Commentary: Gender ‘equality’ rankings often don’t include key factors

I saw another reference the other day from a liberal group noting that Utah is the “worst state in the nation for women’s equality.”

We see frequent news stories, opinion essays and rankings from various organizations portraying Utah very negatively on women’s issues. In one frequently-cited study by WalletHub, for example, Utah ranked dead last in the nation for “women’s rights.”

As the father of five daughters, the brother of five sisters, the son of one mother and the husband of one wife, I hope I’m a champion for women. I pay attention to these rankings and I want us to do better. It’s good to have continual reminders that we need to work hard to elevate women.

But I do find that these rankings and the ensuing news coverage, columns and editorials almost always leave out some very important elements.

The WalletHub study found Utah was 48th worst in the country for male/female income gap, 46th for executive positions; 50th in educational attainment; 50th in work hours; 49th in political representation, and so forth.

I wish Utah did better in all of those areas. But I also wish that these studies and the news reports and opinion essays would include a few sentences that say something like this:

“Of course, when we compare male and female performance in these indicators, we recognize that it is a perfectly legitimate choice for women to decide to stay home and raise children instead of joining the workforce or running for political office. The value of that choice doesn’t show up in our rankings.

“In fact, we applaud women and families who are able and willing to make that choice. It is also obviously legitimate for men to be the family homemaker, but statistics show that women are much more likely to do so than men.

“We also acknowledge that some women choose to take lower-paid, non-executive jobs in order to spend more time with their families. That might also partly explain why fewer women seek high-pressure positions in politics. And we understand the decision of some women to drop out of the workforce for a period of time to be with their children. That may hurt their career progression and result in fewer women climbing high on the corporate ladder.

“While our analysis does not measure the value of raising children and being a homemaker, we assume, observationally, that significant value exists in that choice. Perhaps it contributes to Utah’s admirable economic and social success, even if it drags down ‘equality’ scores.   

We wish to acknowledge that any and all of these individual choices are legitimate and proper. We acknowledge that such choices may produce lower overall scores for Utah.”

I doubt we’ll see such language in the studies ranking women’s equality or the followup news reports.                  

We frequently and appropriately praise the accomplishments of women who achieve great success in the corporate world, non-profits and politics. But if we really value the contributions of all women, we ought to acknowledge, and even celebrate, those who dedicate most of their time and effort to being homemakers and raising children.

I fully understand that almost all women will work at some point in their lives. That certainly has been the case with most of the women in my life. Utah’s proportion of working mothers is as high or higher than most states. Big families require more money and that often means two incomes are required.

And almost all single mothers must work, adding significantly to their challenges. I greatly admire and sympathize with the single mothers who juggle work and childcare, often without much help. I also have some of those great women in my life. They deserve equal pay for equal work.

So we ought to celebrate accomplished women in both the workplace and in the home – and those who do both. I worry we do a lot of the former and not much of the latter.  

I also think there’s no question that women’s and families’ choices regarding childcare skew Utah’s scores on equality rankings. I’ve witnessed many women opting for jobs that they believe are more compatible with raising a family, even if they don’t lead to high pay or executive status.

So when you see Utah portrayed negatively in national “equality” rankings, remember those factors that aren’t usually included.