By Julene Reese
Utah has a rich heritage of women involved in voting, advocacy and politics. However, for decades, Utah has lagged behind most other states in terms of women running for and serving in elected political roles.
To track the progress of Utah women serving in politics, the Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) began reporting on the status of women in politics in 2014, with updates in 2017, 2021, 2022 and 2023.
“The reports are intended to be a snapshot to identify if changes have been made,” said Susan Madsen, UWLP founding director and one of two report authors. “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.”
Research findings for 2023 are categorized by political offices.
Records show that only four Utah women have served in Congress since its statehood in 1896. Utah has six seats in its national delegation (two senators and four representatives), but none of Utah’s congressional seats are currently held by women, though the national average is 27.9% female.
Of statewide executive office seats, (governor/lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor and state treasurer) Utah has 20% females in these executive offices compared to the nation at 30.3%. Utah is one of 21 states with a female lieutenant governor.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, a record-breaking 2,416 women are serving in state legislatures in the country in 2023, with 119 added since 2022. In Utah, 26% (27 of 104) of Utah legislators are women, compared to 32.7% nationally.
Five of the 11 leadership positions in the House of Representatives are held by women, three more than in 2022.
In Utah, 20.7% of Utah county commission and council seats are held by women, compared to 53.4% of the predominately full-time elected positions of clerk/auditor, treasurer, recorder, and assessor nationally.
No municipal elections were held in 2022, so data for the mayor and city councils remain the same as the 2022 report. Up 6.5% from 2021, 23.8% of Utah mayors are women, and more of Utah’s larger cities are being led by women. In city councils, 29.8% in Utah municipalities are female. For boards of education, in 2023 there are 235 total district board of education elected seats, and 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 a report author. “Some include societal attitudes, poor treatment of female candidates who run, biases in party politics toward traditional practices that keep women from running and networking, and the way women are treated by the media.”
Madsen said while the tide is turning, understanding and removing the barriers women face when running for public office in Utah are critical moving forward.
“We encourage Utah leaders and residents to do more to implement and support these efforts,” she said. “Research continues to confirm that when both men and women serve together in communities, counties and states, all residents are better served and are more likely to thrive.”
To see the full report and links to previous studies, click here. To learn more about the UWLP and upcoming events, visit utwomen.org.