones explained, the Women’s Leadership Institute has educated “companies and business leaders about the complementary differences of men and women.” In turn, this had helped companies create benefits packages that help them retain women as well as monitor pay by gender and elevate women to senior positions.

It’s part of the Elevate Her Challenge, which Jones said the institute has trademarked.

“Most executives want to do better, they want to elevate women, but oftentimes they don’t know how,” Jones told an audience compromised of Utah leaders in business and politics. “Our business is helping them understand the how.”

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The institute also offers trainings for women in career development and politics — the work isn’t just on the Wasatch Front. “We have women in Kanab, business women, who are listening to the very same training that the women here receive. And we have women in Cache Valley who are learning the same training.”

The vision of the institute is to be forward looking. “We don’t like to blame or shame men,” Jones said. “That is not what works and it shouldn’t work and it isn’t working. We believe that men are allies and advocates of women.”

Emily Bell McCormick, The Policy Project president and founder, Ally Isom, Clyde Companies chief strategy and marketing officer, and Amanda Covington, Larry H. Miller Company chief corporate affairs officer, embrace at Championing Gender Diversity in Business and Politics, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Women's Leadership Institute, at the Zions Bank Founders Room in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah business leaders including Anderson, Ally Isom, Alex Shootman, Kerry Norman, Ron Jibson and Joe Barnard spoke to how their companies have progressed toward the goal of an inclusive economy.

Anderson said that over 50% of Zions Bank employees are now women and that women can be found in executive positions. Half of the bank’s board members are women as well.

“We annually test for pay gaps and if we find them, we close them. We now have established personal development and mentor programs for all employees, men and women,” Anderson said. “And we have changed policies and benefits to be fair and more consistent to the needs of women and more family-friendly.”

Anderson credited Jones and the institute with contributing to saving millions of dollars due to employee retention.

Isom, chief strategy and marketing officer at Clyde Companies, said Jones and other mentors were pivotal in her pursuit of statewide public office “even when the funds were stretched and especially when I felt stretched because, my friends, women’s contributions in the public arena and in the boardroom matter.”

While Utah has become more comfortable in its conversation about including women, Isom said the work isn’t done. “Until Utah has a female governor and a female senator and female leaders across all industries, our work and this conversation is far from over.”

When Shootman, now the CEO of Alkami, was recruited to run a Lehi software company called Workfront, he had never even been to Salt Lake City before. Upon arrival, Shootman talked to the employees and some of them told him that it was difficult to be a women in business in Utah.

“At that point in time, I only knew two things,” Shootman said. “No. 1 is I didn’t know anything about doing business in the state of Utah. The second thing I knew is that I had never been a women in business.”

From there, Shootman said he made connections with Utah business leaders like Cydni Tetro, founder and president of the Women Tech Council, which led him to Jones and the institute. Shootman credited Jones and the institute for increasing shareholder value and teaching principles that led to “an amazing, diverse and welcoming culture.”

The Women’s Leadership Institute isn’t just looking to the past, it’s looking forward, Jones said.

“As we complete our first 10 years, the Women’s Leadership Institute is also in preparation mode preparing to be a one stop shop for business in affecting positive change, so that we can all benefit from the talents of Utah’s great women.”

Patricia Jones, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute, speaks at Championing Gender Diversity in Business and Politics, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Women's Leadership Institute, at the Zions Bank Founders Room in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News