The Current Status of Utah Women and Girls: A Research Synopsis

The Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) has released a synopsis of research that provides a collection of data points that move the conversation from individuals’ perceptions of Utah women’s experiences toward data-driven realities. This research can help Utahns identify and change environments in which women’s perspectives, representation, and leadership are either underrepresented or missing entirely.

The research highlights the anomalies and juxtaposition of Utah’s ratings, some of which are a nod to the characteristics of Utah residents and its leadership. U.S. News & World declared Utah as the “Best State Overall,” ranking No. 1 in both economy and fiscal stability categories, and boasting scores within the top 10 in three additional categories. WalletHub dubbed Utah as the 2023’s Most Charitable State, citing high levels of charitable giving and volunteerism. And the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that Utah has the lowest rate of excessive alcohol use in the nation.

At the same time there are rankings and data that consistently demonstrate that, while Utahns are thriving in many ways, there are vast differences in the way that some experience Utah’s economic success, leadership opportunities, and even safety and belonging.

  • For the 8th year in a row, in August 2023 WalletHub named Utah as the worst state in the nation for women’s equality in its report “Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality.”
  • The 2020 U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Index places Utah in the bottom third (36 out of 51), with inclusion, justice, and security indicators each below the national average.
  • Utah has the 9th highest per capita occurrence of rape.

In a state with a thriving economy, breathtaking scenery and outdoor recreation, a commitment to the arts, access to quality higher education, and people who are ready to help by giving time or resources, it is simply unacceptable that one in seven Utah children will be victims of sexual abuse, that 36.4% of Utah single mothers whose children are under the age five experience poverty, and that in a state with such family-oriented values, one in three women will experience some form of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Data Demonstrates Decline

For more than a decade, the UWLP has been engaged in research, seeking to understand the anomalies described above. UWLP scholars, in partnership with scholars from around the state, have researched everything from substance abuse to civic engagement and sexist comments to opportunities for leadership development. In some areas there has been some growth, with many more Utah women completing bachelor’s degrees than in 2007, and a slow and steady increase in women’s inclusion on state boards and commissions. In many other ways, however, there has been little to no progress, and in some circumstances, data demonstrate a trend toward decline.

And yet, research continues to show that organizations and entities will increasingly thrive when both men and women hold leadership roles and are provided equitable opportunities and access to resources. Gender inclusivity benefits not only businesses, but also families, churches, state legislatures, city councils, the state government, and society at large. This is a cause that all Utahns can (and should) rally behind.

This synopsis examines five areas of focus (community engagement, education, health and wellbeing, safety and security, and workplace) by providing an overarching set of research, giving insight into the status and experiences of women in Utah. Each area of focus also includes recommendations. Moreover, this research synopsis is intended to be a dynamic document and updates and additions will take place quarterly, providing Utah leaders, advocates, businesses, and policymakers with recent data to influence decisions they make.

A Gift to Utah

“This summary of all research is truly a gift to the state,” said Susan R. Madsen, Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project. “This report summarizes significant research that provides insight into the status and experiences of women in Utah, and compares Utah’s data to national data where possible.”

To sustain the success of Utah, to make our communities places where children and families thrive, change must occur. Although the needle has moved slightly in a few areas, with its current trajectory it will take two, three, or even four decades to make notable progress. It is time for Utah to embrace “A Bolder Way Forward (BWF).” “We cannot hope things will improve if we are not willing to make bold strides toward positive change for not only Utah women and girls, but for all Utahns,” said Madsen.

View the full research synopsis and its actionable recommendations here.

Check out some of our other posts