A variety of voices

September 6th, 2017

Women critical to Regional Partnership's mission

By John Sampson of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership | The Journal Gazette

The Journal Gazette offered a thoughtful column by Karen Francisco on Aug. 20. The topic was 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.

She states, “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. If the regional economic development agency doesn't see value in seeking the voices of females – a majority of Indiana's 6.3 million residents – how effective can it be in meeting northeast Indiana's needs?”

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.

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. 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.

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 Vision 2020. 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 10 volunteer leaders from across the region. Five of these 10 capable leaders are women.

Check out the staff page on our website. You will note a majority of our team members are women, and half of them serve in leadership roles. 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.

I am thoroughly grateful and humbled to be responsible for this team, men and women alike. 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.

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.”

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 is 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.