Inaugural Women’s Summit Explores Inclusive Innovation

The caliber of leaders present at the first Women’s Innovation Summit exemplifies the deep bench of female talent available in Montana to fill board seats, spearhead initiatives, and serve as keynote speakers and panelists at events. Alliance Executive Director Christina Henderson is in the second row, second from the left. Photo courtesy of the Women’s Foundation of Montana.

By Christina Henderson

Sometimes the best insights come from the unlikeliest sources. So it was at the Women’s Innovation Summit I attended on Sunday, June 10th hosted by the Women’s Foundation of Montana.

About 20 women gathered to discuss how diversity impacts innovation, share experiences, and brainstorm strategies to seed innovation in workplaces and communities across Montana. I gave a short overview of Montana’s high-tech industry and cited opportunities for women to engage in tech.

One young attendee was a soon-to-be 9th grader. She told a story of her experience babysitting two neighbor children. She was being paid only $3 per hour to watch two kids – not nearly enough considering the demands of the job and the value of her time. So the young woman asked for, and received, a raise to $8 per hour. “I was nervous to ask at first, but it wasn’t a big deal at all,” she said.

Her story exemplified the can-do spirit of all the women in the room, and a willingness to re-imagine what is possible economically in Montana, particularly in rural communities.

The event was held in Fort Benton, a historic hub for steamboat trade on the Missouri River that is now a quaint town of about 1,400 in Central Montana’s wheat-growing “Golden Triangle.” Innovative women from across Montana dined and strategized at the riverfront Grand Union Hotel, established in 1882 and now lovingly restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Alliance Executive Director Christina Henderson speaks at the inaugural Women’s Innovation Summit on June 10 at the Grand Union Hotel in Fort Benton, Montana. Photo courtesy the Women’s Foundation of Montana.

  • Dr. Jayne Morrow of Chinook, Environmental Engineer with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who previously held a top leadership role in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the White House,
  • Diane Smith of Whitefish, a former telecommunications executive and co-founder and CEO of AvailTVN/Vubiquity, where she raised $30M in funding before a successful acquisition,
  • Renee Reijo Pera of Bozeman, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Montana State University, a former Stanford Professor and expert in in vitro fertilization,
  • Holly Truitt of Missoula, founding director of spectrUM Discovery Center and leader of community innovation through the new Broader Impacts Group at the University of Montana,
  • Mary Rutherford of Helena, President and CEO of the Montana Community Foundation, who previously served the President of the University of Alaska Foundation.

The caliber of leaders present exemplified the deep bench of female talent available in Montana to fill board seats, spearhead initiatives, and serve as keynote speakers and panelists at events.

Other diverse female voices included economic developers, life coaches, insurance agents, pastry chefs, organic farmers, and county commissioners from places like Malta, Tiber, Fort Belknap, Havre, Butte, and Canada. The event was organized by Dr. Jayne Morrow with support from Jen Euell, Program Director of the Women’s Foundation of Montana, and Maggie Sullivan, Program Assistant.

The summit marks the beginning of what is intended to be “an enduring initiative to grow opportunities across the state using the power of smart women leaders.” We look forward to aligning the Alliance’s own efforts to expand diversity in tech with this great cause.


About the author: Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and adjunct professor of management and organizational behavior in the College of Business at the University of Montana.

About the publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 340 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates.

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