Women, Confidence, and Leadership: What Do Utah Women Leaders Think?

The Wall Street 24/7 recently published an article titled “The 10 Worst States for Women,” using rankings from various sources on gender wage gap, percentage of women in state legislatures, percentage of women in management positions, poverty rate of women, and infant mortality rate. Although Utah fared well on the last two, Utah was ranked as the worst state in the nation for women, with less than 31% of management positions held by women (2nd lowest) and only 16.3% of state legislators were women (6th lowest). It was also the 4th worst state with regard to pay, with the widest gap between genders (70 cents per dollar). Although many in Utah disagree with these three data points being used as the criteria for a sweeping determination of which states are the best and worst for women, these reports provide an impetus to explore the perceptions of Utah women about some of these issues.

Utah's Struggle with Women in Leadership

The first question posted on the UWLP LinkedIn group during the summer of 2014 was “Why does Utah struggle with getting more women into leadership roles?” There were approximately 60 responses to the post, and we categorized comments into five primary themes with details listed for each

  • Personal Challenges
  • Lack of Education
  • Work-life
  • Lack of Support
  • Workplace Challenges 

Quantitative Findings

The participants had strong perceptions that Utah women need to be more confident and that more should be done to help girls and women to become more confident and to become leaders. The higher standard deviations mean that there was a broader range of responses. If the sample had included a broader representation of the general population of women in Utah, there most likely would have been different results.

Confidence Concepts

One of the questions asked at the table dialogues after the September 23rd event was, “What confidence concepts or findings most deeply resonated with you? Why?” The question also appeared on the follow-up survey. In combining both data sources, the following is a summary (in rank order of the most commonly mentioned) of the nine concepts attendees felt were most helpful and empowering for them to consider. These can be useful in designing future confidence and leadership programs and initiatives:

  1. Confidence and Related Terms
  2. Gender Confidence Gap
  3. Perfectionism
  4. Failure
  5. Mentors and Role Models
  6. Speaking Up
  7. Communication Habits
  8. Rumination 
  9. Confidence is a Choice 

Personal Confidence Struggles

The second confidence question was two-fold: When have you struggled most in your life with confidence? What would have helped you gain confidence through these experiences? When have you struggled most in life with confidence? Six primary themes emerged during data analysis:

  1. Growing Up
  2. Motherhood
  3. Failure
  4. Body Image and Appearance
  5. Mixed Messages
  6. Workplace Challenges 

Proposed Solutions

Responses from the final question, “What can we do to help more girls and women in Utah have more confidence and become leaders?”  the most frequently mentioned solution is to help more women in Utah to attend and complete college. People discussed the importance of educating women in every stage of life and how education creates both paid and unpaid opportunities and confidence. Attending college helps build confidence, and having a degree provides knowledge and skills that lead to independence and self-reliance for individuals and families. Innovative strategies need to be explored by schools, colleges, and universities to get messages to girls and women of all ages to attend and complete college, whether they come in from high school or are non-traditional students. Also, in addition to traditional scholarships and grants, innovative and groundbreaking financial solutions need to be discovered.


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