The Importance of Strong Female Leaders in Northeast Indiana

By: John Sampson on August 31st, 2017

Beyond Attention: Engagement, Leadership and Action

The Journal Gazette offered a thoughtful column by editorial page editor Karen Francisco. The topic was about the prevalence, or lack thereof, of the voices of women in our community.  She concludes, simply, “They deserve your full attention.”  I agree, wholeheartedly, and I thank the women who have shared their perspectives in the editorial section and applaud the strong group of leaders who have been proactive about raising those voices.

Ms. Francisco builds to her conclusion stating, “That is precisely the problem – men who won’t consider that women offer a different and valuable perspective.” 

She continues, “The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership didn’t think twice when announcing the newly elected representatives to three of its top governing boards - 21 members, all of them male.” 

She questions whether the Regional Partnership can be effective in serving the needs of Northeast Indiana if the Partnership “doesn’t see value in seeking the voices of females…”

I agree with Ms. Francisco that the Regional Partnership would not be effective if we did not seek the voices of females. However, from my perspective as leader of the Regional Partnership for the past 10 years, I would counter that we have sought the leadership and voices of many strong female leaders throughout the region. I need to set the record straight. 

As listed on the Regional Partnership’s website, the governing boards of the Partnership and the Northeast Indiana Fund are served by eight highly capable and influential women responsible for leadership in their corporate, university or public service settings.  Each of them was selected and invited to serve by the chairs of the governing board seeking their unique perspectives and leadership acumen.  

We should not overlook the founding role of women in the early years of the Regional Partnership. Four women stood shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts as founding board members. Each of these outspoken leaders brought unique expertise in economic development, government and corporate leadership to the formative days of our work together as a region.  Their voices mattered then, and they matter now.

Nor should it escape our attention that Kendallville Mayor SuzAnne Handshoe, a Marine Corps veteran and woman of unyielding personal courage, served on the executive committee of the Regional Partnership as well.  Her voice and leadership were critical to the direction and growth of the Partnership.

A unique initiative through the Regional Partnership is the work of the Regional Opportunities Council in creating a long-term vision for the growth of our region’s economy under the mantle of Vision 2030. In this process, committees and supporting task forces confront the most difficult and specific constraints to business attraction, talent attraction and talent development. The three main committees are chaired by a total of ten volunteer leaders from across the region. Five of these 10 capable leaders are women.

I agree, the voices of women leaders deserve our full attention. 

Check out the staff page on our website.  You will note a majority of our team members are women, and half of them are serving in leadership roles as directors, vice presidents and chief financial officer. 

Whether traveling the globe in the hunt for business development projects, crafting an authentic voice for our diverse region or securing mission critical resources, they are unified and passionate about one thing: creating a more prosperous future for the residents of Northeast Indiana.  The voices of women matter at the Regional Partnership.

By design, we have set our sights on doing more to encourage inclusivity and ensure diverse viewpoints are represented. ​In fact, given the diverse nature of our region between rural and urban communities, the Regional Partnership has adopted an aspirational value, “Be Inclusive.”  

Be Inclusive Aspirational Value

Embrace what makes us different.
Engage voices from all backgrounds and all corners of our region. 
Be intentional about expanding access.
Leverage diversity to do great things. 
Stand up even when it is unpopular.

I am thoroughly grateful and humbled to be responsible for this team, men and women alike, and I continually learn from all of them.  But one thing must be said in common of each of them; not one was selected for gender diversity.  These individuals are the very best not because of their gender, but because of their character, skill and intellect.  And, as a team, we are even better together.

Stephanie Veit, as the president of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana (YLNI) represented the organization to the Regional Partnership governing board over the past year.  Several months ago, I approached Ms. Veit leading up to YLNI’s My City Summit to seek her counsel on an employer’s pledge to diversity and inclusion. After thoughtful consideration and in consultation with the YLNI board, they agreed to take a leadership role to craft the pledge.  I commend and support their efforts to articulate the heart of diversity and engagement in the workplace.  I expected nothing less from this talented leader. 

The YLNI Diversity Pledge reads:

  • We believe diversity of thought, background, experience and people drive innovation. 
  • We promote an environment that is welcoming and conducive to the success of all. 
  • It is through our inclusive culture that we can attract the best employees,
  • empower our customers and help our communities achieve great things.

Yes, I agree with the Journal Gazette - the voices of women deserve our full attention.  Well beyond “full attention” is engagement, leadership and action.  I stand on the record of the Regional Partnership going well beyond attention to taking action by directly engaging women in the vital work of leading and growing this region’s economy. In saying this, I acknowledge that inclusivity is not something you “accomplish” or check off a list, and there is much room for us to grow.

The Partnership team and I are dedicated to taking continuous action to bring all viewpoints to the table and ensure diverse representation within our region. I cannot imagine Northeast Indiana and our efforts as a Regional Partnership without the strong, talented women who serve alongside me.

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