May 1, 2012

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Closing the Achievement Gap

Sarah Ryther Francom

May 1, 2012

For 13 years, Utah Business has been celebrating outstanding businesswomen in our 30 Women to Watch program. Year after year, we are amazed at the accomplishments these women have achieved for their companies, communities and the state. Ranging in industries and titles, these honorees are another testament of the important role that women play in shaping Utah’s future. Read their stories beginning on page 66.

There’s no doubt that Utah’s businesswomen are integral to the state’s robust economy. More than 66,000 women-owned businesses employ 57,400 and contribute $11.4 billion to the state’s economy each year, according to the most recent American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. And the number of women-owned businesses is increasing at a steady 57 percent.

Despite these positive figures, disconcerting trends persist. For example, Utah’s businesswomen hold fewer c-level management and board-level positions. And while more women in the state are enrolling in higher education, Utah has the largest gap in the nation between male and female college graduation rates, according to the Department of Workforce Services.

Furthermore, studies have again revealed that Utah’s working women receive unequal compensation. The latest report from Equal Pay Day revealed that Utah’s wage gap between men and women is the third worst in the nation (outranking only Louisiana and Wyoming). Utah women earn just 69 cents for every dollar paid to their male colleagues, resulting in a yearly gap in wages of $14,446. Nationally, women working full time are paid 77 cents per dollar. 

I recently spoke with MaryPat Kavanagh, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners), about the vital role of women in Utah’s economy and how today’s business leaders can improve the environment for the next generation.

“I think that Utah has evolved much in the last few years as a friendly, welcoming environment for women entrepreneurs, but unfortunately we have a long way to go,” she says. “I often hear women discussing the opportunity they have, the passion and purpose that has driven them into entrepreneurship, and then they do not achieve their dream—not because they can’t but because they think they can’t…The successful women I know—it didn’t even occur to them that they couldn’t do something. They just did it.”

Kavanagh says that Utah’s businesswomen have an important responsibility to help guide young women. “I do believe that change starts with us individually. As women we need to step up and be role models. We don’t pat ourselves on the back often enough. But for the sake of our community and for the sake of our next generations, we need to pat ourselves on the back and show girls what they can accomplish.”

How can you help? Volunteer in schools or clubs. Participate in career fairs and community organizations like NAWBO. While there is much to celebrate regarding the advancements of women in business, Utah’s business leaders—especially businesswomen—can help reduce the troubling achievement gaps between men and women by actively setting an example of what our children can accomplish.

From the Editor
Sarah Ryther Francom

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