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Zions Bank Hosts Women in the Workplace Event

Panel discussion addresses barriers for women in the workplace, the role of unconscious bias, and ways men and women can lift and support women.

Kallee Feuz Mar 12, 2020

"Women in the Workplace" was the theme of a March 10 panel discussion at the Zions Bank Building in Salt Lake City held in honor of Women's History Month.

The event, sponsored by Zions Bank’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team, featured insights from Pat Jones, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute, Susan Madsen, Utah Valley University professor and Utah Women and Leadership Project founder, Jennifer Smith, chief information officer of Zions Bancorporation, and Trina Eyring, director of Enterprise Recruiting for Zions Bancorporation.

Panelists addressed barriers for women in the workplace, the role of unconscious bias, and ways men and women can lift and support women.

Gains and Losses for Women

When Susan Madsen started the Utah Women and Leadership Project more than a decade ago, she set out to discover why more women in Utah weren’t graduating from college. In the years since, she has studied various aspects Utah women’s lives, from labor force participation to cosmetic surgery, noting gains and losses in different areas.

For example, women’s engagement in politics has experiences a recent resurgence after dipping dramatically from the 1990s to the early 2000s. From 1992-2006, Utah dropped from first to 51st in the nation in number of women voting. But in 2018, the state had rebounded to 11th in the voting participation for women.

“If you don’t have women voting, they’re not going to be engaging in everything else,” Madsen said.

While Utah women have a high level of civic engagement relative to the rest of nation, they lag in civic leadership roles, like serving on state boards and commissions, she said.

Women in Utah also struggle with childcare availability, opioid use, mental health, a gender wage gap, high rates of cosmetic surgery, domestic violence, sexual assault, she said. And while a majority of Utah women participate in the workforce, most of them work part time.

“A lot of people think we don’t have as many women working in state of Utah,” Madsen said.  “Actually, we’re higher than rest of nation. We just have more women working part time.”

The Role of Unconscious Bias

As chief information officer of Zions Bancorporation, Jennifer Smith has worked to become cognizant of unconscious biases — hidden stereotypes we may not even realize we have.

“By making our bias more conscious, we can manage it to see how it gets in the way of how we make decisions is really important,” Smith said.

Looking beyond biases is critical in hiring the best people for various jobs and in building robust teams.

 “If we really do think that higher performance comes with more diverse teams, then we may not choose to hire people who look and think just like we do,” Smith said. 

Complementary Insights

As a legislator and businesswoman, Pat Jones repeatedly saw the value of having the complementary perspectives of men and women in leadership.

During her first week serving as member of the Utah House of Representatives, she found herself on the house floor speaking about the importance of licensing aestheticians, something her male counterparts had little firsthand experience with.

Now as the force behind the Women’s Leadership Institute, the brainchild of Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson, Jones works to elevate the stature of women in business, board rooms and politics.

“One of the biggest barriers is that first rung of the ladder,” Jones said, encouraging business leaders, managers and mentors to identify potential talent in women and invest in that talent early. 

Hostile vs. Benevolent Sexism

Hostile sexism, like telling offensive jokes, may be easy to identify, Madsen said, while benevolent sexism, most of which is unconscious, is more subtle. It might include not inviting a woman to an evening networking event because of her family responsibilities or focusing a letter of recommendation on stereotypical female qualities, while overlooking other strengths.

“We think we’re doing nice things, but the research is clear that we’re undermining women,” Madsen said.

Transitioning Gender Roles

Of shifting gender roles Jones said, “it’s a new frontier for all of us, including men.” It’s important that men understand their value as mentors, advocates and sponsors, she said.

Smith encouraged men and women to look for the potential in one another to lift each other up.

“We need you,” Smith told the women in attendance. “We need you to realize your full potential and be involved in the areas where you want to be involved. And if you’re not getting what you need, reach out.”

Kallee Feuz is a Public Relations Officer for Zions Bank.

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