Nearly a quarter of all statewide executive offices in the country are filled by women. However, in 2016, no political party in Utah featured female nominees in races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, or state auditor and treasurer.
A study by the Utah Women and Leadership Project notes slight gains at most levels of state and county government in the number of women officeholders. Dr. Susan Madsen of Utah Valley University, co-author of the study, said that Utah’s rate of female participation in politics has fluctuated over the years.
“We are slightly moving up. In fact, last year, we had moved down in certain elements, particularly the state legislature. In 1971, we had more women in the state legislature than the nation,” Madsen said. “As the nation has come up, we’ve gone beneath the nation. In some ways we are improving. There’s some good things there. We have seen some progress but we still need more.”
The number of women on school boards in Utah is actually higher than the national average, despite the state lagging behind in other areas.
Madsen says that there are both external and internal barriers for women entering the political realm. External barriers include cultural attitudes and socialization that pass on expectations about the leadership abilities of women. Internal barriers include self-impost expectations that keep women from running for public office, according to Madsen.
“This imposter syndrome, a lot of women have that. More women than men are perfectionists. We don’t think we’re prepared for things unless we’re almost perfect,” she said. “The statistics actually say that men, if they have about 50 to 60 percent of the qualifications to run for office, they’ll throw their name in the hat. Not just women in Utah but women in general need 90 to 100 percent.”
Madsen says that it is important to encourage young women early to participate and adds that seeing role models in leadership positions is crucial.