March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of the many social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, the Daily Herald is celebrating just a few Utah County women who are breaking down gender barriers. These hard-working, successful women are not only doing great things in our community, but are thriving in roles that are historically male-dominated.
Deidre M. Henderson, Utah state senator
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, has been representing Utah County at the state level for a number of years now. Of the 22 legislators representing Utah County, she and Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, are the only two females.
Henderson, 43, got into politics after the youngest of her five children started preschool. Prior to that, she’d “only wiped noses and bottoms for 13 years,” but at this new point, wanted to get involved in the community. She first volunteered for former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and then ended up working for him for four years.
When government redistricting opened up a new seat for southern Utah County in 2012, Henderson ran and won.
Since then, she’s been on numerous state senate committees. As Senate Rules committee chair, she currently is the only woman in a majority leadership position in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
“As the only woman at the table, it illustrates to me how important it is for my perspective to be heard — because I’m the only one at the table with my perspective. It’s important to have someone representative of half the population of Utah,” she said.
She loves what she does, how important it is for the state and its residents, even though much of her work isn’t “big headline-grabbing things.” Despite this, it is a sacrifice, for her and her family — just as it is for her fellow legislators and their families.
“But we as women, we feel somehow we have to justify it, and say it’s not a sacrifice. If we admit how big a sacrifice it is, people will think our priorities are messed up, and we shouldn’t be doing it. But it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make,” she said.
Her advice for youth, both female and male, is to get involved.
“They can make a difference easier than they think they can. Really, one person can make a difference. So few people try, so few people bother,” she said.
As for encouraging more women to serve? Absolutely.
“It does matter we have more women involved in the decision-making. Like it or not, our perspective can’t be shared without women,” she said. “We need more women because the proper balance needs to be there.”
Nisha King, police sergeant and SWAT team member
Provo native Sgt. Nisha King of the Provo Police Department says she’s working her dream job.
“It’s something different every day. It’s never boring,” she said.
She’s been in law enforcement for 20 years, with some of that time in Texas and the rest in Provo. She knew at 11 years old she wanted to be a Provo police officer.
“There were floods in Provo that year. I was a young girl, leaning on the sandbags, letting my hands trail in the water, when it sucked me in,” she recalled. She ended up down the street, stuck against a storm grate. A Provo police officer pulled her out. “He was my hero. And I thought, I want to be a hero someday.”
She’s worked hard to get where she is, and for the most part along the way she’s been supported by her colleagues and supervisors. After transferring from Texas, she remembers being on a call in Provo where the male citizen complained to her supervisor about being told what to do by a woman.
“My lieutenant told him it doesn’t matter what our officer’s gender is, you do what they say,” she said.
Being on the SWAT team had always been a goal, but it was a difficult path. She worked out three times a day to pass the physical requirements, and working out is still a part of her day, which starts at 4 a.m. As the first female SWAT team member in Utah County, though, her “ergonomics” didn’t quite fit the mold at first.
SWAT team members all are trained to draw their weapon and shoot in very specific ways from prone and standing positions. Early on, when wearing a men’s SWAT vest that did not allow for a woman’s frame, she had to spend extra time figuring out how to draw and shoot around her chest.
“I had to spend a lot of time figuring out what it looked like as a woman,” she said. As her trainers and team members saw her efforts and her skill, it broke down biases about having a female on the team. “People told me I couldn’t do it, and it motivated me to prove them wrong.”
Her advice to girls comes from that experience. King believes girls should set constant, realistic goals.
“You can accomplish anything you set your mind to,” she said. “And there’s not a deadline on that. It may take longer than you think, but that’s OK. Something may seem out of reach, but there’s always a way to accomplish it with enough patience and dedication.”
Debby Honeycutt-Shepherd, fire battalion chief
Debby Honeycutt-Shepherd, 52, grew up in Provo and has been a firefighter for 28 years and a battalion chief at the Provo Fire Department for almost four years.
“I knew where I wanted to be a firefighter as a child, not just that I wanted to be a firefighter,” she said, explaining that her family raised her with a unique sense of duty and honor. “And this gives me an opportunity to make a difference in my community. And this is my community.”
She loves her career, because the “job is different every single day,” it’s flexible, and she’s part of a team. She loves both the heart-pounding adrenaline and the quiet moments of empathetic service.
“The best part is being educated, skilled and experienced enough to make someone’s worst day better,” she said.
When she started her career, female firefighters in Utah County were a rare sight. She knew of only two other women who were paid firefighters at the time. Today, almost every fire department in the county employs women. She credits those who broke down the barriers for her, and is grateful that many females entering the field today have less obstacles to bump against.
She’s always been physically strong — something she calls a gift, as women are held to the same physical firefighting standards as their male counterparts. Still, women are not built with all the same natural physical abilities as men, and over her career, she’s learned how to adapt. Early on when she went out on ambulance calls, as she carried out stretchers, she hooked her arm under it in a set way to compensate for not having as much upper-body strength, and to allow the weight of it to sit more on her legs.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is you can have people tell you to do something one way, but you can look at the task and do the task using your strengths,” she said.
In a way, that is the thrust of her advice to other females as they navigate career choices — to realize there’s often multiple ways to get something done and to use their inherent strengths and skills to succeed. She also encourages younger women to seek out mentors — those that have already opened the door — and have those “frank discussions so they can better adapt.”
Christine S. Johnson and Jennifer A. Brown,
4th District Court judges
Christine S. Johnson and Jennifer A. Brown both knew at a young age they wanted to be attorneys, but it took a bit longer for each to pursue the judge’s bench. Johnson knew in law school she eventually wanted to be a judge, but Brown took a little longer.
“It’s not a career progression everyone wants,” Johnson said.
“While not everyone wants it, it is a difficult process to get here,” Brown added as the two women sat in Johnson’s chambers. “To be chosen is an achievement.”
Johnson, 46, said she enjoys her work as a judge because she has a unique way of serving the community. Her favorite part of law school, she said, was tackling research, analysis and writing, and “that’s a big part of what judges do.”
Brown, 49, finds satisfaction in giving people resolution.
“For many people who come in front of me, it is the most important, most critical thing going on in their lives, and it’s important everyone is heard in the process,” Brown said.
Neither woman thinks of herself as a “female judge,” and neither do their colleagues, nor do they treat them differently, they said. As Johnson explained, quoting Sandra Day O’Connor, “I’ve always said that at the end of the day, on a legal issue, I think a wise old woman and a wise old man are going to reach the same conclusion.”
Both have encouraged their children and other females to consider a career in law, because it allows a lot of work flexibility, and a wide array of industry options. Johnson explained that women who practice law can easily structure their workflow around their family. As a single mother with three young children while attending law school, Brown saw this firsthand.
“I believe this gave me more autonomy and more flexibility as a mother than being a paralegal. Women tend to see the front-end schooling, and how long it takes, rather than the flexibility on the back end,” Brown said. “But the payoff on the back end is worth it. The majority of women are going to end up working in their lifetime. If you’re going to work, why not maximize your time and efforts?”
Gay Wyn Quance, chemical engineer
Gay Wyn Quance loves chemistry. She loves it so much, her eyes light up and her quiet voice holds excitement whenever she talks about objects at the molecular level. She even uses chemistry terminology to speak of meeting her late husband, Dallas Noyes, in 1994.
“It was one of those startling collisions that changes the direction of your life,” she said.
Quance is the president and CEO of Solid Carbon Products in Provo. In its most basic sense, the company turns carbon dioxide emissions into profitable material. Their carbon nanotubes can be used as “molecular rebar” to reinforce other materials, including concrete, metals, plastics and polymers. The groundbreaking technology is covered by more than 13 patents in the United States and multiple ones across 12 other countries.
Quance calls the process they use to sequester the carbon dioxide “simple,” but the multiple tubes, furnaces and valves appear rather complicated to the uneducated. Regardless, they insert nitrogen and carbon dioxide into their patented reactor, and through their closed-loop process, get solid carbon and distilled water out.
“So, there’s no need to have government subsidies, or any sense of philanthropy, but we’re good for the planet, and we’re doing it very profitably,” she said.
Quance, 63, knew from a young age that she could do anything she set her mind to. At the age of 6, she told her mother she wanted to be a teacher. After complimenting her choice, her mom explained that Quance could be anything — she could “build bridges, be a surgeon, fly planes.” Her mother told her to look at all the choices out there, and then if she still wanted to be a teacher that would be great.
So Quance studied chemistry and engineering in college. The first few job interviews post-graduation were a bit jarring, as she bumped up against interviewers’ ignorance and gender bias about a woman in science. She ended up as the first female in the tech department of a nuclear power plant.
There she felt she had two jobs: a commissioning engineer for the company and also the first woman at the company in a very male-dominated role. When she first started her career, she “looked out at the table, and there were no other women.” Almost as a natural outgrowth of working there, little things changed within the company for the better.
Despite being one of the first females “through that door,” and breaking barriers, she doesn’t feel it was a big part of her career.
“I never thought of work as male versus female,” she said. “When you take it to the most general case, every person is new in some way, in every setting.”
Still, she does have advice for women who take on roles where they might be the only female in the room.
“The real way to make sure that door is open, and to keep it open for others that follow, is to do the job in front of you and do it well,” she said.
Dr. Natali Schofield, dentist
Natali Schofield has been a dentist for 17 years, and has been the owner of Canyon Vista Dental in American Fork for almost 12 of those years. The oldest of her four boys is 18, so her dental office is like a second home for them.
Since the sixth grade, Schofield knew she wanted to be a dentist. She attended a math and science exploration conference and met a female dentist. After practicing sutures on a piece of steak and packing cavities in fake teeth, she was hooked.
“I love that it’s very science-based but there is a lot of artistry in it — creating a beautiful smile, or putting a tooth back together,” she said.
While there are many, many female dental assistants and dental hygienists in Utah County, Schofield is only one of a small handful of female dentists. Surprisingly, she doesn’t necessarily attribute the disparity to it being a Utah thing, but more of a West Coast thing. When she went to school at the University of Michigan, her class was almost exactly 50 percent women. Despite being very much the only female locally in a room full of dentists, male dentists treat her as a colleague, she said.
She encourages other women who are interested in the dental sphere to pursue becoming a dentist, because the career offers even more flexibility than dental assisting or hygienist work. As the dentist, she can block out time to zip up the street to her kids’ school event, and then be back in time for another appointment.
“Dentistry itself is so flexible. For the most part, I am dealing with things that can be scheduled,” she said.
She too encourages women to get as much education as possible, despite the extra years it takes to get through dental school.
“The school years are longer, but the years pass no matter what you are doing,” she said.
Julie Fullmer, Vineyard’s first female mayor
When Julie Fullmer, 33, moved to Vineyard in 2011, the city had about 140 residents. Just four years ago, when she ran for City Council, there were only about 700 people. Now Vineyard boasts almost 12,500 residents and is one of the fastest growing communities in the state. And Fullmer is excited to be a part of the planning for that growth.
The city’s growth is what got her involved in city government, and set her on the path to now be the city’s mayor. Before running for City Council, she had a rough experience working with then city staff to obtain the permitting to hold a large block party. After that situation, she realized Vineyard was not prepared for what was coming.
“We needed to plan for more people with our infrastructure — I wanted to make sure we got wider streets,” she said. “I started realizing we were behind in so many ways.”
As an internet marketing business owner, she brought a lot of tech skills to her service, which the city needed. Still she was the youngest on the council, and the only female, so it took residents and developers time to take her seriously. She remembers being patronized by one developer, who was so sure she’d be excited about a building just because it had washers and dryers in the units. Another man met with her and the mayor at the time and completely ignored her, though she was the point person on the issue at hand.
But Fullmer said Vineyard is quickly becoming a very forward-thinking city. She also enjoys truly making a difference in serving her community and watching it grow.
She said girls often don’t think they can be mayor or a scientist or a businesswoman. But she believes some of the best leaders are women because of their innate ability to be kind, to collaborate and network, and fully listen to complex issues and analyze all the different angles and perspectives.
“Small-town politics are great. You can make a really big difference in your community, and you can accomplish amazing things,” she said.
Tara Grant, plumber’s apprentice
Tara Grant of Orem has never followed the conventional route. She’s a plumber’s apprentice at Told Plumbing, but before that she was part of the first class of females to receive infantry training for the U.S. Army, and was the first Utah female to enlist for the infantry. From her youth, she knew she wanted to serve in the military, and plans to return to service later this year.
“In basic training, it was definitely shown that it was a male-dominated industry. We started with 51 women and only 18 or 19 graduated,” she said of the experience.
For now, Grant, 27, enjoys her work installing water lines for new construction. The job offers a variety of tasks every day — from piping underground sewer and water lines to installing tubs and sinks.
“I really like the hands on work. It keeps me active,” she said.
She started as a laborer at Told Plumbing in September, but quickly worked her way to the apprentice level. She works under her brother-in-law, who is a journeyman for the company. She said she’s had other males offer to help in doing a task out on a job site, but her brother-in-law “definitely doesn’t” treat her any different.
“He hands me the jack-hammer aand says, ‘Go do it,’” she said.
She believes women can do anything they set their mind to.
“Just because our bodies are built different, and our minds are different — just because a field is predominantly male, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You’d be surprised at what females can do. If that’s what they want, what’s best for them, they should do it. Just because society doesn’t like it, or is not OK with it, you shouldn’t back off,” she said. “Don’t let others decide your fate.”