Utah women have ideas for how to get more female leaders in top government positions in the state, and their solutions are outlined in a new report.
Those three reports provided numbers for Utahns to see how they fared, but a new brief released earlier this month “gives us more insights on actual women’s deeper experiences,” and what works to support them and what doesn’t, said Susan Madsen, founder and director of the leadership project.
Researchers surveyed 435 women currently leading in municipal, county, state and special district government roles, asking them about pivotal experiences, challenges they’ve faced and their advice about how to help more women advance. (Not all respondents answered every question.)
There weren’t any “huge surprises,” Madsen said, as many of the comments mirrored what is already known from national research and literature. What this report does, though, Madsen said, is say, “This is exactly the experiences of women in the state of Utah.”
There are personal strategies women can use, such as taking risks and seeking a higher education, according to the report. But organizations can help, offering opportunities to work on projects or providing professional development trainings.
“If you demonstrate that you’re a person who wants to excel and learn and contribute, I think if you’re in the right organization, those opportunities will come,” said Cheryl Brown, program manager for Utah’s Community Development Block Grant Program.
When Brown started working for the state roughly 30 years ago, she was an accounting technician. As she rose through the ranks, she learned, “if you can’t be replaced, then you can’t be promoted.” She used to be reluctant to give up some of her duties and let other people take over, but she said she realized that was necessary so she could take on new roles.
Brown said she also was lucky to have mentors who were honest with her even if sometimes it was hard to accept their constructive criticism at first. Once, a mentor taught her to “dress the job you want, not the job you have.”
“I stopped wearing casual pants … even though that was allowed,” Brown said. “I dressed more professionally so that I would be taken more seriously.”
Brown said she also had a supervisor take her aside to tell her their boss thought she was “goofing off” and not taking her job seriously. While Brown knew that leader’s impression wasn’t true, her supervisor helped her see the effects that perception can have.
“It doesn’t mean I stopped being who I was,” said Brown, who described herself as someone with a “big voice” who likes to laugh. “But I was more intentional in how I was carrying myself there.”
Brown benefited from the Utah Certified Public Manager Program, which her department’s leaders encouraged her to do. She said she still has the binders in her office from the course, which she took in 2008.
“It just really gave you all of the tools to learn how to be a manager,” Brown said.