This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
"Dirty Dancing" is playing at the Eccles Theatre this week and a particular line comes to mind, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner."
I was a ballroom dancer in college and always hoped to meet my Patrick Swayze at summer camp. It didn't happen, but I still identify with Baby's refusal to sit in a corner when I write on issues I'm passionate about: Utah women and politics.
Utah recently received an "F" grade for the number of women serving in elected office. Only one member of our federal delegation is female. Of those serving in the state Legislature, only 19 percent are women. And none of our state executive officers is female.
The dearth of Utah women in leadership extends beyond politics as well. In 2014 24/7 Wall Street ranked Utah the worst for women earning money and holding leadership positions. One might argue these types of rankings are incomplete – that Utah women are unique in how they define success and the priorities of work and family. But in 2016 we experienced the second largest gender wage gap on record. I'm a proud Utah transplant, but I think I can speak for Utah women in saying: When it comes to being happy about being paid less than our male counterparts, we aren't that unique.
I was blissfully ignorant of these gender issues as a young attorney in New York City. I was well-liked by the firm's partners and had confidence in my future. But as soon as I got pregnant my career took a nose-dive. Almost imperceptibly, the firm began to exclude me from meetings, reassigned the more interesting work to attorneys with less experience and cut me off until I really had no choice but to leave.
Without realizing what was happening, the firm put me in a corner. And the statistics show that Utah today isn't doing much better than New York City 15 years ago. Utah women are mothers and professionals, but many Utah employers are stubbornly unwilling to create accommodations for women who choose to balance work and family. And forget trying to find well-paid part-time work. You may as well be walking around with a scarlet P on your chest, warning potential employers to stay away, because, in their mind, a part-time worker is a full-time burden.
After my time in New York City I moved to Los Angeles with a young family and a desire to make a difference. But five years passes quickly when you're elbow-deep in diapers and dishes. With three young children and one on the way, the incredulous questions and horrifying stares became tiresome. Yes, they're all mine. Do you want one? It was time to move to the only state that would get me: Utah.
I jumped into politics when I first moved to Utah. Say what you will about Utah's political caucus system, but it is undoubtedly the most accessible system I have ever encountered. Within a few years, I went from serving in the county party to being a state party officer – all because I was willing to show up.
In 2014 I ran for attorney general after John Swallow resigned. But I almost didn't run. A good friend encouraged me, pointing out how women too often overestimate the experience of their male rivals and discount and dismiss their own experience. We put ourselves in the corner, too.
It's that perspective I hope to bring to this column. In my view, if we're not fighting about sex, politics, family or religion, well, then, what's the point? If you're looking for perfection, I'm not your gal. I prefer talking about tough issues and the imperfect folks willing to take those issues head on – people who struggle and question and kick against the pricks. Like the quiet mom sitting in the back of the congregation with pants on. In other words, I'm comfortable with conflict and controversy – and hope readers will challenge me. Ballroom dance requires a strong tension between partners – a back and forth that is vulnerable yet fiercely independent. I hope to be that kind of partner.
And lastly, while I do welcome criticism, I don't see the purpose of filling the comment section with it. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that personal criticism should be handwritten, cursive notes, delivered through the mail, five-day delivery or longer, and always accompanied with a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. Just saying.
Michelle Quist Mumford is a Tribune editorial writer.