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Cox pushes for changes after survey ranks Utah dead last on women's equality

Posted at 5:54 PM, Aug 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-25 19:54:39-04

SANDY, Utah — Governor Spencer Cox said there is a lot that can be done to elevate women in leadership and politics in Utah.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the Women's Leadership Institute on Thursday, the governor said his administration has already instituted changes to close wage gaps in stage government and include women's voices in policy decision-making.

"We did our own wage gap study and we’ve been working to repair any issues that existed in that study. Those are things that business can and should be doing," the governor said.

He pointed to his own cabinet, which includes a number of women in leadership roles. Gov. Cox told the crowd that the people he picks are the best qualified, but that sometimes they had to look outside more traditional places to find them.

Reacting to the recent Wallethub survey that ranks Utah last in the nation on women's equality, Gov. Cox said there are some things outside his control (like one criteria that there is no female U.S. senator from the state). There are also a lot of decisions that are made by private sector that may be different than executive branch policies.

Patricia Jones, a former state senator and now the CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute, said Utah actually has made some improvements on that front.

"I was hoping we could move up but it takes time to actually have these happen," she told FOX 13 News on Thursday. "We are seeing a lot of change internally in a lot of the companies we deal with."

Still, there was improvements that can be made from a government perspective. Gov. Cox said he has ordered the removal of state hiring requirements for a Bachelor's degree, noting that some women drop out of college to care for children. He supported expanded child care as a way to help women advance in the workplace. He added his administration was creating a special office to address family policies.

"We’ve become very intentional about supporting families and helping families. Part of this, I think,is a child care issue," he told the crowd.

Gov. Cox told reporters after the forum the state would be exploring other policies to help women in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion.

"We’re looking at policies, especially in light of the Dobbs decision, to make sure that we are supporting women — especially single moms, low-income moms," he said. "What are the resources that are necessary, where are the gaps there, and how can we fix those."

The crowd applauded at the announcement of a majority of women on the Utah Supreme Court now. At the forum, women asked the governor a number of questions on ways to elevate and include women and get the more involved in politics. He urged the crowd to get involved in organizations like the Women's Leadership Institute and Real Women Run.

"I want to put a caveat out there: It is worse now than it’s ever been. Everybody’s mad about something and there is a lot of negativity and hostility," he said of the current political climate. "I only say that to say this: That’s why we need people who care to run more than ever even though it is bad and it is hard."

Jones told the crowd about her own perspective running for office. She said even running without winning can be a positive experience. For example, Jones said she was once afraid of public speaking (and she was the host of Thursday's forum).

"Women are assumed to be OK if they’re running for a PTA post or a Board of Education. But when it comes to the legislature or some of these larger offices? It’s almost like you need to stay in your lane," Jones told FOX 13 News. "So there are some cultural things we need to break down and again, helping men and women understand the vitality and importance of having more than one kinds of thinking at the table."