USU UWLP Study Shows Top 11 Challenges Utah Women Face

By Julene Reese | May 7, 2024


Challenges for Utah Women

National and statewide studies continue to show that Utah women and girls are not thriving in many critical areas. Identifying and understanding the current challenges women face is crucial if change is to take place. 

To help with this, researchers from the Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) collected data from 3,505 Utah men and women ages 18 and older in October and November 2023. The 80-question survey was based on existing literature and survey instruments, guidance from experts, and baseline data needed by leaders of A Bolder Way Forward (BWF), an initiative that invites Utahns to break down barriers that keep women and girls from thriving. The data were then compiled into a report summarizing the findings.

Susan Madsen, UWLP founding director and a report author, said the report’s purpose is two-fold. “First, we hope to educate readers on the many challenges girls and women experience in Utah. Second, we hope to harness collective efforts and resources to mitigate the challenges.”

Madsen said at the end of the survey, 2,433 participants answered an open-ended question to share their perceptions of the most significant challenges facing Utah women and girls. Below are the top 11 categories they mentioned, beginning with the most-mentioned challenges.

  1. Lack of Recognition/Undervalued – The most commonly cited challenge was being undervalued or experiencing a lack of recognition for their skills, talents, and expertise. Participants felt Utah women and girls were not heard or believed, that they were suppressed from freely expressing themselves, and that some men were threatened by strong women.

  2. Gendered Expectations – These comments included personal, cultural, or social expectations that women should act and behave in a way that aligns with traditional female roles, where women stay at home and raise children. Noted was the social pressure put on women out of a sense of duty to their family or religion and feeling they had to succumb to male domination. One participant commented, “…Women often marry and sacrifice education to be a mother, which is noble, but it leaves them unprepared in the event of financial hardship through illness, death, or divorce.”

  3. Religious Influence Many comments linked gender role expectations with religious beliefs or practices. One participant stated, “The predominant religion and culture values women in a subservient support role. This permeates all areas of culture in this state, regardless of religion.”

  4. Balancing Career and Home Many comments included the challenge of being a working mother and feeling expected to be “Superwoman.” In contrast, others pointed to the stigma of being a working mother. One participant commented, “We must see fathers sharing in childcare and household chores like cooking and laundry. How do we teach our sons to be better so that the next generation feels like this is the norm?...”

  5. Work-Related Inequities Participants noted that women have fewer opportunities for employment and advancement. Inconsistent or nonexistent parental leave was specifically named, as was an overall lack of workplace support and resources for parents, particularly the lack of skill development opportunities for women returning to work. One participant noted, “The greatest challenges for women and girls in Utah include receiving less pay than men.”

  6. Difficulty with Self-Worth and Self-Confidence – Participants expressed concern for the deep internal struggles women and girls experienced, particularly the expectation of being and looking “perfect.” One person said, “I believe social media has done a huge injustice to our young girls who are always comparing to see if they measure up. Adult women can suffer from the same problem. Eating disorders and self-loathing are problems that rank high in Utah.”

  7. Lack of Support or Opportunities – Comments communicated an overall lack of awareness of available resources, support, or opportunities. One person said, “Feeling supported in their goals and aspirations is challenging. I think women and girls are looking for mentors and leaders they can look up to, to give them hope that they can be equally successful.”
  8. Lack of Education or Training Some mentioned concerns that girls and women were not encouraged to pursue education outside of gendered or cultural norms, that there was an overall lack of access to affordable education, and there was a lack of help for those trying to navigate financial aid. One person said, “Not getting an education often keeps women ‘trapped’ in bad marriages due to financial constraints, especially when children are involved.”

  9. Experiencing Abuse, Assault, or Harassment – Many participants expressed profound concern for the challenges women and girls in Utah face due to abuse, assault, and harassment, and many women shared their personal experiences. “Sexual assault and abuse are some of the highest in the country. We don’t talk about the taboo topics, but it’s still happening, and not talking about it simply makes it worse.”

  10. Medical and Health Resource Concerns – Participants expressed concern about the inability of girls and women to make decisions related to their reproductive health care. Regarding mental health, one participant said, “Personally, my mental health is suffering severely, and I don’t have access to the resources I need. It interferes with my work situation and, in turn, influences my financial and housing resources. I honestly feel hopeless as an adult female in Utah.”

  11. Lack of Women in Leadership – Participants felt that women leaders were not generally supported in Utah and there was a need for more women leaders and women in positions of power. 

In addition to these 11 categories, other concerns were noted. Some referenced concerns with current politics, while others highlighted housing or the state of the economy in general. A small number cited the lack of support from other women, and others specifically acknowledged the additional challenges faced by women of color as well as women who identify as LGBTQ+.

Madsen said that many of the reported comments were concerning, showing the gravity of the issues facing Utah women and girls. However, she believes the research study can help shed light on these challenges and educate the public.

“Being able to identify and understand their current challenges is critical for those who want to engage and work together for the common good of supporting women,” she said. “When we strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women, we strengthen everyone.”

April Townsend, research fellow, Utah Women & Leadership Project, is another report author.

Click here to view the full report. Click here to learn more about the UWLP and A Bolder Way Forward.