This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Utah's landscape is among the most iconic in the country. We boast having three of the top 10 ski resorts in North America. Utah was named the best state for business and careers by Forbes three years in a row and is one of the few states maintaining a AAA rating. The Beehive State has been ranked in the top 10 for state business tax climate and a low regulatory environment. We have the youngest and healthiest workforce in America. The Pew Center named Utah "Best-managed State." Utah has two cities named in consecutive years as the best city to live in by Outdoor magazine.
Utah is a picture-perfect postcard image of gleaming cities, majestic mountains and perpetually smiling residents with a growing economy. Yet for women, a group that makes up 44 percent of the state's workforce, Utah's stunning landscape represents a gilded cage. A gilded cage fortified by the arcane views of Utahns such as James C. Green, Wasatch County GOP chairman and plainly written by him in a Feb. 15 letter to the editor of the Park Record.
He wrote, "If businesses are forced to pay women the same as male earnings, that means they will have to reduce the pay for the men they employ, simple economics. If that happens, then men will have an even more difficult time earning enough to support their families, which will mean more mothers will be forced to leave the home (where they may prefer to be) to join the workforce to make up the difference."
I am not sure where Green studied economics or English.
A 2013 study by 24/7 Wall Street on the status of women in America ranked Utah as the worst state in the nation for women. Moreover, 24/7 Wall Street is not alone in its findings. A 2013 study of women's economic security, career opportunities and health by the Center for American Progress also graded Utah an "F." By 2016, Utah "improved" in the rankings, moving from the worst state for women to the fourth worst state for women. The typical male worker in the state is paid $50,741, while his female counterpart earns $36,060, or nearly $15,000 less.
On average, women's pay in Utah is 70 percent that of their male counterparts for comparable work. In fact, on the 2013 list of top 10 worst cities for pay equity for women, Utah has two cities that rank No. 1 and No. 2. Utah has the worst funded schools in the nation as well as the highest student-to-teacher ratios. In addition, the rate of Utah women graduating from college has dropped. It is now below the national average and indications are that this slide will get worse.
It would be nice if these and other similar studies were simply collections of ivory tower arcana to be read, filed away and then forgotten. But they're not. They spotlight an inequity that is a drag with far-reaching consequences on our state's economic future. The "little woman" as stay-at-home wife, mother and homemaker epitomized by family sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s was an idealized image even then. Today, in the 21st century, it's as relevant as the buggy whip.
When pioneer women made the great migration from the Midwest to Utah, they did so at the side of men, sharing equally in the sacrifice and rewards of the journey and its goal. In the 19th century Mormon women were in the forefront fighting for women's suffrage. Utah became the second territory to grant women the right to vote. Moreover, it was the first to elect a woman, Martha Hughes Cannon, a pioneer and doctor, as the nation's first female senator in 1896 24 years before the 19th Amendment was passed.
Pay inequity for women hits families where it hurts most: the pocketbook. A lower income means less money for food, clothing and shelter for the family, and turns other necessities like health care into luxuries.
The top ranking of pay inequity for working women in Utah also has corrosive long-term effects on businesses in the state. It means businesses have a harder time attracting and retaining female middle- and upper-management professionals. Though women make up 44 percent of the workforce, women only hold 8.4 percent of board positions in Utah's top 45 public companies, and 25 of those companies have no women directors and 17 have just one.
OK, that's the bad news. The good news is that the women of Utah have the power to change things, the power to help move Utah from first to last and get an "A" for the state. At one level, it is running for political office. Like the rest of the nation, Utah needs to have more women holding public office. But more fundamentally, it's the power of the informed vote and it's a power stronger than you think. Women in Utah both register to vote and vote at higher rates than men. By exercising their right to vote, the women of Utah have the power to bring change that improves the lives of everyone men and women, young and old who lives and works in Utah.
Donna McAleer is a 1987 West Point graduate, a former congressional candidate and author of "Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point's Long Gray Line."