A new initiative under Idaho First Lady Lori Otter offers women guidance, tools to seek leadership positions in politics and business
By Nicola McIntosh
Between them, Idaho First Lady Lori Otter and Debbie Field have more than 35 years of public service, multiple winning political campaigns, and the creation of a statewide nonprofit that has helped reduce methamphetamine use in the Gem State.
It’s easy to see why they are at the helm of a new bi-partisan initiative, Idaho Women in Leadership, also known as I-WIL, which aims to increase the number of women in leadership positions in politics and business. The organization, with Otter as CEO and Field as Executive Director, plans to accomplish this goal by offering leadership training series that they hope will inspire women to “Step up, step out and lead.”
I-WIL’s mission is to “provide training in leadership skills, media relations, and conveying the positive impact female leaders have on economic development, vitality, and the overall health and wellness of our state.”
The organization is modeled after the Women’s Leadership Institute of Utah, which was founded by former Utah State Senator Pat Jones. When Jones attended a 2015 luncheon in Boise featuring keynote speaker Ann Romney, she met with Otter and they talked about the WLI, which is supported by founding partner Zions Bank. When Otter expressed interest in creating a similar program in the Gem State, Zions again lent its support.
“I was the youngest girl with three older brothers in a military family, so I grew up with my dad telling me that I could do anything the boys could do,” explains Otter, a former school teacher and administrator who has served as Idaho’s First Lady for almost a decade. “And there is a generation of women out there who share this mind set and are capable leaders in their fields.”
In the Political Leadership Training Series, “We will recruit people who are interested in or thinking of running for office and help them understand what that looks like,” Otter says. “How is the campaign structured? How do you handle finances? There are things that can be anticipated and there are things that can never be anticipated. We’ll help identify the variables that you can control, and teach you how to tuck and roll with the ones that you can’t.”
Through the Business/Corporate Leadership Training Series, the organization will help develop mentor programs within corporations and will provide keynote speakers to assist with professional development.
“We’re going to be talking about different skill sets that women bring to business and how that affects your return on investment,” Otter says. “There’s a lot of research on the fact that women on boards do help the bottom line for companies.”
Otter says they’ll recruit for both programs through word of mouth to civic clubs and professional organizations. “It’s not so much just for professional women as much as it is for women who want to be involved in leadership,” Otter explains. “Leadership is a learned trait and a learned characteristic.”
The organization will draw on the rich experience of its advisory board members to mentor its participants, such as former veteran KTVB news anchor Carolyn Holly offering insights on media relations.
Both Field and Otter recognize that they are prominent figures within Idaho’s Republican Party, but emphasize that I-WIL is not a partisan organization. “I don’t see us being involved in policy at all,” says Field, a former member of the Idaho House of Representatives who managed two successful gubernatorial campaigns for Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. She also serves as chairwoman of the Idaho State Board of Correction. The organization counts several prominent Democrats among its advisory board members, including Idaho Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and former Idaho Rep. Holli Woodings (see sidebar).
“This is a campaign 101 kind of strategy,” Field says. “From the PTA to the White House, how do you get to those places?”
Field herself was inspired to seek office after working for U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, who she remembers jumping in with both feet to assist with cleanup efforts following the Teton Dam collapse. “You roll up your sleeves, you listen and you go out and help people with a servant’s heart,” she says. “That’s rare in politics, but people who have longevity in the business have a servant’s heart. And women are usually born with them.”
Idaho Women in Leadership’s mission is: “To elevate women’s leadership in Idaho by improving the understanding of the need for their participation in Business and in the Public Square. We will provide training in leadership skills, media relations, and conveying the positive impact female leaders have on economic development, vitality, and the overall health and wellness of our state.”
Lori Otter, CEO
Debbie Field, Executive Director
Lori Chillingworth, Executive Vice President, Small Business Division, Zions Bank
Hon. Judge Molly Huskey
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter
ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
Nancy Bergman, retired, Idaho Nuclear Engineering Lab
Idaho Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper
Bill Connors, CEO, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce
Deborah Herron, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Walmart
Carolyn Holly, Vice President of Marketing, Communication, and Public Relations, Saint Alphonsus Health System
Idaho Rep. Wendy Horman
Nancy Merrill, former director, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation
Andy Scoggin, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Labor Relations, Public Affairs and Government Relations
Sandy Patano, independent public relations and communications professional
Holli Woodings, founder, IdaVotes! and former member, Idaho State House of Representatives
Mark Priddy, Co-founder and CEO of Full Circle Exchange