Guest opinion: Strengthening the impact of women and girls in Utah County
Earlier in 2022, I met with 38 Utah County leaders interested in strengthening women and girls for an insightful think tank discussion. I am Susan Madsen, and in my work with the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP), I work to promote the positive impact women and girls can have in Utah. In our discussion, Leaders identified six areas of focus: education, health and well-being, home and family, business and economics, culture and religion, and community engagement. We discussed concerns and presented real solutions that can begin the work of change. Following is an overview of that conversation.
Education: There is a need for young women to complete high school and obtain college certificates to strengthen the development of women. Positive women role models, including mothers, can exemplify the value of education and skills. The community can contribute by allowing women and girls room to pivot and continue their educational journey.
Health and well-being: Among serious concerns are poor body image, low confidence levels and struggling self-esteem compounded by perfectionism and negative social media influence. Some solutions include teaching about creating and enforcing boundaries, accepting failure as a tool for learning, encouraging women to support one another, and enlightening girls and women about the positive and negative impacts of social media
Home and family: Young women receive mixed messages regarding their future roles as women. Although encouraged to make lofty goals, they are confused by examples of women who have not pursued education, hobbies or activities outside of the home. Men and women role models can promote a balanced combination of personal goals including marriage, motherhood, education, careers, public service and/or hobbies.
Business and economics: A healthy perception of professional women is foundational for bolstering a positive perception. Career fairs can introduce women and girls to male-dominated or nontraditional careers. Additionally, by decreasing unconscious biases in the home, community, cultural and business sectors in Utah County, we support the employment decisions of women. Encouraging women to sit on boards and committees in corporate, nonprofit and government organizations will facilitate ongoing community change.
Culture and religion: Utah County’s culture is heavily intertwined with religion. We can thrive by teaching girls leadership skills and then giving them opportunities to lead in a variety of settings. It is time to discard community and family traditions that limit the growth or potential of girls and women. Reinforcing positive interaction between men and women includes teaching boys and girls appropriate interaction behaviors and confidence in accurately reporting harassment, assault or violence.
Community engagement: Utah County has many commendable strengths including its high rate of volunteerism. However, more exposure to strong female role models through mentoring programs, women’s networks and professional support systems will encourage girls to explore new possibilities. To sustain positive change, women should run for political office and hold community positions of responsibility.
Based on this discussion, UWLP published a two-page report titled “What Utah County Leaders and Residents Can Do to Strengthen the Impact of Girls and Women in Their Area.” This report covers these concerns and discusses attainable solutions. We can each influence those around us by considering our resources and committing to improvement within our scope of influence. Working toward community change requires individuals, organizations and societies to act. This will result in a secure space for all women in Utah County to thrive.
Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.