On the very same morning in early March that four prominent local women—a college vice-president, a city councilmember, a community organizer, and a youth advocate—gathered in the offices at the Source, President Barack Obama convened a roundtable with elected women representatives—senators and congressional representatives from California to Florida. Our meeting was an advisory committee; the four women were invited to our offices to provide thoughts about what criteria we should use to select a Woman of the Year. Meanwhile, Obama's meeting was to talk about continued inequalities between men and women in the workforce.
During press conferences that day in Washington, D.C., Obama presented some of the very same talking points and statistics that our advisory committee were turning over—on average, women still make 77 cents to a dollar that a man makes in the same position, yet more women than men are currently enrolled in medical school, while the numbers are roughly equal in law school. Those numbers tell an important story about gender in America—that, no, equality has not been reached in the work place, but the momentum is continuing toward that balance.
And, more specific to our discussion, those numbers raise important questions: In the framework of a job, does it matter that the person is a woman? Or, are there particular qualifications and differences that each gender brings to a job and to a community position?
Those questions underlied our advisory committee's 90-minute-long conversation. It was a wide-reaching discussion, but often returned to specific words like "tenacious" and "inspirational," and particular concepts, like "scope of impact" and "collaboration."
The conversation started by considering decades-old archetypes. Although what roles and responsibilities are expected from men and women in America have perhaps loosened in the past few decades, those ideas are still very present—the concept of what it means to be a working woman, and, more broadly, whether it is fair or proper to consider women by the same measurements and concepts as one would measure a man—or, vice versa. That very tricky consideration gets to the very idea of equality.
Early in the conversation, city councilmember Jodie Barram, who is one of the most visible members of the community—seeming to pop up at more public meetings a day than one person could attend—chimed in: "I was at a meeting last night," she said, "and someone asked me what you had to give up to do this. I was surprised by the question," she explained. "I answered, 'Nothing.' Would they have askd a man that question? As a woman, we often are asked, 'how do you do it all?,' 'how do you juggle it?,' when a man would not be asked that question."
As women—in their personal and professional lives—move out of the pioneering generation, away from the first generation of women to attend law schools, and the first decades when women have been represented in politics and business in large numbers, from high profile elected officials like former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Representative (CA) and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to CEO and COOs at Yahoo and Facebook, there are new challenges and opportunities. In particular, our discussion navigated between what one advisory committee member called "collective girl power," and what it looks like also to be judged as an individual, regardless of the "gender filter."
To provide some mileposts as we navigate into this exciting and uncharted space, our advisory committee set forward its own criteria for considering nominations—and for bringing its own nominations to the conversation. The former president of the High Desert Museum Janeanne Upp was nominated for her dedication and business acumen for pulling the organization out of financial straits and preserving an important regional institution. Jill Rosell was nominated for "all she does for the community." A photographer, Rosell manages a popular "I Love Bend" Facebook page, and her contributions were noted as "she certainly does her part every single day to show the world what an amazing place we all call home." Marney Smith, with Les Schwab Amphitheater, was noted for being "dedicated, interesting and driven." These are not necessarily male or female qualities, but simply qualities that make good leaders and great community contributors. Ultimately, the Source editorial staff made the final selection, but it was with this wisdom and advice.
The conversation also was coincidentally scheduled just a few days after the second annual Muse Conference, a three-day event that convenes women to "ignite inspiration and create real change"—and we were fortunate to have Cassondra Schindler, one of the conference's primary organizers (and the Source's 2010 Woman of the Year). One of the paradoxes that emerged in the conversation is that tension that gender archetypes both provide prisons as well as freedoms: "Men," explained Schindler, "aren't allowed to have the same vulnerability, but it takes that to find what your passion is because you have to be really honest or leave the dream job or whatever box your were put in." She added, "Maybe that is a quality that women have a more direct access to at this point is the ability to be vulnerable."
We received numerous impressive and inspiring nominations; three of which are profiled on the next pages, each exemplifying at least one of the characteristic specified by our advisory committee. And, finally, on page 15, we proudly profile our Woman of the Year, Becky Johnson, who various committee members pointed out is: tenacious, collaborative, purposeful, inspirational, courageous and impactful.