As published on LinkedIn Influencers on August 28th, 2020.
Seven years ago, I was a relative newcomer to the state of Utah. I had moved to Park City three years prior to that, and I had spent most of my time in those early years with my two school age children. I was also traveling quite a lot on behalf of Women Moving Millions, championing for gender lens philanthropy, and all this left very little time for local networking. However, it wasn’t for lack of desire, and three years after moving to Utah, I was desperate to meet the women leaders in my new state. The hardest part about leaving my life in New York and Connecticut had been leaving my female friends who were attached to my heart. Of course, I had hoped that my relationships would transcend distance and time zones, and many did. However, inevitably, not being able to see each other face to face meant relationships were lost.
Thankfully, I met the incredible Geralyn Dreyfous early on in my my new life in Utah, and she quickly became a close friend. Geralyn is what you might call an uber-connector, and she has a heart as big as the great outdoors. Professionally, she is one of the most accomplished documentary film producers in the world. Check out her IMDB page if you think I’m exaggerating. Through Geralyn I met David Parkinson, founder of Method Communications and an all around great guy. As a public relations expert and business owner, he was constantly meeting amazing female professionals, and he saw an opportunity to create a network wherein these women could meet each other. He reached out to one such women, Jennifer Danielson, and together, the four of us founded Utah Wonder Women. Our mission was to bring together successful women to connect with each other, and to inspire the next generation of women leaders.
For seven years we held numerous events, including book launch parties for women such as Tiffany Dufu and Pat Mitchell. Our invite only mailing list grew to over 400 members and included some of the most influential women in the state. Looking to do more, in 2017, we hosted a full day women’s leadership conference alongside a full day conference for girls in partnership with SUREFIRE Girls that brought together nearly 200 young women from all over Utah for a full day of sessions that were designed by girls for girls. As with most women’s networks, the primary purpose of Utah Wonder Women was to offer connection, information, and inspiration, and our message was always women supporting women.
And then COVID-19 hit. The ability to meet in-person disappeared overnight. Our organization, like so many, was not built to live in a virtual world. While we may have been more of an informal organization than a formal one, the arrival of the coronavirus meant that we were effectively out of business. The irony is not lost on all of us that this happened precisely when we most needed to come together. So we evolved, and I offered to transition the community to more of an online one, via mighty networks, and renamed it TheShePlace-Utah. The network is now open for all women in Utah to join if they share in the community commitments and guidelines. As the lead host, I have been busy posting content, sharing events, and trying to create a place of value for others, and I have quickly seen how hard this really is. Frankly, I have questioned if it is worth the effort. After all, aren’t there a lot of spaces and so many other places that share similar missions? And to what ends? Is any of this women’s networking stuff making any difference at all?
Before I answer that question as it relates to my efforts in Utah, let me give you a few quick facts around the status of women in this state. Utah is one of the worst states in the United States to be a woman. According to the Status of Women in the States, Utah ranks 37th in the country on reproductive rights, 44th in employment and earnings, and 50th (50th!!) in both political representation and work & family. Overall, Utah ranks 44th in the country. In a 2014 article titled “5 Places Women Shouldn’t Spend Their Travel Dollars”, Utah was listed alongside Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador, and Saudi Arabia, in large part because of these statistics. And just earlier this week, a study by WalletHub ranked Utah as the worst state in the US for women’s equality. As a women in Utah who is passionate about women’s rights, this is simply unacceptable to me, and I find I am called to do something about it. Utah Wonder Women, now TheShePlace-Utah, is something I can do to make a difference. Are there other things I can do? Of course there are, and I will do those as well.
So on this 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, whereby women were given the right to vote in the United States and the right to have their voices heard, it is time to rethink and recommit to using the power we have as women to continue the unfinished business of equality. Women’s networks are an under-utilized and under-leveraged organizing tool to achieve positive social change. While I could easily make a list of reasons why I think this is the case and what are ‘best practices’ in terms of trying to make a given network an impactful one, instead, I am just going to try to do it. So if you are women in Utah and want to join me, please do. You can find more information here. And if you are not in Utah, but are a member of a community or two, think about what you can do to serve this greater purpose at both a micro and macro level. And if you need a little inspiration, just remember the words of one of my favorite quotes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead
The photo above is of the “Utah Women 2020” Mural by artist Jann Haworth and her incredible team. It was unveiled on August 26th, 2020 at a special gathering hosted by the Mural sponsor, Zion’s Bank. It is over 5,000 square feet, and is located on the side of a historic building in downtown Salt Lake City. Over 250 women leaders in Utah, past, present and future are featured. I am honored to be included.
Below are links to the press coverage of this inspiring event.