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‘We need that perspective’: Gov. Cox says Utah needs more women in politics

Gov. Spencer Xo
Kristine Weller
Patricia Jones, the CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute, and Gov. Spencer Cox talk at the “Elevating Women in Utah” forum, Aug. 25, 2022.

During a forum with the Women’s Leadership Institute, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox relayed a conversation he had with his staff about dentists. Someone was talking about their dentist and said she was great. Cox paused and said he had never met a female dentist. He has met female truck drivers and female airline pilots, but never a female dentist.

That might be because Utah has a very low rate of female dentists. In 2017, only 4.1% of Utah’s dentists were women.

This was just one example of leadership gaps Cox discussed in the hour-long event on Aug. 25. He also talked about how to narrow the wage gap, support women in leadership and enlist them in politics.

Cox said women are needed in political leadership positions because they bring a different way of thinking.

“We need that perspective, but we don’t have enough there to make it happen,” Cox said. “We haven’t had a female in leadership in the House majority party for the past few years and it’s noticeable.”

Utah has never elected a woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, and it has only ever sent four women to the U.S. House of Representatives. There are currently no women serving in Utah’s congressional delegation.

“We have a more exaggerated gap than most states in the nation,” said Susan Madsen, the founder of the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah State University.

One way to help is to encourage and support women running for political office.

“The research is quite clear that when there’s a more equitable representation of men and women, that society is served in better ways because you just represent people more,” Madsen said.

Legislation can also help close leadership and wage gaps. For example, banning organizations from asking about previous salaries can prevent biases that keep women at lower pay rates.

Utah has consistently ranked as one of the worst states in the nation for gender pay gaps. Women in the state earn about 70 cents for every dollar men make. The national average is 82 cents to the dollar.

Madsen said another factor at play is how men and women are socialized. She said while it’s OK for men to ask for what they want and have public roles, the message isn’t always the same for women. And encouraging women to ask for raises doesn’t always help.

“When women do ask for a raise or ask to make a certain amount of money, men and women managers will think less of them,” Madsen said “They don’t do that when men ask for raises.”

There has been progress in some areas, though. Utah increased its percentage of female mayors by almost 15 percent since 2017.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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