Idaho Women in Leadership

Inspiring Women to Enter Politics and Business

Nicola McIntosh Jul 1, 2016

Idaho First Lady Lori Otter and veteran politician Debbie Field have more than 35 years of public service between the two of them. They’ve created multiple winning political campaigns and founded a nonprofit that helped reduce methamphetamine use in the Gem State.

It’s easy to see why they are at the helm of Idaho Women in Leadership, also known as I-WIL, a new bipartisan initiative that 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 a leadership training series they hope will inspire women to “Step up, step out and lead.”

Mission of Women in Leadership

I-WIL’s mission is to provide training in leadership skills and media relations and convey the positive impact of female leaders on economic development, vitality and the overall health and wellness of Idaho.

The organization is modeled after the Women’s Leadership Institute of Utah, founded by former Utah senator Pat Jones. When Jones attended a 2015 luncheon in Boise featuring keynote speaker Ann Romney, she met with Otter and discussed WLI, which is supported by founding partner Zions Bank. When Otter expressed interest in creating a similar program in the Gem State, Zions again gave 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 mindset and are capable leaders in their fields.”

Training in Politics and Business Leadership

The political leadership training series will recruit women who are interested in or thinking of running for office, according to Otter. “We will help them understand what that looks like by asking, ‘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 they can control, and teach them how to tuck and roll with the ones that they can’t,” she said.

Through the business/corporate leadership training series, the organization will develop mentor programs within corporations and 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.”

An Experienced Advisory Board

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 who will offer 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 I-WIL counts several prominent Democrats among its advisory board members, including Idaho Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and former Idaho Rep. Holli Woodings.

“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

Mission Statement

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.”

Founding Member

Zions Bank

Leadership Team

  • Lori Otter, CEO
  • Debbie Field, executive director

Board Members

  • Lori Chillingworth, executive vice president and chief credit administrator for Small Business, Zions Bancorporation
  • Debbie Field
  • Hon. Judge Molly Huskey
  • Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter
  • Lori 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
  • Idaho Rep. Kelly Packer
  • Sandy Patano, independent public relations and communications professional
  • Holli Woodings, founder, IdaVotes! and former member, Idaho State House of Representatives


800 W. Main St., 10th floor
Boise, Idaho 83702

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