Guest editorial: How to help more girls and women in Summit County thrive

Guest editorial: How to help more girls and women in Summit County thrive

Dr. Susan R. Madsen

Earlier this year, I met with 35 leaders and community members in a think tank session focused on how people in Summit County can work to strengthen women and girls. In my work with the Utah Women & Leadership Project, I often talk about the positive impact women and girls can have in Utah. Our informative and insightful conversation revealed both concerns and potential solutions unique to your amazing area. I have summarized some main points that emerged from this think tank.

Youth and Sports: Think tank participants proposed establishing a youth center where all youth can come together, as well as creating a county-wide youth council involving teens from a variety of organizations that provides young women an opportunity to speak out and lead. The importance of athletic role models and opportunities for girls and young women was emphasized; this also positively emphasizes a healthy lifestyle and exposure to a variety of sports.

Education: It is critical that young women complete high school and obtain college certificates and degrees to further their development. To this end, participants recommended that leadership skills be taught in all K-12 schools, along with financial literacy, positive sex education, and that girls have many options for college majors and careers. School leaders are encouraged to eliminate gender bias and to ensure the needs of multicultural students are addressed.

Health and Wellbeing: Mental health concerns for girls and women include negative self-esteem, poor body image, and low confidence levels. Ways to strengthen this include eliminating pressure to be perfect by reframing failure as a component of growth, normalizing consent by teaching how to set and enforce boundaries, and believing women when abuse is reported. Lowering barriers to treatment can address issues before they become problems.

Business and Economics: Women who live in Summit County struggle with affordable childcare and limited opportunities for internal advancement, leadership opportunities, and bias. The group recommends providing training and mentoring to help women network, learn new skills, seek work in male-dominated industries and positions, and coach entrepreneurs. Businesses are encouraged to initiate or expand diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and to reevaluate policies, procedures, and culture.

Culture and Religion: The culture within cities and towns within Summit County dovetails with religion creating opportunities for growth for women of all races and ethnicities. Improvement in this area might start by encouraging self-determination of life choices rather than assuming those assigned by culture, religion, or tradition; reevaluating leadership structures in all organizations; and involving multicultural women in community decisions and initiatives.

Community Engagement: Participants recognized the power and influence of well-balanced community boards and committees. Creating a speaking circuit in which women share stories of leadership and celebrating an annual women’s week in the county to educate and eliminate barriers are two great ideas that came out of this discussion.

Our complete conversation and the solutions discussed can be accessed in our What Can I Do? Report where you will find a more comprehensive list of concerns and recommendations. Although the issues are many, solutions are clear and attainable. Please consider what you can do to make a change, be it little or significant. Consider your scope of influence and commit to improving one or more of the areas. and challenge others to do the same. Change on a social level can only be achieved when individuals, organizations, and societies do things differently than they have before. United, those positive actions will result in a secure space for women in Summit County to thrive.

Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.


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