Women's Leadership Conference today

Women may make up roughly 50 percent of the population, but they fill only 28 percent of the board seats for Jackson County companies and agencies.

While they appear on 38 percent of the nonprofit boards, their representation dwindles to 20 percent in the for-profit realm.

When it comes to representation in the political arena, they fare even worse.

For evidence, look at the Medford City Council, where Karen Blair is the lone woman, said Jeanne Stallman, executive director for outreach and engagement at Southern Oregon University and the organizer of the Women's Leadership Conference being held in Medford today.

Even in Ashland, the most liberal of local communities, only two of seven councilors are women.

"We have a lot of women who are successful in the work place, but not really stepping up to the highest level," Stallman said. "Why is it that 30 percent of executive positions on boards, commissions and elected office in the region are held by women and that's great because it's better than the national average? That's not quite good enough."

The second Women's Leadership Conference, featuring a keynote address by former auto industry executive Anne Doyle, is expected to draw 300 professionals to the Rogue Valley County Club.

"This is a cultural and evolutionary thing — the next frontier for women," Doyle said in an interview Thursday morning. "First we had to become high achievers in big numbers. The biggest gains in terms of women, almost everything occurred in the 20th century. ... The next leap is to move into leadership in huge numbers."

The need now is for women to master leadership skills, she said.

"They have to go after it," Doyle said. "Men don't wait, they go after it and women have to, too. We need the brain power of both genders."

That's even more critical as a sea change continues to occur in the United States: Since 1982, 10 million more women than men have graduated from college, Doyle said.

"Never before in the history of the world has there been such a large group of highly educated, professionally seasoned women all speaking the same language in the most powerful nation in the world." Doyle said.

Stallman said putting more women in leadership roles isn't a one-sided matter.

"It's a community issue of bringing different voices to the table," she said.

That issue was a topic of a Thursday night meeting with community leaders, during which Doyle spoke on "Women's Leadership: What Do Men Have to Do With It?"

"We need men in the game with us," she said.

She said men need to support women — "give us the ball and let us lead" — and not only mentor them, but sponsor them when leadership positions open up.

Both Doyle and Stallman said it is up to women as well to take advantage of the opportunities that a changing culture has provided.

While American women top the Global Gender Equity Index for education and overall rank 24th in the world, when it comes to representation in elected offices, U.S. women rank 60th.

Women tend to wait to be invited to run, said Stallman.

"It's a lot of work and a lot of time," she said. "Why is it that eight members of a council, or whatever, decided they could manage it and only one woman could do it? What has to change so the women in the room decide, 'I can do that?' "

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

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