The Gender Gap
Utah has a lot to offer businesses: tax cuts, space to grow, and a hungry workforce. However, according to the latest US Census Bureau, Utah has the largest male to female college education gap in the country. In fact, it’s almost double that of the second to last city, Washington DC. Our state is also tied with Louisiana for having the largest wage gap between male and female employees, an analysis of the same report has shown.
Gender imbalance in the workplace―in Utah and elsewhere―can take on many forms. From sexual harassment and the gender pay gap to those who sit in leadership positions, it can even be seen in education. If we want our state to truly become the place big organizations, tech giants, and venture capitalists all take seriously, we need to course correct the state’s reputation and rise above the statistics.
We can do that, I believe, by rethinking what the work week looks like, embracing the world of remote work and flexibility, and beginning to encourage women from a young age to pursue their dream careers. If we do that, maybe Utah stands a chance at becoming the next hub for tech giants and entrepreneurs alike.
“Women Should Direct Their Energy Toward Being Mothers”
Having a dominant religion in a state doesn’t necessarily add a negative or positive element to a culture, but it is important to realize the impact religion has on culture. In Utah, the impact of the dominant religion―The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints―is certainly a factor.
“If I had some sort of career I was in love with,” she says. “I could totally see why moms make it work to go back to work. But I’m in love with staying home… we found what works for our family and I’m really lucky that we can afford to have me at home.” – Abbey Hunziker
To the Church, the role of a mother is one of the most important roles a woman can have, and perhaps that is why Utah has the largest number of stay-at-home-moms in the country. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Abbey Hunziker chose to be a stay-at-home mother for a number of reasons. Thanks to financial support from her husband, the increasing cost of childcare, and her love of spending time with her daughter, staying at home just made sense. “If I had some sort of career I was in love with,” she says. “I could totally see why moms make it work to go back to work. But I’m in love with staying home… we found what works for our family and I’m really lucky that we can afford to have me at home.”
That being said, many women who do decide to return to work feel the pressure to stay at home. “When I was pregnant, men and women told me that I better not be coming back to work after I had my baby,” says Kat Kennedy, chief product officer at Degreed. “Because women were historically in the household, doesn’t mean that is the way it should be. More men should be demanding flexibility to equalize things out. We are all multifaceted people, men are more than just work, and women are more than just mothers. It’s this societal structure that we need to change.”
“People said the meanest things to me when I got back to work after having my first baby,” says Sunny Washington, CEO at Because Learning. “The Virginia Tech shooting just happened and a lady I worked with told me that the shooter’s mom worked full-time and there was no way she taught him values. She finished by saying, ‘why don’t you just stay home with your baby?’”
“Women Belong In The Home, Not In The Workplace”
This kind of “mom judgment” can certainly hinder a woman’s career. “I’ve heard side conversations about how come [women] are not home raising kids? Why aren’t they with their families?” says William Borghetti, CEO at APIO. “When we talk about women there is a perception and reality problem. The perception is that women shouldn’t be in the business world, they should be at home. The reality is that just because she’s a mom and her kids need her doesn’t exclude her from running a successful venture or company. All she needs is the flexibility to do both.”
“I’m a huge advocate of family,” he continues. “I just don’t buy into the strict interpretation of what it means to be a mom or a dad. In fact, I left work early today so I could spend two hours with my daughter. But I started earlier and will work later tonight. We have to stop saying you are one camp or the other. All we need is greater flexibility.”
“When we talk about women there is a perception and reality problem. The perception is that women shouldn’t be in the business world, they should be at home. The reality is that just because she’s a mom and her kids need her doesn’t exclude her from running a successful venture or company. All she needs is the flexibility to do both.” – William Borghetti | CEO | APIO
Flexibility in the workplace is one aspect of Utah culture that could stand some changes in perception. Many business owners equate flexibility to slacking, which will affect their bottom-line. But research has shown that when employees are allowed to have a strong work-life balance and greater flexibility within the workplace they are more engaged in their work and stay with their company longer.
“We are talking about the wrong things. Family isn’t going away, kids aren’t going away. The right narrative is family is important, so how do you work around your family life?” says Mr. Borghetti. “My daughter wants to go to Stanford and become a surgeon. She wants a family too. I know she will be successful doing both. I don’t see why they are [mutually exclusive].”
“Women Are Too Distracting To Men At Work”
Several of the women I spoke to for this article also mentioned feeling uncomfortable with coworkers because of their perceived sexuality. Though none were willing to speak on the record about it, many expressed the sentiment that some coworkers leave them feeling as though they’re promiscuous beings to be avoided.
“I’ve been sent home from work three times for provocative clothing. I was told I was distracting my male coworkers, but I was wearing a dress my mom bought me from Loft and I always wear tights with everything.” – Anonymous
One employee mentioned a male coworker who would not take meetings alone, share an elevator alone, or be in a car alone with a female coworker. For this reason, a female executive on the team is often excluded from meetings with her male counterpart, and must often drive separately to client meetings. Though his intentions are to remain undistracted and untempted, his actions are hindering her career and the way she is perceived in the workplace.
Another employee who works at a prominent Utah advertising agency mentioned feeling chastised for her choice of dress. “I’ve been sent home from work three times for provocative clothing. I was told I was distracting my male coworkers, but I was wearing a dress my mom bought me from Loft and I always wear tights with everything.”
Despite the fact that she only shops at stores traditionally thought of as professional―stores such as Loft, Ann Taylor, White House Black Market―and describes her style as ‘chic grandma,’ she has been told that she is too distracting to the men at work and has been instructed to go home and change.
“Women Shouldn’t Be The Breadwinners”
According to the US Census Bureau, the average Utah man makes $48,530 compared to the average Utah woman at $34,062. “I found out the men I worked with made more money than me. Being a woman in tech, you just had to put up with it. It was part of the job,” says Ms. Washington.
The gender pay gap isn’t breaking news. For some time now it has been a topic of conversation when it comes to equality in the workplace and some companies have tried to course correct. However, even if a woman makes what her skill set is worth it can be met with negative reactions.
“I remember someone told me they couldn’t believe a female was making as much money as I was. They said there were males that didn’t make that much. Like the male salaries were a benchmark for what females should be making,” says Ms. Kennedy. “Women just have to navigate those types of nuances. We have to bear a burden that some men just aren’t aware of.”
“Women Are Too Emotional To Run A Business”
“I get asked all the time, why don’t women get funding,” says Ms. Washington. “My response is, why don’t you ask [the investors] why they don’t write a check to us? Don’t ask me. That power ultimately lies with the men, not the women speaking up all the time.” – Dalton Wright | Partner | Kickstart Seed Fund
That being said, there are some investors that not only have a reputation for investing in women, they see it as a strategic advantage. “Early on we started taking chances and that opened our eyes to how important investing in women was,” says Dalton Wright, a partner at Kickstart Seed Fund. “We’re always looking for an overlooked opportunity and we found a lot of really talented women who were overlooked for whatever reason. Perhaps it was bias. Overall it led us to get in contact with incredibly talented women that developed interesting technology. I don’t know why no one invested in them.”
Mr. Wright also mentions that he sees very few women on the boards he sits on and considers that to be a disadvantage for Utah’s companies. “There are not a lot of women in the most senior management positions in our tech ecosystem and that can result in a narrow perspective on leadership teams. However, I think that is starting to change as companies are recognizing the value of female executives and board members and are finding increasingly prepared talent to fill those roles. I hope that trend continues,” he says.
“Women Have Too Many Household Responsibilities To Be A Fully Present Employee”
All of the above sentiments can be solved by reimagining a workplace that allows women to have home responsibilities as well as work responsibilities―without forcing them to choose between the two.
“If you think about the productivity and efficiency we are losing because half of our state is not encouraged to live their talents, that’s a business issue. We need to fix this as a state,” says Ms. Kennedy. “We are bound by our artificial archaic boundaries of the nine to five workday. Thanks to technology, and the millions of dollars that are focused on the remote workforce, we don’t need to live by that anymore.”
To Ms. Kennedy, and the many others interviewed for this article, the simple notion of flexibility in the workplace can make businesses more successful by empowering their employees to bring their full selves to work when they can.
“If a woman is in charge of taking care of her children, she can make it work. Give her flexibility to access her talent and work with her calendar. That’s when you get 100 percent of her talent,” says Ms. Kennedy. “You will get so much more out of your employees, men, and women, if you empower them to be their full selves. They are more than clocking in nine to five. To fix the state of Utah, it begins and ends with flexibility.”