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I attended the launch last month of the Women’s Leadership Institute, a group of men and women in Utah committed to elevating the stature of women’s leadership in our state. Pat Jones, who serves as CEO of the institute, said it best: “Our state will fall behind if we don’t use the full capacity of women.”
In what will be remembered by those in attendance as a moving event, executive vice president of Zions Bank Lori Chillingworth spoke with candor about how Utah’s record of female leadership lags behind other states. She said women bring needed perspective to business leadership roles and improve the bottom line. She referenced the massive cultural shift occurring toward more women in leadership roles and encouraged Utah to get on board. And that’s exactly what people did.
In a strong showing of support, more than two dozen Utah companies stood up to take what is called the ElevateHER Challenge. The challenge includes specific areas where businesses and organizations can benefit from more women in leadership roles. Areas of focus include increasing the percentage of women in senior leadership positions, increasing the retention rate of women, increasing the number of women on boards and commissions, recruiting women to run for public office, and monitoring pay by gender and closing identified gaps.
An impressive list of companies took the challenge: American Express, Buckner Companies, CHG Healthcare Services, Goldman Sachs, Intermountain Healthcare, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, Questar, Union Pacific Railroad, Wells Fargo and Zions Bank, to name just a few. Many of Utah’s colleges and universities jumped on board, as well as the state of Utah.
It was also meaningful to see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as many of its business interests, take the challenge. This slate of companies includes Beneficial Life, Bonneville Communications, Deseret Book, Deseret Digital Media, Deseret News Publishing and Temple Square Hospitality. I think it’s safe to say the LDS Church recognizes the value of women’s leadership and is prepared to advance women in leadership roles. I’m proud they took this step.
My favorite part of the launch was the genuine and heartfelt remarks by Gov. Gary Herbert. In what I think was one of the best speeches of his administration, he said, “We can do better. We can raise the bar.” Then he spoke with affection about the women in his administration who have made or are making an extraordinary contribution to the leadership of our state. Reflecting on their contributions, Herbert quoted from author and historian Wallace Stegner who wrote in his book about the Mormon westward migration, “Their women were incredible.”
Particularly moving was the governor’s tribute to First Lady Jeanette Herbert. While she was not in attendance, we all felt her strength. Gov. Herbert described the challenges his family faced during the 1980s when his real estate career struggled due to a market correction. He credited his wife for recognizing and asserting, “We can do something else to survive.” The governor and Mrs. Herbert then opened a pre-school/daycare business to support their family and lend service to other families in need. They operated the business for 23 years. In this way, Utah’s First Lady set a great example of how to raise a family, own a business and strengthen the community.
In my judgement, Pat Jones is the perfect person to lead this effort. Not only has she set an amazing example as a mother, a business leader and an elected official, she knows how to get things done. She is already moving the needle. I’m confident the needle will keep moving in the coming years as the Women’s Leadership Institute begins to train women in leadership skills, convey the positive impact women have on economic development, and increase people’s understanding of the valuable perspective women bring to the leadership table.
Jones is already thinking about the next generation of female leadership. She says, “We must think about the importance of building our bench,” adding, “Our daughters and granddaughters need to see what they can be.”
I’m a believer. If you want to be a part of this exciting movement, take the ElevateHER Challenge. Visit www.WLIUT.com. Let’s lift our community to a better place. Let’s recognize and benefit from the full value of human perspectives. Let’s bring together the complementary roles of men and women and make Utah a better place.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.