Utah has a reputation for being a traditional, conservative religious country. The stereotype of the state is one that’s full of people in very traditional gender roles. However, a closer look at the figures shows that women fill over 40% of leadership positions at the county level across the state. Recently, the Utah Women and Leadership Project studied the level of participation women have in their local governments.
Even that number can mask the true extent to which women are involved in their local politics. For example, in Emery County, over 70% of leadership positions are held by women. That’s the highest rate in the state. By contrast, the lowest rate of women in leadership roles is seen in Piute County. This is a sparsely-populated region, with a population of under 1,500 residents.
Utah is divided into 29 counties that vary significantly in terms of demographics. Some, like Salt Lake, are urban centers and have a mixed population in terms of religion. They tend to be more secular. In Salt Lake, over 49% of county leadership roles are filled by women. But in rural counties, the picture is very different. Juab County in Western Utah has a population of under 13,000 people. There, less than 20% of county leadership positions are filled by women.
Prior to the release of this report, it wasn’t really clear exactly how many women were taking part in government throughout the state of Utah. And although the picture has now been clarified at the county level, there are still questions about their participation in other roles. However, the UWLP is researching and planning to release another report about women in city government in October of 2020. This report may also be illuminating in unexpected ways.
The numbers in this report reflect a turnaround for the state. As recently as 2014, only one woman was sitting on the Salt Lake County Council. Some of the women in these roles note that while progress has been made, it’s still not uncommon at state-level meetings for there to be just one or two women involved. As the population and demographics in Utah continue to evolve, it’s hoped that there will be more representation for all groups of people throughout the state.