The Oct. 11 breakfast series is about technology companies, and about the conditions that will help them succeed. I chose the panel to represent a wide breadth of viewpoints, with a pair of very successful tech CEOs, a veteran investor who works with startups, the head of Boise’s Trailhead incubator, and the founder of the Idaho Technology Council.
I felt a little rueful about the all-male panel, because I had just finished reading a Department of Labor report that found, among other things, that Idaho ranks lowest in the country for the proportion of women in tech industry jobs ( a distinction it shares with Utah). So I resolved to make diversity one of the topics for the Oct. 11 discussion.
I received a couple of polite emails from longtime IBR readers this week who noted the incongruity of my choosing only men to discuss diversity.
I had to agree. But here’s what I told them. I always choose breakfast series panelists who can look at the larger picture outside their own companies. I’m more likely to know this about them if we’ve spoken at events or we’ve had coffee. In most cases I’ve interviewed them for stories. Most of the panelists I choose for any Breakfast Series event are people with whom I’ve long interacted in the course of my job. This is how I know they’re paying close attention to what’s happening in Idaho and in the rest of the country.
I owe this to our readers and to the people who take up their valuable time to attend our panel discussions. They want to hear from people with a deep knowledge of our topic.
The panel makeup is a symptom of a larger problem. Women really are underrepresented in so many areas in Idaho, in comparison to their peers in other states. The Department of Labor says only 28 percent of women in Idaho work in high-tech industries; in Washington state, it’s 30 percent, and in Wyoming it’s 39 percent. According to a report from the Andrus Center, only about 30 percent of the people appointed to serve on Idaho’s boards and commissions are female.
This underrepresentation is not only bad for women who miss opportunities to lead, succeed, and make a difference. It’s bad for the companies that aren’t hearing the ideas and points of view that match their customer base; it’s terrible for political constituents who aren’t being fully represented by the public officials whose salaries they pay; and it’s bad for the economy, because it shows we aren’t taking advantage of talented people who have a lot of skills and experience to contribute.
Many smart, hard-working people are working to change this situation through events such as the Andrus Center’s women’s leadership conference and groups such as Idaho Women Lawyers. Sometimes the efforts are well-intentioned but clumsy; a few years ago someone asked me to moderate a panel specifically because, he told me, a woman needed to be involved somehow. But at least that shows awareness of the problem. These efforts are effective ways of calling attention to the situation and coming up with solutions.
A huge move in the right direction is that companies are making work hours more flexible. They’re doing this for various reasons – including to accommodate aging workers. Flexible and part-time hours will enable more women to stay in the workforce. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to pursue my own career if the Associated Press bureau in Vermont hadn’t allowed me to work in a job share for many years after my two kids were born. Faced with the choice of full-time childcare vs. unemployment, I would have chosen the latter.
The flap over the makeup of IBR’s latest panel is a valuable reminder to our newsroom that we need to make sure we hear from all our readers, whatever their industry. We’re always looking for ways to improve and to collaborate, and we know we speak to only a fraction of the people who make Idaho’s economy move along. So if you have something to say about a story, a column, or the makeup of a panel (or anything else we do or don’t do), please call, email, or come by and talk to us. The newsroom contact info is on our website. I know there are women and men doing important work in technology fields and elsewhere. We want to tell our readers about it.
Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.