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South Jordan Journal

WLI celebrates 10 years of creating gender diversity in the state’s business and political sectors

May 06, 2024 09:37AM ● By Peri Kinder

(From left), Ron Jibson (former Questar CEO), Pat Jones (WLI CEO), Joe Barnard (Vice President at Ken Garff Automotive Group) and Scott Anderson (former CEO and president of Zions Bank) take part in the 10th anniversary celebration for the Women’s Leadership Institute. Anderson tasked Jones with creating and building the organization that champions gender diversity. (Photo courtesy of WLI/Kinser Studios)

Five years ago, the Ken Garff Automotive Group had a 112% turnover rate for women on its sales team. It was a warning signal that the company’s culture, environment and leadership weren’t as healthy as they should have been. Joe Barnard, vice president of human resources at Ken Garff, reached out to Pat Jones, CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute, to create solutions that would empower both men and women.

“Listening to Pat and listening to our employees caused us to think differently about the employee experience. For the first time in 90 years, we rolled out a fully paid maternity and parental leave program, that is not common in the industry,” Barnard said. “There were nearly 700 promotions last year and it’s a record for us. More importantly, there was a record number of females promoted in our company with a 300% increase.”

Barnard shared his story during an event celebrating WLI’s 10th anniversary. The organization is focused on promoting women into leadership positions throughout all industries in the state, including the political realm. 

WLI’s ElevateHER Challenge encourages organizations to increase the retention rate of women, invite women to serve on boards and commissions, close the gender pay gap, create leadership programs for women and support women in their run for political office. 

“Through the support of Utah’s key business leaders, we are making headway in changing Utah’s business culture to advance women’s leadership,” Jones said. “We’re proactive and positive in our approach and tone. We don’t like to blame or shame men. That is not what works and it shouldn’t work, and it isn’t working. We believe that men are allies and advocates of women.”

In 2015, Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson approached Jones with his concerns about the status of women in the workforce. He said although the state was doing well economically, there was a perception that Utah wasn’t the best place for women in the workplace. With Jones’ background in both business and politics, Anderson felt she was the best person to lead the new WLI initiative. 

Although she was ready to retire, Jones accepted the challenge and set out to build a foundation for women that included a political and career leadership series, a rising leader program, the ElevateHER challenge and a golf program to introduce women to the game, giving them opportunities to network. 

“The principles that Pat teaches pay dividends,” Anderson said. “They’re economically sound, they’re sustainable, and they create value for employees, for customers, for communities and for shareholders. And so as we celebrate this 10-year milestone, I want to thank Pat and honor her for what she has accomplished. She has truly started this process of elevating the stature and status of women in our communities. She has shown that women leaders are everywhere in our communities and that they can do anything they want to do.”

Stacy Bernal is a graduate of the WLI political development series. She was elected to the Ogden School Board in 2023 and is currently running for office in Utah State Senate District 3. 

“When I took the political development series in 2019, I didn’t have intentions of running. I just wanted to learn more about local politics,” Bernal said. “When I won the [school board] election, it made us an all-female body. Being connected with the Women’s Leadership Institute in my professional work, and now campaigning again, it’s just great to have the support of women.”

Since its inception, more than 330 companies have committed to the ElevateHER Challenge and nearly 1,000 graduates are part of WLI’s alumni network. The organization has built partnerships with Utah Tech University, ShePlace SheMoney and Chambers of Commerce statewide. 

For its second decade, WLI plans to extend programs, increase data collection and offer an ElevateHER Challenge certification for companies. It remains the exclusive charity partner for the LPGA Epson Tour and will continue to present its A. Scott Anderson Ally Award, which includes Ken Garff as its second honoree.

“We’re more deliberate about our structure and about our culture,” Barnard said. “More than 80% of primary buying decisions are made or heavily influenced by women. They’re smart, they’re shrewd and they’re talented. Most importantly, they’re fantastic listeners. They are a perfect fit for our company, as we’ve become a better fit for them. Our story isn’t fully written but make no mistake it is a success story, in large part, due to the ElevateHER Challenge and the amazing Pat Jones.”λ