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Utah Business

Women in Utah: A Decade of Progress

In November 2008, Dr. Susan Madsen met with Utah’s Commissioner of Higher Education to discuss the lagging graduation rates among Utah women in higher education. Although she knew that conversation was important, she could have hardly been aware of the profound impact it would have.

Ten years later, Dr. Madsen’s willingness to speak up on behalf of Utah women has resulted in a decade of ongoing vital research, comprehensive resources, and impactful events all focusing on strengthening education and leadership opportunities for women and girls in our state.   

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That early meeting, combined with the ongoing support of Utah Valley University (UVU) and the Woodbury School of Business (WSB), led to a nexus of events that included the creation of the Utah Women and Education Project in 2009. The goal of the Project was to develop research that would elucidate why Utah had such a low ranking based on women’s graduation rates. Two years later in 2011, the project merged with the Utah Women’s College Task Force, which was headed by two accomplished women leaders, the Honorable Olene Walker (former Utah Governor) and Bonnie Jean Beesley (former Chair of the Utah Board of Regents). 

This statewide effort, supported by institutions of higher learning, business leaders, and the highest offices of state government eventually resulted in the Utah Women and Education Initiative, serving as a hub for coordinating research and resources that promote change. The current iteration of these efforts occurred in 2013 when Dr. Madsen, who had been leading the charge since the beginning, added a leadership component to her social change efforts resulting in today’s Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP). 

Dr. Susan Madsen and the Utah Women's Leadership Project are doing what they can to change the landscape for Utah women.

Relevancy Ten Years Later

Today, Dr. Madsen and her team reach thousands of women and men each year within the state and even more people globally through their continued research and awareness efforts. She is now considered one of the top global thought leaders on the topic of women and leadership. As the author of six books and an international presenter, Dr. Madsen has facilitated women’s leadership development programs and seminars across more than 40 countries.

What started merely as a concern for the women of Utah has now become a statewide conversation about women and girls and their potential influence in the state and in the world. Early on, UWLP hoped to motivate those to seek leadership opportunities by publishing research that highlighted women who were pursuing leadership roles in politics, business, government, and education. 

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As one of Utah’s most distinguished business and education leaders, Amy Rees Anderson states, “The Utah Women & Leadership Project is providing desperately needed encouragement for women to develop their voices, confidence, influence, and leadership by providing them with a myriad of resources, workshops, and networking opportunities.  As Chair of UVU’s Woodbury School of Business National Advisory Board I am extremely proud of UVU and the WSB for supporting such an important initiative and for leading out on emphasizing the importance of helping Utah’s women excel in whatever fields they choose to pursue.”  

Investing In Women

Although her academic pursuits are impressive, Dr. Madsen’s findings have not just been kept in an academic tome or published in rarefied journals. They are accessible to the public so everyone can understand the unique challenges we face in Utah and what we can do to lead out social change. Most importantly, Dr. Madsen’s research is making a difference in the lives of real Utah women. For example, two women recently shared that the motivation and encouragement they received specifically from UWLP gave them the confidence to invest in their own potential by running for city council positions in their respective communities. This is just one of many stories of women being positively impacted by UWLP. 

Over the past decade, it has become apparent that Dr. Susan Madsen is fully invested in supporting the women of our state, and that the efforts of the Utah Women & Leadership Project are illuminating a future of leadership and education for Utah. In our state there are stereotypes that need to be challenged and barriers that need to be removed in order for Utahns to reach their full potential.

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Like the UWLP’s “What Can I Do?” initiative, there are many opportunities to be involved in changing the landscape set before those within our state. As we look towards the next ten years, the future for Utah looks bright. 

For all of us, the best future will result from promoting and employing the energies, intelligences, passions, and experiences of our own Utahns. Such actions require men and women alike to work together to find success in education, business, government and leadership roles

Dr. Susan Madsen and the Utah Women's Leadership Project are doing what they can to change the landscape for Utah women.

Norman Wright Dean, Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University Dr. Norman Wright is in his tenth year as the Dean of the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University, leading that institution through the introduction of several new programs including a top ten ranked Personal Financial Planning Program and three graduate degrees. He holds a Ph.D. in Management from Wharton as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees from Brigham Young University. Prior to joining the Woodbury School of Business, Dr. Wright was the Founding Dean of the College of Business at Alfaisal University in Saudi Arabia and Dean of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship at the American University of Nigeria. He also served as a professor and academic administrator at Zayed University for women in the United Arab Emirates, the American University of Sharjah, and Brigham Young University Hawaii. He and his wife, Dolly, are the proud parents of three terrific children Heather Sundahl Writer and Media Relations, Utah Women & Leadership Project. Heather Sundahl is the writer and media relations specialist for the Utah Women & Leadership Project at Utah Valley University. She holds a Master's degree in English as well as a Bachelor's degree in Humanities from Brigham Young University. From 2014-2018 she was the President of Exponent II. Before taking on the helm she was an associate editor for the Exponent II. Heather has four kids, two cats, and one husband.