Katie McKellar, KSL

Women hold only 29.1% of Utah municipal leadership roles, study finds

By Daedan Olander, KSL | Posted - Oct. 10, 2020 at 7:47 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Susan Madsen said she was taken aback by what her research team discovered in its third and final quantitative look at leadership in Utah’s public sector.

29.1%.

That’s the proportion of women who hold municipal leadership positions in the Beehive State — a significantly lower percentage than female leaders in Utah’s state and county governments, which are both around 40%.

Madsen is the founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, which released its study on municipal leadership in Utah on Tuesday. The paper is meant to inform Utahns about gender disparity in their government and hopefully work to change the status quo.

“I think Dr. Madsen realizes that, first of all, to really address a problem you have to identify it and quantify it,” said Logan Mayor Holly Daines. “So her studies, I think, have really done an excellent job at gathering data to show us exactly where we are, and then we can take a look and say, ‘OK, we need to make some progress here.’”

“I think it will improve. There’s no question about it. Because we are aware, and we’re working on it, and the numbers will get better.”

7 analyses of the data

The researchers first broke the data down by leadership level, classifying jobs into four categories: top, executive, senior and front line. Generally, researchers expect to see higher percentages of women in front-line positions and lower percentages in more senior roles. The phenomena is called the “leaky leadership pipeline.”

However, the Utah Women and Leadership Project found “almost the opposite is true” in Utah’s municipal leadership. Women hold 23.8% of front-line positions — the lowest level of leadership — 31.8% of senior positions, 40.6% of executive positions and 23.3% of top positions.

Madsen said she isn’t convinced that cities reported all applicable front-line positions, which could have skewed the data.

“That table is what we got, but I think there’s some deeper exploration to do,” she said.

The gender disparity in top positions may be perpetuated by a lack of openings in such positions, Daines said.

“It kind of takes time. We are aware of the situation, and we do try and promote (women),” she said. “I can look and point at some specific examples and can see where in the future we’re headed in that direction, but until you have a vacancy, you can’t say, ‘OK, let’s make sure we have a pool of candidates that reflects diversity.’”

Also noted in the study is how few women occupy city manager roles, an appointed administrative position that is key to how a municipality operates. Of the roughly 96 city managers or administrators in Utah, only five are women.

National data reported by the International City/County Manager’s Association in 2012 showed that 19.8% of city manager positions are held by women in the U.S. As such, the research group concluded that Utah is “well below the national average in terms of women in city manager roles.”

The researchers also analyzed the data by position classifications, based on whether leadership roles are elected, appointed, merit or time-limited/part-time indefinitely.

Appointed positions had the highest percentage of women (40.2%), followed by time-limited/part-time indefinitely (30.9%), elected (26.6%), and finally merit (24.2%).

“There’s people, (male managers), that are becoming more aware of this,” Madsen said. “And when you’re really aware more of your biases and how things can go, you can really be more strategic in your hiring decisions.”

The percentage of women in appointed leadership positions followed county (40.4%) and state (42.3%) data closely.

When looking at leadership roles by the population size of their municipalities, the researchers found that cities with lower populations had higher percentages of women in leadership positions. Towns, representing the lowest populations at 999 people or less, had the highest percentage of women leaders at 36.5%.

Fourth-class municipalities (10,000–29,999), fifth-class A (5,000–9,999) and fifth-class B (1,000–4,999) all had close to 30% of their leadership bodies made up of women.

Larger cities had fewer women in leadership roles, with first-class cities (100,000+) at 25.3%, second class (65,000–99,999) at 18% and third-class (30,000–64,999) at 24.8%.

“You would expect the highest percentages in large cities, and you can see that didn’t really play out,” Madsen said.

In a related breakdown, the researchers classified Utah counties as either urban or rural and looked at how women were represented in leadership positions in both.

Rural counties had a higher proportion of women in municipal leadership roles at 33.6%, compared to urban counties that had 27.1% of their leadership positions filled by women.

Madsen said she was not expecting rural municipalities to have higher percentages of women leaders than more-urban populations.

“It kind of cracked me up in some ways, because I’m like, ‘Where is this city? I’ve never heard of this city,’” she said. “And it’s interesting because it just shows that sometimes these cities just have a rich history of maybe a woman years — and even decades ago — really getting involved in the conversation and that moved things forward where people are just used to having women in those roles.”

The researchers broke down leadership positions by number of municipal employees, in ranges from 0-19 to 1,000-4,000.

The analysis followed a fairly linear pattern, with the highest percentage of women leaders in small municipal governments and lower percentages in larger government bodies.

Cities with 0-19 employees had a percentage of 34.6% female leadership, while cities with 600-999 employees had just 22.3%. The only break in the pattern were cities in the 1,000-4,000 employee range — the largest in the study — which had woman leaders filling 24.7% of its positions, the same as the 200-599 range.

Municipalities with 20-59 employees had women in 33.6% of their leadership positions, and slightly larger municipalities, with 60-199 employees, were at 30.7%.

In a by-county view, Grand County had the highest percentage of women leaders at 63.3%, and Uintah County had the lowest percentage at 11.6%.

Each area is highly unique in terms of history, Madsen explained, and she guessed the reason some cities and counties have more diverse leadership bodies is because they, historically, have had female leaders who have set precedent for the modern day.

Another factor could be increased awareness about equitable leadership.

“To be honest, there’s a lot of work to do to figure out why,” Madsen said. “Those are my guesses.”

The final analysis grouped city leadership positions by multi-county districts. The leadership bodies in the Southeastern multicounty district (Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan counties) were the most representative of women at 44.2%.

The leadership groups in the Uinta Basin multi-county district (Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah counties) were the least representative at 25%.

Tips for improvement

As in two previous papers looking at Utah’s public sector, the Utah Women and Leadership Project ended its report with suggestions on how Utah can improve.

  • Partner with colleges and universities, particularly master of public administration programs, to encourage women to pursue careers in local government.
  • Strategically recruit more women, and particularly women of color, to apply for open positions, and ensure there is a diverse pool of applicants before interviewing begins.
  • Implement employee and family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, flexible working arrangements, day care assistance, lactation support, student loan assistance and tuition reimbursement.
  • Recognize, reward and encourage the work of women in private and public settings. Provide women career exploration, planning and development opportunities, as well as equal access to leadership and professional development training geared to advance their leadership skills and abilities.
  • Encourage associations and other types of organizations to educate public officials, city managers, and other city and town leaders about the value of diversity, equity and inclusion in local government.
  • Support and encourage qualified female candidates to run for mayor, city council and other elected offices and donate to their campaigns early and often.

Daedan Olander

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