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Utah is a national underachiever when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. But thanks to the Utah Women and Leadership Project, hosted by Utah Valley University, there is a new effort in the state to conduct scientific research on women's professional standings and "help prepare and advance women for leadership within the state."

A new publication from the organization summarizes findings from a survey of Utah women seeking to understand why Utah struggles to get more women into leadership roles, what (if any) struggles Utah women have with workplace confidence, and how girls and women can be encouraged to have more confidence and become leaders in the state.

During an event hosted by the Utah Women and Leadership project, the concept of confidence emerged as the most important tool in helping women feel empowered, taking the top two positions of the nine leadership concepts identified by attendees. They concluded that confidence is often conflated with passive traits, such as having self-esteem, when the essence of confidence is more about "acting" and "doing":

"Understanding the differences and relationships among confidence, self- esteem, self-compassion, optimism, and self-efficacy is critical. It helps us pinpoint where we have confidence and where we can make specific improvements (e.g., deflecting praise, reluctance to acknowledge one’s strengths, clinging to past failures, negotiating pay, not pursuing opportunities, and seeking approval)."

Addressing the phenomenon known as the Gender Confidence Gap between men and women, the report says:

"Understanding gender differences with confidence is very helpful. Concepts of particular interest were the biological differences between men and women (e.g., brain and hormones), how women think and reason through success and failure, how they end declarative statements as if they were questions (i.e., upspeak), and how men blame external influences for failure and women blame themselves."

In 2013, the state of Utah was ranked last of all 50 states by the Center for American Progress in terms of women holding positions of decision-making and leadership. Using Census Bureau data, Utah was ranked last again by Wall Street 24/7 when it came to women holding leadership positions, including posts in the state legislature, and for having one of the nation's widest gender pay gaps.

This article is part of a series on developing women leaders presented in partnership with PwC. Watch Claire Shipman and "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay in a live webcast presented by PwC on February 27th. Register here for the webcast, and follow the conversation on Twitter:#PwCAspire