USU UWLP Releases Research Summaries on K-12 Initiatives, Higher Ed, and Workplace Culture

By Julene Reese & Melinda Colton | March 19, 2024


Higher Education

In the fall of 2023, researchers from the Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) conducted a statewide study to establish a baseline of public perceptions of the awareness, understanding, and attitudes surrounding the challenges of Utah women and girls. The survey focused on five areas: education, community engagement, safety and security, health and well-being, and the workplace.

The 80-question survey was based on literature and survey instruments, guidance from experts, and baseline data needed by leaders of A Bolder Way Forward (BWF), a new initiative that invites Utahns to break down the barriers that keep women and girls from thriving. Nineteen research summaries have been or will be published to provide Utah leaders and residents with insights.

Recently released research summaries include K-12 Initiatives, Higher Education Attainment, and Organizational Strategies and Workplace Culture. Authored by Susan R. Madsen, founder and director of UWLP, the summaries will be used to set goals and metrics for a BWF. Below are highlights.

K-12 Initiatives – Utah ranks 50th in the U.S. for the largest disparity between boys and girls in 8th-grade math test scores. Most Utahns felt girls and young women need stronger math skills, encouragement, and access to complete career and technical education.

Survey results included:

  • 82.2% agreed that young women must complete career and technical education pathways in high school.
  • Nearly 2,300 Utahns strongly agreed it is as important for girls as for boys to take advanced coursework in high school to prepare them for postsecondary opportunities and careers. 
  • Most Utahns agreed it is important for girls in K-12 to have strong math skills for their future careers and lives, with about 40% strongly agreeing.
  • 55.3% agreed or strongly agreed it is concerning that “The National Report Card” math scores for 4th and 8th grades in Utah are lower for girls than for boys.

“Our results illustrate there are subtle and not-so-subtle messages influencing Utah girls to believe they are not good at math,” said Madsen. “The divide, however, has been created by socialization rather than genetics.”

Higher Education Attainment – Most Utahns acknowledged the broad value of higher education beyond the economic benefit and agreed it is important for women to complete graduate degrees. Respondents also agreed that inclusive environments are critical for students to feel like they belong.

Survey results indicated:

  • 91% agreed that higher education is important for intellectual growth, personal development, and life-long societal contributions.
  • Most agreed that inclusive environments are critical to cultivating a culture of belonging in higher education. In fact, only 10.7% disagreed at any level.
  • 62.7% of survey takers agreed or strongly agreed that more Utah women must complete graduate degrees.
  • 75.2% agreed at some level that women students of color face more barriers than other students when pursuing careers in high-wage, high-demand fields.

“The pursuit and completion of post-secondary certificates and degrees is critical for the economic stability of families, communities, and the state,” said Madsen. “Expanding access and opportunity to higher education for all Utahns is important as we move forward.”

Organizational Strategies and Workplace Culture – These topics have become increasingly important in the state, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adopting flexible, family-friendly practices and policies is needed now more than ever.

Findings included:

  • 43.3% were unsure or disagreed that they have opportunities for advancement within their organization; women were less likely to report opportunities for advancement.
  • Only 17% of respondents strongly agreed that their organizations have “strategies that advance women in the workplace.” Nearly one-third were neutral, and 21.2% disagreed.
  • Respondents were split about feeling a sense of belonging at work. Groups with stronger feelings of belonging included those with college educations and higher incomes, those who were married, parents, full-time employees, and those who identified as Pacific Islander or White. Respondents who identified as Black or Native American/American Indian were the least likely to experience feelings of belonging. 
  • Nearly half of respondents were either unsure or disagreed that their organization offers family-friendly policies that meet their needs.

“Utah is likely making progress because the pandemic forced workplaces to become more flexible,” Madsen said. “But there is still work to do. Partners, such as the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and the Women’s Leadership Institute, are leading the change in Utah. To continue Utah’s economic success, it is critical that employers find improved ways to support their female employees.”