Karla Laorange is the department chair of the Department of Teacher Education here at BYU-Idaho. She also teaches ED345, Comprehensive Literacy.
Q: Pew Research said 5.1 percent of women were CEO’s in Standard and Poor’s Composite 1500. Do you believe women are capable of handling this important role? Why or why not?
A: I think that that is a true statistic. I don’t question this statistic. I think that women have encountered barriers that have made it difficult for them to transition from levels of vice president into that CEO. I think there are some very talented and capable women that haven’t been able to break through that barrier, and that statistic bears that out, … that we need to work to try to recognize people for their work and for what they can contribute rather than some of the considerations that hold women back.
Q: What are some reasons you think women are not considered in high-rank positions?
A: I’ve done a little bit of research on this topic actually, and, at least within the field of education and looking at women becoming superintendents, it seems to parallel other industries. The research suggests that there are considerations put on women that are not put on men. It might be like, “Well, she’s pregnant right now. She’s going to have a baby. How is that going to affect her work? So, we probably shouldn’t promote her. She has young children at home right now, so we probably shouldn’t promote her.” Those are considerations that generally aren’t placed on men. They don’t look at men and say, “Oh, his wife’s pregnant. They’re going to have a baby. This probably isn’t a good time to promote him,” because they’ll think, “well, the wife can make up the difference.” I think working through some of those attitudinal barriers that a husband can also help contribute and help a wife work through those things. Or, I think for single moms, that can be a big challenge too, because they’ll be able there alone. They don’t have a husband to help them, and what we need to do is be looking at their work ethic and what they’ve contributed to help them be able to have those opportunities rather than having bias. I think it’d be what you have in Idaho here. There are just fewer female professors, and having been part of the hiring process, we just have fewer female applicants. That’s not to say we have none, but we have fewer female applicants. Even as a female, I want the university to hire the very best person available to bless the lives of our students. So, we still want to hire the best, but we don’t want to put barriers on what women can do.
Q: What do you have to do as the department chair?
A: So as a department chair, I have responsibility for budget. I have responsibility in the hiring process and scheduling and trying to get input from other faculty members. I meet with President Eyring and the executive group and make a recommendation (of hiring). In the end, the president’s executive group makes that decision. I observe new faculty members teaching, and I give feedback to them about their teaching. If students have concerns that they can’t resolve with a mentor with advising, they come to me and I try to work with them on those things. I try to set up professional development opportunities for our faculty, and right now we’re going through accreditation. So, I am blessed to work with two really great deans that give me a lot of support and help as we prepare a lot of reports for that. That’s a few of the things you do as a department chair. And, you still teach. You don’t teach as much, but you do teach.
Q: Is it stressful?
A: Oh, there’s times. It’s enjoyable. I’m one of those people that the busier I am, the happier I get, for the most part. But, there will always be stresses in our lives.
Q: Do you believe society is ready to see women being in charge?
A: I think we’re in such a good place right now for that, for women. I think there are still some attitudinal barriers that need to be worked through. But as I reflected on this, we’re so blessed that the state of Utah was the first or second state in the union to give women the right to vote, way before the rest of the nation did, and that we belong to a church that’s always emphasized men and women are equal in the responsibilities for family and in the Church. So, I think there’s some barriers that we have to continue to work on and help people see women are capable just like everyone else. But, I think especially your generation, you’re just at a really good time where a lot of women who have gone before, have opened and plowed the way so that hopefully those barriers, particularly at the highest levels, start to fall away a little bit and women get those opportunities that they’re capable of and are working hard to earn.
Q: What advice do you have for those female college students who have thoughts of becoming in charge of a specific department or business?
A: Don’t be discouraged. Keep working hard and keep giving your best. That work ethic will bless you. It will bless your family and children and your husband and other people in the world who need role models of women that don’t give up, that persist. And maybe that means you’ll have to go to a different place of employment if it’s something that you really want. I would say, don’t give up. A lot of people have done things to make it better for your generation, and you will be making a better for the next generation. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with women who believe in you. Some women will want to hold you back because it makes them unsure to see women move ahead. Surround yourself with women who can cheer for you.