USU UWLP Reports on Perceptions of Gender Bias in the Utah Workplace
Utah enjoys one of the highest economic growth rates in the nation. The ability to attract, retain, and provide positive workplace environments for women will be critical for future growth and success. However, Utah ranks as one of the lowest states for women’s equality in many areas, including wages, education, health, and political empowerment, according to WalletHub. For example, Utah is ranked 46th in the disparity between the percentage of full-time working women versus full-time working men who hold executive positions, with men having 4,500 more of these positions than women, according to a report by the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP).
“It is critical to identify the obstacles in closing gender gaps so that Utah’s workforce and economy can continue to thrive,” said Susan Madsen, UWLP founding director. “On the whole, raising awareness and education have been shown to reduce bias; however, one-time interventions are often insufficient to create long-lasting workplace equality. We will need to help employers understand the underlying issues creating inequities so they can be addressed.”
One set of obstacles relates to “gender bias,” a term used to describe various barriers embedded in workplace cultures that disadvantage women, either overtly, such as harassment, or covertly, such as policies that inadvertently benefit men more than women.
To better understand how Utah women and men perceive gender bias in the workplace, Helen Knaggs, vice president of research and development at Nu Skin Enterprises, research fellow for UWLP, and the report author, conducted an online survey between October and November 2022. It included the Gender Bias Scale (GBS), which assessed women’s perceptions and experiences of gender bias, and an adapted GBS for men, which assessed their observations and perceptions of workplace gender bias. Responses were categorized under six primary factors: male privilege, disproportionate constraints, insufficient support, devaluation, hostility, and acquiescence.
Of 119 participants, 72.2% were women, and 27.8% were men. Most respondents were White (83.8%), had lived in Utah for more than five years (78.2%), had children (73.1%), and were under the age of 50 (83.3%). More than half (56.3%) were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and 25.2% were not affiliated religiously.
The study results included four areas: 1) differences by gender, 2) differences by age, 3) differences by religious affiliation, and 4) comparison of Utah findings to other data.
Differences by Gender – Higher statistical means reflected higher perceptions of gender bias. Men’s mean ratings were typically lower than women’s. Several areas showed notable differences between their responses. Male privilege, such as male-dominated organizational norms, and women being placed in high-risk roles, showed the largest gender difference. This was followed by devaluation, including lack of recognition for women’s accomplishments/salary inequity, and disproportionate constraints, such as women feeling restricted on how and when to communicate.
Difference by Age – On most items, men and women in the youngest age group (20–30 years old) had significantly lower scores than those in the middle-aged group (41–50 years old). This may suggest that because younger people more recently joined the workforce, they have not observed or experienced all aspects of gender bias, they perceived the same experiences differently from the middle-aged group, or they experienced less bias.
Difference by Religion – Men and women who reported being affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church were compared to those who reported no religious affiliation. The religious group had significantly lower mean scores, reflecting that it was less likely to recognize or express awareness of workplace gender bias than the non-religious group.
Comparison of Utah Findings to Other Data – One limitation of the study was the small sample size, particularly of men. A comparison was conducted to assess whether the present results were consistent with findings from two previous studies. Data from men in the present study were compared to data from a global study that included more than 300 men in diverse industries. Utah men’s averages were slightly lower than the average scores for international men. Data from women in the present study were compared to published data for women leaders. Overall, Utah women’s scores coincided with the data for women leaders, providing evidence that perceptions and experiences of gender bias are similar across contexts and geographical locations.
“This research highlights that Utah women experience elements of gender bias in the workplace that are not perceived to the same degree by Utah men,” said Knaggs. “As employers, employees, and other stakeholders consider these data and use it to start conversations about gender bias in Utah workplaces, women and men can better understand each other’s perspectives and experiences. The data show areas where we can provide more assistance for women, such as providing more opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship, addressing gender pay gaps, and ensuring that women are offered developmental opportunities. Doing so will help women thrive and will boost overall workplace culture.”