This article was published in the Winter 2022, Hall of Fame Issue
by Patricia W. Jones, CEO, Women’s Leadership Institute

Patricia W. Jones is co-founder and former President of Dan Jones & Associates, a successful public opinion and market research firm where she managed the company while serving on numerous community and company boards for 35 years. Patricia is an experienced and highly-regarded researcher, specializing in qualitative research, having conducted hundreds of focus groups throughout the country for a variety of industries since 1980. Senator Jones served in the Utah Legislature for 14 years, serving in leadership positions 12 of those years. A University of Utah graduate in Communications (magna cum laude), Jones currently serves on the Utah Board of Regents, the Board of Governors of the Salt Lake Chamber, Zions Bank Board, Chair of Intermountain Healthcare Community Care Foundation, Dominion/Questar Advisory Board, the Transportation Governance & Funding Task Force, Chair of Mental Health Working Group for the Board of Regents, a Commissioner on the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, Garff Foundation Success in Education Board, and on the National Advisory Board of the University of Utah School of Dentistry. Patricia was married to the late Dr. Dan E. Jones and has four children and 11 grandchildren.

Women: The Additive that Boosts Business Success

The famed physicist Albert Einstein through conversations with renowned American scientist John Wheeler reportedly gave three rules to use in our science, our problems, and our times. Wheeler recorded these as “First, out of clutter find simplicity. Second, from discord make harmony. Third, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Utah business leaders are realizing that out of the difficulty of a tight labor market lies a significant opportunity: hiring and promoting women.

While business leaders are becoming more aware of the value of gender diversity, they understand the why to do it more than they understand the how.  The how requires a willingness to change long-standing traditions of doing business a certain way, a way that has long excluded women.  Why the laser focus on women’s leadership today?  Research cited by the Gender Intelligence Group suggests that men become significantly more interested and engaged in advancing women after one of life’s important events: when men have daughters.

While having daughters seems to click on a lightbulb for many men, there are many additional reasons to commit to greater gender diversity and elevating women in business. Currently, women are plentiful in entry and office positions, but intentionally building the pipeline for women in leadership within companies is becoming the winning way for successful companies. For instance, it is widely recognized that women make or highly influence more than 80 percent of consumer decisions. (Having a steeped career in market research myself, I believe that number is even higher).

To ignore the massive influence of women who decide what and where to purchase products and services is to do so at your own peril. The business case for at least 30 percent women in senior level positions is widely considered best practice, especially if companies want to increase ROI, improve retention levels and enhance employee morale. Moreover, women in leadership attract other female talent.

Seven years ago, some of Utah’s prominent business leaders described their vision for the Women’s Leadership Institute, and the organization was formed.  WLI is a business-led 501(c)3 housed in the Salt Lake Chamber, with a new office in the St. George Chamber. Importantly, the organization considers men as allies and advocates of women, including comprising equal numbers of men and women on the WLI board. At the time WLI was founded, Utah was struggling to recruit and retain talent along the Wasatch Front.  Compounding the problem was a persistent perception among many, especially outside of the state, that Utah was a backward place for women. That perception often became one of the most perplexing barriers to recruiting critical talent in the state. In fact, one national publication at the time put Utah women on par with women in Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador and Saudi Arabia.

Leading WLI has been one of my most fulfilling endeavors. My background in business and in politics seemed to align with the vision of our business community: to elevate the stature of women in business and in politics. WLI has been developing the talents of women through its Career Development Series and its Political Development Series. To date, more than 600 Utah women have been beneficiaries of these leadership development cohorts.

WLI’s cornerstone, the ElevateHER Challenge, has been a huge success for Utah businesses.  Accepting and implementing the ElevateHER Challenge does not require disclosure of private information, and accepting the challenge requires no financial obligation. Rather, the ElevateHER Challenge provides a template of research-based goals that companies follow at their own pace, defined by their own individual company culture. Companies that accept the ElevateHER Challenge are utilizing it as a springboard for beginning important, new internal conversations. That dialogue is bringing enlightenment and candor to management. It is enhancing relationships. It is making a difference in attracting and retaining talent. The ElevateHER Challenge is providing internal input for company policies in a dynamic environment to meet the needs of a changing workforce. Simply, women want to work for companies that they know are committed to elevating women.

Choosing to implement the ElevateHER Challenge means an organization pledges to:

1) Increase the percentage of women in senior leadership positions.
2) Increase the retention rate of women at all levels of your organization.
3) Increase the number of women on your organization’s Board of Directors and encourage women to serve on community and corporate boards.
4) Monitor pay by gender and close identified gaps.
5) Establish or enhance leadership development, mentoring and/or sponsorship programs for women.
6) Urge women to run for public office and give follow-up support.

Elevating the stature of women in business and politics also elevates men and families.  It is not a zero-sum game but rather an additive to Utah’s solid economy.  Albert Einstein got it right: while changing long-held practices that pose a barrier to women may seem difficult at first, we simply cannot ignore the opportunity of enjoying the benefits of doing so.

For more information about the Women’s Leadership Institute, visit WLIUT.com


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