Women represent about half the population of Idaho, but only 28 percent of its lawmakers. Despite that imbalance, Idaho is slightly above the national average, where only 24 percent of lawmakers are women.
That was one of the figures that came to light Thursday during a political panel at the Andrus Center Conference on Women and Leadership at Boise State University.
The panel, moderated by Meredith Conroy, a professor from the University of California at San Bernardino, looked at some of the reasons for the lagging numbers, including the tendency of women to consider themselves unqualified to run for office, and the idea that parents may be less inclined to talk about politics and political ambitions with their daughters than with their sons.
The third annual conference drew more than 600 people to Boise State this week to hear from speakers and panelists including Ronne Froman, a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy, Michele Andrasik from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Mary Wagner, associate chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and many others, including women in the arts, government and academia.
The “bottom line” goal of the conference, said Tracy Andrus, president of the Andrus Center, is to help women find ways “to be their own best advocates, to build each other up and see other women in positions of leadership.”
“We’re half the market. We should be half the leadership,” Andrus said.
Women, she added, are significantly under-represented in all levels of leadership in all sectors.
“It’s not because the talent isn’t there,” she said. “It’s because society is not looking in the right places. We want to shine a spotlight on talent.”
Other programs Thursday included the panel “Women in Philanthropy,” headed by Janice Fulkerson of the Idaho Nonprofit Center. Each participant shared advice and thoughts about the meaning of leadership.
• “Be brave, be curious, be aware,” said Fulkerson.
• Leadership means being willing to be a disruptive force on occasion, admitting you need help from time to time, and surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you without being threatened by that, said panelist Jamie MacMillan from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.
• Don’t be afraid of failure, but “fail forward,” or use failures to propel yourself in a positive direction, said Lauren Necochea from Idaho Voices for Children and the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy
• Barbara Mueller, co-founder of Gizmo-CDA, a Coeur d’Alene nonprofit technology-center “makerspace” that encourages girls and boys to explore engineering and other fields, spoke of her training in photography. When you take a photograph, you should also turn around and see what’s going on behind you — keep a wide view of what’s going on around you.
• “Don’t be afraid to take risks for your clients, and for your organization to help you meet your mission,” said Tricia Swartling from The Advocates, an anti-domestic violence nonprofit organization in Hailey.
More from the Thursday panel on women and politics:
• Jaclyn Kettler, a panelist and Boise State University political scientist, is working on a study looking at gender imbalance on state and local boards and commissions. The study found that men receive twice as many nominations as women to these appointed positions. In general, said Kettler, only a third of appointees on Idaho state, county and city boards are women.
• In 1937, a poll found that 33 percent of Americans said they would vote for a woman running for president. In 2015, a poll found that 95 percent would support a woman running for president. Still, there’s a disconnect between evolving societal attitudes and the numbers of women vying for elected office. Panel moderator Meredith Conroy listed several reasons for the disconnect, including parental obligations, beliefs that they’re not qualified to run and even the fact that fewer girls than boys participate in team sports. Sports promote a competitive spirit as well as ambition.
• Panelist Cherie Buckner-Webb, a senator in Boise’s 19th district, said that she has always been competitive and has liked competing against men, noting that she’s been running for elected offices since she was in grade school. “I like to win,” Buckner-Webb said. “Being a minority,” said Buckner-Webb, who is black, “you’re always on display anyway, so you might as well push it.”