This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Editor's note: Former Republican legislator and well-known blogger Holly Richardson is joining The Salt Lake Tribune as a regular contributor. Read her self-described "common-sense conservative" take on politics and more in the Tribune opinion pages.
This week, Susan Madsen, a professor at Utah Valley University, released an updated "Status of Women in Utah Politics" research brief. Madsen, along with research assistant D. Candice Pierucci, took an in-depth look at women in elected office from the federal level to cities and towns and everything in between.
The good news is, there are a couple of areas where Utah women are doing well. You might have guessed state and local school boards and you'd be right. This year, the state school board is comprised of 73 percent women and local school boards have just under 50 percent women. You might be surprised, however, to learn that women currently hold over half 52.5 percent of the predominantly full-time elected county positions of clerk/auditor, treasurer, recorder and assessor.
The bad news? Well, pretty much the rest of it. We have no women in the five statewide offices, one woman in the federal delegation and are still in the bottom 10 percent nationwide of women in state legislatures (although we saw a slight uptick there a 3.8 percent increase) with a total of 19.2 percent.
If you break it down by party, however, the real disparity stands out. The Democrats in Utah do a pretty good job of electing women in fact, the Democratic caucus in the House has 64 percent women. But then again, they are the super-minority, holding only 13 of the 75 seats. On the Republican side, the percentage inched up from 5 percent to 8 percent. In real numbers, that means there are five women in the GOP caucus along with 57 men. None of the Republican women hold elected leadership positions in either body.
Sadly, it continues to be worse than when I was in the Legislature (2011). Then, Republican female representation was in the double-digits! (OK, so we still had a long way to go….) We had women in leadership, too. Becky Lockhart was the speaker of the House and Ronda Menlove was the majority whip. We had more of a voice at the table. Today, there are a number of committees with only one woman on them. There is something wrong with that picture.
While there is widespread agreement (although not universal, sadly) that we need more women in elected office, there is also a gap between verbal support being given to the idea that we need more women in elected office and actions that make it more likely for a female candidate to be successful.
Running for office can be challenging. The first obstacle that must be overcome is deciding to run. Women are recruited 15 percent less often than men, almost always need to be asked to run (more than once) and even when highly qualified are more likely than male candidates to view themselves as unprepared.
Once the decision has been made, however, running for office can be a great experience. Meeting and talking to potential constituents, learning the ins and outs of your particular district, debating other candidates and getting your voters to the polls can be meaningful work and a lot of fun. But it can also be a labyrinth of paperwork, messaging, interacting with the media and dealing with the negativity that seems to spring up every campaign.
Every candidate needs a good support team, people who will cheer for them, work with and for them and who will help them navigate the process. Groups such as the non-partisan Real Women Run and Women's Leadership Institute are encouraging women with this sort of important hands-on mentoring, but boosting Utah's dismal numbers will take more than women nudging women.
Only a broader cultural shift men encouraging their wives and mothers encouraging daughters to become civically engaged will bring more women to the political table. We need to show that politics is women's work, too.