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Utah Women & Leadership Project report: Women still underrepresented in politics

By Genelle Pugmire - | Feb 17, 2023

Courtesy Utah House of Representatives

Female members of the Utah House of Representatives pose for a photo inside the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

In an update to ongoing research, the Utah Women & Leadership Project has released a brief on women in politics.

The brief looks at women in elected office on a national, state and local level. The research has helped UWLP come up with some of the following conclusions:

  • Utah is one of nine states with no women serving in Congress. In total, 72.1% of the U.S. Congress is male, while 27.9% is female. Of the women, one third are women of color.
  • There is currently one woman serving in a Utah Statewide Executive Office, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. Utah has never elected a female governor, although Olene Walker was appointed as governor from 2003-2005 after Mike Leavitt became Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Utah ranks 40th in the nation in terms of women serving in the state legislature, a ranking that fell from 32nd in 2020. In 2023, 20.7% of Utah’s state senators are female: 6 of 29 (5 Democrat, 1 Republican), and 28% of the House of Representatives are female, 21 of 75 (9 D, 12 R).
  • Although Utah’s female legislators are more likely to be Democrat than Republican, Republican women have gained four seats since 2021.
  • In terms of the leadership of Utah’s legislature, five of 11 leadership positions in the House of Representatives and five of 11 leadership positions in the Senate are held by women.
  • Overall, the legislative bodies of county commissions and councils in Utah are overwhelmingly held by men (79.3%), while 53.4% of the predominately full-time elected positions of clerk/auditor, treasurer, recorder and assessor are held by women.

As for municipal offices, female representation varies across city sizes.

“Our 2022 analysis shows that there are 44 councils with no women (down from 47 in 2021). Of these councils, 54.5% are from municipalities with populations of 1-999, and 38.6% are from municipalities with populations of 1,000-9,999,” said Susan Madsen, director of UWLP . “The four largest city councils include women members: West Valley City with one woman serving (20.0%) and Salt Lake City, Provo, and West Jordan each with three women serving (42.9%).”

The seven cities with populations of 65,000-99,999 each have one or more women on their councils. Cities with populations of 30,000-64,999 show a range of representation, with only one municipality, Saratoga Springs, having zero women.

Courtesy Provo City School District

The all-female Provo City School District Board of Education, as of Jan. 1, 2023.

For cities with a population of 10,000-29,999, only two have no women (Hurricane and Vernal). Of municipalities with populations of 1,000-9,999, 17 have no women, and six have councils with 50% or more women (Sunset, Providence, Hooper, Fruit Heights, Helper, and Uintah).

The story is similar for councils representing populations of 1-999, where 24 have no female representation, but 10 have 75.0% female council members

Madsen and researcher April Townsend concluded that, “the last few years have been record-setting years for women running for office across the country, and we are seeing some slight progress in Utah as well.”

Through the years, the lack of women running for office has been cited as one of many reasons Utah does not have more women in elected public office.

“While we believe the tide is turning, understanding and removing the barriers women face when running for public office in Utah are critical to moving forward. In other UWLP reports, we have explored several factors accounting for why more women do not run for office, including societal attitudes, poor treatment of female candidates who do run, biases in party politics toward traditional practices that keep women from running and networking, and the way women are treated by the media (see “An Analysis of Utah Media: Women & Politics”),” the report reads.

Courtesy photo

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

The brief was also written as a call to action for Utah residents and leaders to do more to encourage and support future efforts to diversify voices on Utah’s Capitol Hill and in cities, towns and counties around the state. The full brief can be read at https://usu.edu/uwlp/files/briefs/49-status-women-utah-politics-2023.pdf.


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