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Murray Journal

Women’s Leadership Institute 
encourages Utah women to ‘Step Up and Run’

Feb 21, 2019 02:20PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

The Women’s Leadership Institute honored the efforts of 43 Utah women who completed its 2018 six-month Political Development Series Feb. 7 at the State Capitol.

By Jennifer J. Johnson | j.johnson@mycityjournals.com

“Make a difference in your community by stepping up and running for office.”

That is the straightforward pitch of Utah’s Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI), an innovative organization whose class of more than 40 women politicians and public servants graduated last month. This year’s class was honored Feb. 7 at the Capitol on the floor of the Utah Senate and House of Representatives.

This new cohort of women becomes a leadership force of more than 160 women who have completed the six-month, bipartisan training, covering everything from campaign finance to canvassing. Five of Utah’s mayors, (including Provo City’s first female mayor), two county commissioners, and multiple city council members are among the graduates.

‘Cultural Urgency’ for governing differently 

The WLI Political Development Series, which has been running since 2015, now, more than ever has “cultural urgency,” said Patricia Jones, WLI chief executive officer. This cultural urgency can be seen on topics such as education funding, an issue of particular concern to women.

The 2016 New York Times article “Women Actually Do Govern Differently” articulates this point. “Women govern differently than men do in some important ways. They tend to be more collaborative and bipartisan [and] push for far more policies meant to support women, children, [and] social welfare.” But these bills are also more likely to die, largely because of gender bias, research shows. Women in Congress sponsor and co-sponsor more bills than men do, and bring nine percent more federal money to their districts, according to a study in the “American Journal of Political Science.” 

A 2018 “Political Science Research and Methods” study of more than 150,000 public bills introduced to the national legislature between 1973 and 2014 found that women were significantly more likely than men to sponsor bills in areas like civil rights, health and education. Men were more likely to sponsor bills in agriculture, energy and macroeconomics.

“I think that we were actually ahead of our time with encouraging women to run for office,” observed Jones.

Jones, who served 14 years in the Utah Senate and House of Representatives, was herself ahead of her time and now has helped mentor some of the women comprising Utah’s legislature, which has more women than ever before.

While serving in the legislature, Jones’s sponsorship of funding to teach Utah high school students about personal finance is an example of what WLI does well – help women learn how to advance their unique, passionate perspectives through politics. (Thanks to Jones’ successful program, Utah is the only state in the United States credited by Yahoo Finance in 2018 as receiving an “A+” for preparing students with financial literacy.)

The Women’s Legislative Network of the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that in 2019 women comprise 28.5 percent of all state legislators nationwide, an increase of 25.3 percent, and the most women elected at one time. Utah’s current legislature is 24 percent female – with 25 of 104 lawmakers being women. 

According to 2017 research by the Utah Women & Leadership Project, 24.1 percent of all council members in Utah municipalities are female. 

Stepping up to run and to encourage  

“These women are committed to run for office. Or at the very least make a difference in their communities,” Jones explained. Jones went on to describe this year’s class as an extremely diverse group comprised of single moms, women of color, and women with disabilities. “These are women who represent our state and are willing to step up and run.” 

“Stepping up” is not just for women, Jones is quick to point out.

Men mentoring women is part of WLI’s ElevateHER Challenge. “We encourage men and women to mentor each other and also to encourage women they know to run for office,” said Jones.

Jones makes the pitch personal, actionable. “If you have a co-worker, neighbor, or family member who would be great — reach out and encourage them. Just like every other piece of advancement, supportive men are a critical component of women who run and end up winning in political office.

“Helping women and men understand the value of gender diversity in business and politics has really become a critical piece of what we do. Not because it’s the ‘nice’ thing to do, but because it’s what can bring a return on investment rapidly. We need women’s voices and we need them at every level.” 

Women leaders: A gubernatorial mandate

Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox has served on the board of directors for WLI the past five years. He joined WLI CEO Jones in presenting this year’s class with certificates of accomplishment at the Capitol.

The City Journals asked the lieutenant governor how he sees his role – and that of the Governor – in helping Utah women engage and be enabled to make a difference in Utah politics.

“Women need to know that they are needed at the highest levels. The Governor and I are committed to speaking up on this as often as we can,” he said. 

Cox says he is familiar with dozens of women who have completed the training series. “I'm proud that many have gone on to run for office and earn leadership roles in business. This training provides them with skills and resources to make those leaps forward, and the opportunity to meet other strong women with the same drive and passion to make a difference.”

Cox observed that, historically, Utah’s legislature “has not very many women.”

“I am happy to see that changing — even though it is perhaps still changing too slowly,” he said. The new WLI graduates, he says, “represent what Utah has to offer by way of outstanding public leaders in years to come. I am encouraged by their desire to serve. They are prepared, and committed, to improving their world and our great state, and we are proud of their efforts.”

How to step up

There is already a waiting list for WLI’s 2019 training, which is scheduled to start September 2019. Interested women can join the list at www.wliut.com/pds. The 2018 cost was $179 for the six, three-hour sessions, which all included lunch. Sessions were alternatingly held at the Salt Lake Chamber and at Silicon Slopes, with live streaming available for those not able to attend in person.

In addition to the Women’s Leadership Institute, Salt Lake Valley women might consider the national She Should Run organization (https://www.sheshouldrun.org/). Real Women Run (https://www.ywcautah.org/real-women-run/)  is a local YWCA program tailored for women more in the beginnings of political interests and often collaborates with WLI.