Editor's note: This story is the first of KSL.com's "Utah Women" series, in which we profile individuals and examine issues facing women in the Beehive State in honor of Women's History Month.
SALT LAKE CITY — Natalie Pinkney first knew she wanted to be involved in politics during graduate school but felt it was something she needed to wait to do until she was older.
That quickly changed when she decided to run for the South Salt Lake City Council and won, becoming the first Black woman elected to the council and one of the youngest locally elected people in the county at just 26 years old. Now she's encouraging other young people to get involved, as well.
"If we wait until we're 40 years old, then we won't be able to see the changes — but it also will just take that much longer for progress to happen, especially if we're in a situation where legislation and policies and gentrification is happening so rapidly," Pinkney told KSL.com. "We can help more people than if people were to run now, versus waiting until they're 50 and retired and feel comfortable."
Still, it can feel intimidating at any age to decide to jump into the political arena. Pinkney's advice? Don't fear what's outside your comfort zone.
"It's OK to be uncomfortable and being like, 'I'm just gonna go for it,'" she said.
Getting more women represented in politics is a win for all and can help push positive change forward, she says.
"If you don't have diversity … then you're just going to continue to do the same thing and serve the same people, and we really need to push our government to serve those in the margin — those who are forgotten, are most vulnerable, most attacked, who are struggling the most," she said.
Diversity isn't just about someone's race or gender, either; it's about ideology, background and experience. Getting more women in office is a great place to start, Pinkney said, said but it shouldn't end there.
"We can have a black person in the room, but a black man is different than a black woman, and a black non-binary person, (and) someone who's from a different country — there's just so many different dynamics, and we'll never touch all of it," she explained.
While it's impossible to have every group repressed in office, getting more voices in positions of power will help address larger issues and ultimately serve the entire population, she said. That's one thing Pinkney hopes to see change going forward: the realization that progress for one group helps the whole.
"A lot of people think that their reality is the reality of the entire world," Pinkney said.
Only four women have served in the U.S. House of Representatives in Utah's history, and the state has never elected a woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Utah has never elected a woman for governor, but Olene Walker was appointed to serve as governor to finish out Mike Leavitt's term in 2003. The state also recently elected Deidre Henderson as lieutenant governor, the second woman voted into the position, according to the Utah Women and Leadership Project.
Utah was ranked 32nd in the country for women serving in the state Legislature in 2020, and that number went to 40th in 2021. About 24% of the state's Legislature are women, compared to the national average of 30.8%, according to data from the project.
Representation is not an issue unique to Utah or the United States — data shows 119 countries have never had a woman leader. If the current trends continue, it would take 130 years to reach gender equality in the highest positions of power, according to data from U.N. Women.
That's got to change, according to Yandary Chatwin, the chair of YWCA's Real Women Run Committee.
"Every issue is a woman's issue, whether it applies directly to us, whether it affects our families ratio; every issue is a woman's issue," Chatwin said.
Real Women Run was founded at YWCA Utah in an effort to educate and inspire women to get involved in politics. The group is sponsoring a free online webinar series encouraging women to run for office.
"Having women at the table brings a really important perspective," Chatwin explained. "The issues don't change because more women get elected, but the solutions, the creativity, the answers that we can bring to the table are so important. Women bring in perspective that isn't always reflected in our current elected bodies, and we do need to make sure that we're being representative of our general population."
The webinar series features panels of several local women in an office sharing their experience in politics. Pinkney was involved in one of the series, and other women figures in Utah have been, as well — like Logan Mayor Holly Daines and Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter.
"Our goal is to show women that they can be leaders in their communities," Chatwin said.
The final push for Pinkney to run came when someone tapped her on the shoulder and simply said they thought she should run.
"It just felt like the perfect opportunity," she said.
According to Chatwin, that experience is pretty common considering women are more likely to need encouragement than men are when looking to run for public office.
"Data shows that women need to be asked several times to run for office, so we hope to plant the seed in women's minds that they can be involved in the process," Chatwin said.
Before she was approached, Pinkney knew she was interested in politics, and being on a city council was on a list of her career goals. Today, she counsels other women to pay attention to their goals and make them a reality.
Don't wait for the tap on the shoulder to get started, she said.
"Obviously everyone's looking for that person to approach them, but sometimes that might not happen and it doesn't mean that you shouldn't run," she said.
Don't get hung up on qualifications, Chatwin advised. If you're passionate about an issue and want to make a difference, go for it.
"We want to reach as many women as we can and let them know that they have what it takes to jump into the political process," Chatwin said.