In 2014, the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) team collected data from various sources to understand some of the issues in Utah regarding women, confidence, and leadership. The full set of results was published in a February 2015 research and policy brief titled, “Women, Confidence, and Leadership: What Do Utah Women Leaders Think?” In this blog we highlight the results from the last of the five research questions analyzed: “What can we do to help more girls and women in Utah have more confidence and become leaders?” Data were gathered from three sources: The UWLP LinkedIn group, table dialogues held at a UWLP event, and an online survey. Here is a summary of the results that Dr. Susan R. Madsen wrote and published on this question:
The LinkedIn responses to this question can be sorted into five solution areas.
- Educate girls, young women, and parents more proactively on confidence, life options, and the importance of college and careers.
- Work to help more women graduate from college (e.g., scholarships, grants, lower tuition costs, mentoring, and other programs).
- Educate employers about these issues, including the importance of hiring women, offering flexible work arrangements, and valuing their various life experiences.
- Train more mentors, provide more training and development opportunities, and help make people aware of these programs.
- Work together to help make a difference and continue the conversations more extensively.
Survey and Table Dialogue Data
Six primary themes emerged from the qualitative data gathered from the combined survey and dialogue table notes. There is interesting overlap between these data and those listed above. First, the most frequently mentioned solution is to help more women in Utah to attend and complete college. People discussed the importance of educating women in every stage of life and how education creates both paid and unpaid opportunities and confidence. Attending college helps build confidence, and having a degree provides knowledge and skills that lead to independence and self-reliance for individuals and families. Innovative strategies need to be explored by schools, colleges, and universities to get messages to girls and women of all ages to attend and complete college, whether they come in from high school or are non-traditional students. Also, in addition to traditional scholarships and grants, innovative and groundbreaking financial solutions need to be discovered.
The second most frequently mentioned solution was to have more female role models, mentors, and sponsors in all sectors and in the community at large. Women in any professional position, community role, or leadership area should reach out, encourage, and support girls and women to give them more opportunities. Respondents specifically recommended encouraging and training more effective mentors and bringing awareness to existing high-quality training programs; further, new programs need to be designed and offered for potential mentors and role models. Helping influential individuals strengthen their mentoring and coaching skills (e.g., listening, providing honest feedback, and nonverbal communication skills) can also be helpful.
Third, participants believe that we need to change the way our society views women. Currently there are narrow views of what a “good woman” should do and how she should behave, particularly in Utah. All women have value in whatever role or combination of roles they chose (e.g., workplace, home, community, and politics). According to one participant, “Judging women based on a narrow set of criteria is not helpful for anyone.” Others underscored the importance of all women having choices and knowing their options. It is important for girls and women to understand that it is not “all or nothing.” For example, they can combine having children and finishing college, working a flexible part-time job and raising families, or even running for a political office as a full-time homemaker. Women need to understand that they have many options, and discussing these options with girls and women is critical. As one participant stated, “Women need to know that being a wife and mother is righteous and good, but that women must add on to that a college education and being involved in the community.”
The fourth most common response relates to increasing community support and resources for girls and women. This includes increasing encouragement and support through media, programs, initiatives, and policy changes. Communities can proactively seek women leaders for strategic volunteer and paid positions. More training and development events and programs that will educate and empower girls and women are needed. For example, talking more about confidence will help women discuss it more openly within their spheres of influence and create added awareness. Topics of critical importance include confidence, individual worth, perfectionism, fear of failure, viewing struggles and challenges as opportunities, the importance of risk-taking, the unhealthy need for continuous praise, setting goals, and how to give and receive helpful, honest feedback.
Fifth, there must be widespread awareness of these confidence and leadership issues for women, and they must be discussed openly and more often. In the Utah culture, these topics are typically not discussed. Men and women alike need accurate information and openness. Understanding confidence issues can help people with their own development, but it can also assist them in helping and empowering others (e.g., children, friends, and coworkers). Confidence building starts when children are young, and influencers need to understand it to guide children positively in their early years.
Finally, men need to partner with women on these initiatives, and women should be supporting and encouraging each other. A number of respondents discussed the need to partner with men and to make them allies for empowering girls and women. If men understand the gender confidence gap, the unconscious bias, the benefits that women bring to companies and other types of groups and organizations, and the need for mentoring and supporting women more effectively, they can be a strong force in moving things forward in Utah.
Although most Utah women do believe in supporting each other, a number of participants mentioned that there are women—some who are in key positions—who do not support efforts, initiatives, and programs for women. According to one participant, “Too many women tear each other down, while women need to stand together for the greater good.”
Insights gained from these data will be helpful for Utah leaders and residents to better design efforts to strengthen confidence, develop leadership, and empower women to influence more effectively in the realms in which they choose to engage. It is also important to note that this brief has focused primarily on internal barriers for Utah women, such as self-confidence. Yet, this is only one piece of the puzzle in helping women in our state.
There are a host of external barriers identified in the scholarly and professional literature (e.g., unconscious bias, hostile bias, workplace discrimination, and organizational policies and practices) that need further exploration and potential work within this state. Some efforts are already underway to address some of these issues; however, much more needs to be done to help Utah girls and women become confident participants and leaders in all sectors of society.
The text of this blog was excerpted from a February 2015 research and policy brief authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “Women, Confidence, and Leadership: What Do Utah Women Leaders Think?” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context and methodology.)