What can you do to empower women?

Plus: Special Q&A with YWCA CEO Anne Burkholder

Sarah Ryther Francom

May 20, 2014

We are all lucky to live in a state home to many dedicated, talented and ambitious professionals like those represented in this year’s 30 Women to Watch feature. These accomplished and inspiring leaders are changing our businesses, communities and state. Read their stories beginning on page 66.

While we at Utah Business are honored to highlight the accomplishments of these outstanding 30 Women to Watch, we also believe it’s our responsibility to examine the persisting and troubling gaps between men and women in the workplace. A recent Utah-focused report published by the local YWCA and Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that though many great strides have been made toward enhancing women’s roles in the workplace, there’s still much work that needs to be done—which, unfortunately, has been the story for too long. You can find the entire report, “The Well-being of Women in Utah,” by visiting

I recently discussed the report with YWCA CEO Anne Burkholder, who acknowledges that she has more questions than answers when discussing women’s evolving roles in our businesses, government and community. While she has much to say about the troubling issues often discussed, such as compensation gaps, lower education levels and lower political participation, what I found most compelling was her response to what business leaders can do to empower women. Here’s her message to business leaders:

 “Women have received messages from girlhood about their value and their possibilities in life. Challenge attitudes and beliefs that disrespect their value, narrow their life possibilities and discourage them from developing as whole persons. Suspend negative judgments about women who work, whether by choice or necessity. Working women are contributing to the economic health of their families and their communities, and developing skills that we need for Utah’s future. Give women unbiased information about their job prospects and welcome them to a wide range of professions and occupations. Create an environment where they can earn their success and enjoy economic freedom and mobility. Good, fair wages that pay for the basics of life and create economic security; flexible work hours to accommodate parenting and elder care; access to quality, affordable child care; good transportation options; opportunities for further training and advancement—all of these work/family supports benefit women, and they benefit families. Acknowledge that there are already many strong, smart, talented, educated Utah women who are ready to contribute. Seek them out to serve on the boards of your companies. Develop them into leaders for your company. Value their contributions as highly as men’s. Encourage women to run for public office at all levels of government, support their candidacies, educate them about the issues that matter to you, value their perspectives.”

As Burkholder says, Utah’s vitality and future depend on our ability to develop the full range of talents and life prospects of all of our people. This sentiment extends to the business realm. When one group is missing from the boardroom, ideas and innovations are missing, opposing viewpoints are missing and questions challenging the status quo are missing. Women’s place at the table is important to shaping your company’s future, as well as our community’s future.

EXTRA: Q&A with YWCA CEO Anne Burkholder

Why do you think the wage gap persists? How does the wage gap impact families and our community?

One reason is occupational segregation – there are lower earnings in occupations mainly done by women. This raises all sorts of questions that are important to talk about. There’s also good evidence of barriers to free choice of professions and occupations; these may range from lack of unbiased information about job prospects to actual harassment and discrimination in male-dominated jobs. In addition, women still tend to be the ones who take time off when families have children, and this affects wage earning.

The gender wage gap has an impact on earning success for women, their own economic freedom and mobility, and their family’s economic security. Whether a sole wage-earner or a second wage-earner, a woman who earns less brings fewer financial resources to her family and spends less in her neighborhood and community. She can save less for her children’s education, and for her own retirement. If a family depends solely upon a mother’s earnings, and these do not cover basic expenses, she may need to seek public benefits or charitable help to care for her own family. This is a difficult prospect for hard-working people, it should be unnecessary, and it has many ramifications inside and outside the family.

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