Women in Utah have a long history of political participation. Women’s representation in Utah’s government has lagged behind the national average for decades.
Utah State University’s Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) has been publishing annual reports on the status of women in politics in Utah since 2014, with subsequent updates in 2017, 2021, 2022, and now 2023.
UWLP’s founding director and one of the reports’ two authors, Susan Madsen, explained that the reports are meant to serve as a “snapshot” to help determine if any changes have been made. As the author puts it, “it is also a call to action for Utah residents and leaders to encourage and support future efforts to diversify voices on Utah’s Capitol Hill and in our cities, towns, and counties around the state.”
The findings for the year 2023 are broken down by the various political positions that will be available.
Since Utah became a state in 1896, only four women have represented it in Congress. While the national average for representation of women in Congress is 27.9%, none of Utah’s six congressional seats are held by women at the present time.
There are fewer women serving as Utah’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor, or state treasurer (20%) than there are serving in similar roles across the country (30.3%). There are currently 21 states with female lieutenant governors, and Utah is one of them.
Since 2022, an additional 119 women have been elected to state legislatures across the country, bringing the total number of women in office to a record 2,416 in 2023, as reported by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. Women make up 26% of Utah’s legislature (27 of 104 total), lower than the national average of 32.7%.
There are currently five women serving in leadership roles in the House of Representatives, which is three more than in 2022.
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While women make up 53.4% of the predominantly full-time elected positions of clerk/auditor, treasurer, recorder, and assessor across the country, they only make up 20.7% of the county commission and council seats in Utah.
Due to the lack of local elections in 2022, all of the information regarding the mayor and city councils is carried over from the previous report. Utah now has a higher proportion of female mayors than any other state, with 23.8% of all mayors being female. In Utah, women make up 29.8 percent of city council members. In 2023, out of a total of 235 seats on district school boards, women held 128 (54.5%, up from 47.6% in 2021).
“In earlier UWLP reports, we discovered several factors accounting for why more women do not run for office,” said April Townsend, UWLP research fellow and report author. “Some include biases in party politics towards traditional practises that keep women from running and networking, the way the media portrays women, and societal attitudes,” the author writes.
According to Madsen, while the tide is turning, it is crucial to identify and remove the obstacles women face in Utah when seeking public office.
She urged the people of Utah to “do more to implement and support these efforts” by their government and citizens. More and more studies show that “communities, counties, and states are better served and more likely to thrive when both men and women serve together.”