Utah has a female problem.
Representation in elected positions does not reflect the population. Only seven states have a lower rating in terms of female representation in the state Legislature, and not one woman holds a seat in Congress or a statewide elected office. While women vote more than men and win races at the same rate as men, few women run for office, including appointed and elected boards and commissions.
In an effort to change those statistics, nearly 300 women attended the "Real Women Run: Find Your Voice" leadership training conference at the Miller campus of Salt Lake Community College in Sandy on Saturday. It was an opportunity for diverse women to gather and learn about Utah's political process.
A panel of six women who won elections in Utah discussed why they jumped into their races and obstacles they faced. Speakers included Mia Love, Dee Dee Corradini, Louenda Downs, Lisa Kirchenheiter, Jackie Biskupski and Karen Shepherd.
Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs who recently announced her candidacy for Utah's fourth congressional district, drove home two points to successful campaigning and told attendees to focus on their message.
"You are not a victim," Love said. "Do not put yourself in a box."
She said the most important thing to do to encourage young women to participate in our political system is to teach them the value of service, not just service in politics, but in all sectors of society.
Midvale resident Sarafina Ochoa attended the event with hopes of becoming a delegate for her party. She expressed disappointment that the Latina community was not better represented on the panel. In Utah, 45 percent of Democratic delegates and 25 percent of Republican delegates in Utah are women. Ochoa was inspired to run for office by JoAnn Seghini, a four-term mayor who was the first woman to be elected to the Midvale City Council.
"I met her through church and I just started to pick her brain," Ochoa said.
Corradini, a former mayor of Salt Lake City, said you have to have thick skin to participate in politics and resist taking things personally.
"You have to be in another zone, and you develop and refine a list of people that tell the truth and those that don't."
This echoed an earlier statement in the program from Downs, a Davis County Commissioner: "Always deal in truth."
Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a Salt Lake City representative, suggested the best way to get more women involved in public policy is to encourage them to go further.
"Many young women belong to organizations in their school and communities and they need to go further with it," she told attendees. "Life is not just about career development but community development."
Amanda Dickson, who has worked with KSL radio for more than 22 years, said the keys to success are conversations and connections and she encouraged the women to take advantage of the media when running campaigns or being involved in policy issues.
"We are hungry for your stories! We need to feed the beast." She added, "We want to be accurate."
All in all, it was a good day for Real Women Run event organizer Lisa Watts Baskin.
"The breadth and depth of interest was very encouraging and enlightening," she said. "Many women seem eager to jump in, but they need someone to encourage and mentor them. I believe there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the status quo, business as usual. I hope this starts our renaissance."