UWLP Publishes Research on K-12, Higher Education, Organizational Strategies

Researchers from the Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) conducted a statewide study to establish a baseline of public perceptions of the awareness, understanding, and attitudes regarding the challenges of Utah women and girls. The survey, conducted in the fall of 2023, focused on five areas: education, community engagement, safety and security, health and wellbeing, and the workplace.

The 80-question survey was based on existing literature and survey instruments, guidance from experts, and baseline data needed by leaders of A Bolder Way Forward (BWF). This initiative invites Utahns to break down the barriers that keep women and girls from thriving.

A total of 19 research summaries have been or will be published to provide Utah leaders and residents with insights into Utahns’ current perceptions. Thirteen have now been released.

The UWLP collected data from Oct. 24 to Nov. 30, 2023, with 3,505 Utahns ages 18 and older participating. Today, UWLP is releasing the following research summaries: K-12 Initiatives, Higher Education Attainment, and Organizational Strategies and Workplace Culture. The summaries, authored by Susan R. Madsen, founder and director of UWLP, are being used to set goals and metrics for a BWF. Below are the highlights of each research summary.

K-12 Initiatives
Utah ranks 50th in the U.S. when it comes to the largest disparity between boys and girls in 8th grade math test scores. Most Utahns, and women more firmly, believe girls and young women need stronger math skills, encouragement and access to complete career and technical education, as well as opportunities for advanced coursework.

Survey results included:

  • Most Utahns agree that it is important for girls in K-12 to have strong math skills for their future career and life, with about 40% strongly agreeing.
  • 82.2% agree at some level that young women need to complete career and technical education pathways in high school.
  • Nearly 2,300 Utahns “strongly agree” that it is as important for girls as it is for boys to take advanced coursework in high school that prepares them for postsecondary opportunities and careers.
  • 55.33% agreed or strongly agree that it’s concerning that “The National Report Card” math scores for 4th and 8th grades in Utah are lower for girls than they are for boys.

 “Our results illustrate there are subtle and not-so-subtle messages influencing Utah girls to believe they are not good at math. The divide, however, has been created by socialization rather than genetics,” said Madsen.

Higher Education Attainment
Most Utahns acknowledge the broad value of higher education beyond the economic benefit and agree it is important for women to complete graduate degrees. Respondents also agree that inclusive environments are critical for students to feel as if they belong.

Survey results indicated:

  • 91.0% of survey participants strongly or somewhat agree that higher education is important for intellectual growth, personal development, and life-long societal contributions.
  • Most people agree that inclusive environments are critical to cultivating culture of belonging in higher education. In fact, only 10.7% disagree at any level.
  • 62.7% of survey takers agree or strongly agree that it is important that more Utah women complete graduate degrees.
  • 75.22% agree at some level that women students of color face more barriers than other students when pursuing careers in high-wage, high-demand fields.

 “The pursuit and completion of post-secondary certificates and degrees remains a critical component for the economic stability of families, communities, and the state. Expanding access and opportunity to higher education for all Utahns is important moving forward,” explained Madsen.

Organizational Strategies, Workplace Culture
Findings in this category reflect Utahns’ current perceptions of workplace strategies and culture. These topics have been increasingly important the past few years in the state, necessitated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the talent shortage, the adoption of innovative flexible and family-friendly practices and policies are needed now more than ever.

Findings include:

  • Nearly half of respondents (46.7%) are either unsure or disagree that their organization offers family friendly policies that meet their needs.
  • 43.33% of individuals are unsure or disagree that that they have opportunities for advancement within their organization; women were less likely to report opportunity for advancement.
  • Only 17.0% of respondents strongly agree that their organizations have “strategies that advance women in the workplace.” Nearly 1 in 3 respondents are neutral (32.1%), and 21.2% disagree on some level.
  • Survey respondents are split when it comes to feeling a sense of belonging at work Demographic groups with stronger feelings of belonging include those with college education, higher income, individuals who are married and/or are parents, full-time employees, and individuals who identify as Pacific Islander or White. Respondents who identify as Black or Native American/American Indian are the least likely to experience feelings of belonging.

Madsen points out that, “Utah is most likely making progress since the pandemic forced workplaces to become more flexible. But there is still work to do. Partners, such as the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and the Women’s Leadership Institute, are leading the change in Utah. To continue Utah’s economic success, it is critical that more employers support employees in more powerful ways.”


For the eighth year in a row, WalletHub has named Utah as the worst state in the nation for women’s equality. Its recent ranking of the Best and Worst States for Women has Utah ranked at 35. The overarching of A Bolder Way Forward is to help more Utah girls, women, and families thrive. “When we strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women, we strengthen everyone,” said Madsen.

View the full research summaries here.

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