Joanna Kail: Continue Encouraging Our Young Girls To Be Courageous


Joanna Kail is the Executive Director of Wyoming PBS Foundation.

She moved to Lander, Wyoming at a young age and got her undergraduate degree at the University of Wyoming.

Listen in as Joanna discusses why public media is important, what the Wyoming PBS Foundation does, and what keeps women out of politics.

Emy diGrappa: Today we are talking to Joanna Kail. Joanna is the executive director of the Wyoming PBS Foundation. Welcome, Joanna.

Joanna Kail: Thank you so much, Emy. I'm humbled to be here with you.

Emy diGrappa: Oh, thank-you. Well it's such a pleasure, and it's been such a pleasure getting to know you. And tell me a little bit about your background and where you grew up.

Joanna Kail: Sure, you bet. Um, my family, uh, moved ... Gosh I was, uh, it was a very young age, I can't even really remember what age I was, but we moved to Lander when I was quite young. And, um, I grew up in Lander, Wyoming. My main family was from Cheyenne, my grandfather and my grandmother, and I had a few aunts and uncles that lived down in Cheyenne. Uh, and so we, kind of, went back and forth a little bit. But ultimately I was in Lander, grew up most of my life there. And in high school, I spent a few years down in Cheyenne so that my parents could go and take better care of my grandparents, so we could be closer.

Emy diGrappa: And where did you go to school?

Joanna Kail: University of Wyoming, go Pokes.

Emy diGrappa: (Laughs) Go Pokes.

Joanna Kail: (Laughs)

Emy diGrappa: That is great. And, so, what was your passion and desire to stay in Wyoming to work?

Joanna Kail: Oh, you know, Wyoming has just such an incredible pride, and comradery, and support for one another. I mean I've been listening to some of your other fantastic podcasts of some our brilliant leading ladies in the state. And over and over again it's just mentioned that, you know, there's this one degree of separation, and that- that one degree of separation is what, kind of, brings us all together to have this pride. That so many of us know one another, and we have a lot of trust in one another, and it's real pride to be Wyomingized, and especially to be a female in Wyoming. I think there has been opportunities. We might have a little ways to go, but I feel like it's just always been natural within me to want to stay in this state, contribute as much as I can, and be a proud member in Wyoming.

Emy diGrappa: And, so, you make Lander your home?

Joanna Kail: I do, I was lucky enough to, that's not always the case. You know, we have a lot of friends that grew up here, and oftentimes they'll come back and visit, and they're always telling my husband and I, "Oh, I so wish we could figure out a way to come home." Because, um, you know, we all turn around and say good-bye in our rear-view mirrors when we grow up in Wyoming. And we're in high school and we say, "Oh, I'm never gonna go back to that small town lifestyle," and then go to the big city. And then you grow up, and then you realize that, uh, that small town has a lot to offer.

Joanna Kail: And so we were able to, fortunately, come back and live in our hometown. And, um, yeah, it's- it's been a blessing and it's been wonderful ever since.

Emy diGrappa: Give me a big view of Wyoming Public Broadcasting Stations. Not just in Wyoming, but just the whole picture of what you do and what's important about the Public Broadcasting Station.

Joanna Kail: Oh, Wyoming PBS, um, Wyoming Public Radio, it's so essential. Right now with what, uh, we are currently going through, with COVID-19, I am reminded on a daily basis from our members, from viewers, how important it is for us to provide the information that we're providing to Wyoming citizens about just daily changes that are happening, weekly changes that are happening.

Joanna Kail: Not just from Wyoming, but, also, from across the nation. We are providing some of the vital information and public affairs that is helping keep everyone informed. So from that standpoint, Emy, I think, especially given what we're going through right now with COVID-19, it is just essential for us to be here.

Joanna Kail: A- another part of why I think public media is so important is we are held to a standard. Uh, we are one of the only broadcast networks that's held to a standard, We're held to an educational standard. So when it comes to our programming, we have to make sure that it upholds national FCC guidelines to a higher degree than other broadcast networks are.

Joanna Kail: And, so, it's because of that, that we are vital. We're vital for education for our children, we're vital for education for our adults, and preserving the stories of Wyoming. When you go back to a local level, we are one of the only networks that's really preserving our history. It's telling stories about the science that's being conducted in- in the state of Wyoming. We did a film on glaciers at the Wind Rivers, talking about the recession of the glaciers and what that means long-term, and what it means right now.

Joanna Kail: We just recently did, as you know you were a huge part of this, Wyoming Humanities, incredible partner. We did a film on 150th anniversary of women's suffrage. And if we weren't doing that, we're just not sure who would be. And, so, uh, public media is so important for all of those reasons.

Emy diGrappa: Well I've always considered National Public Radio, not just Wy-, but Public Broadcasting Stations, and the Wyoming Humanities, the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, they're all, kind of, sister organizations, in that-

Joanna Kail: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emy diGrappa: ... they preserve history and culture.

Joanna Kail: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes.

Emy diGrappa: And we do it on a local level, which I think is pretty incredible.

Joanna Kail: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's incredible, and it, and it's just so important. I think about my two ... I have two young girls, and, um, I think about what they're going to be able to- to know about their state that they would have never known before without the Wyoming Humanities, without the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund.

Joanna Kail: These organizations are so important. So important for us to support, so important for us to just, you know, pay attention to what we're doing in the state of Wyoming, both historically and- and currently. It's, it's a partnership that I hope stays very strong and very alive.

Emy diGrappa: How many kids do you have?

Joanna Kail: Two- two girls.

Emy diGrappa: Oh, wow, so two girls. So you-

Joanna Kail: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emy diGrappa: ... you are really, probably, paying attention to the fact that Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote. How do you share with them what is inspirational about women, and women in politics, women in business?

Joanna Kail: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Uh, you know, they were fortunate enough ... That's actually one of the reasons why we moved back to Lander, and it was to let them be exposed to my mother-in-law, who was former Judge Elizabeth Kail, Betty Kail for those who knew her well. And she was the first female county court judge, and the first female district court judge in the state of Wyoming.

Joanna Kail: I brought them here ... We wanted to bring them back to Lander so that they could be exposed to her leadership, her vigor, and- and also her humility. We've always tried to help the girls ... Both the girls understand that really there's nothing holding you back from doing anything that you want to do. But one of the things that- that grandma used to tell them, which I've always held dear to my heart was, she would always tell 'em, you know, "I never really focused on whether or not I was the first female county and district court judge in Wyoming, I just really focused on being a good judge."

Joanna Kail: And that just really rang true to me. And- and I'm not, um, dismissing that there are- are things that Wyoming needs to really- really work on when it comes to wage disparity and those sorts of things. But I really feel like we need, as women, to take a deep dive into whether- whether or not we're really passionate about what we do for a career. Whether that be, being a mom, whether that be, being an executive director in a nonprofit organization, being physicians, being teachers.

Joanna Kail: I think, sometimes, we may put ourselves in a position where, well those roles are meant for females, or that's a female role. I wonder ... I would love to see more women at that age of decision, Emy, when you're in college and you're really tryin' to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. Make those decisions, take a chance. Be courageous and go into computer science. That is a male dominated role, that's what my husband does. And we're a little bit involved in what the University of Wyoming's, their attempt to really pull in women to that profession. And so really helping our women understand that you can do this. This is, this is not something that is out of your- your capability.

Joanna Kail: I think what ends up happening is, these women don't, they choose not to go into those fields, and because of, maybe, that decision, we're not producing these female superstars in computer science that we know are out there, they're out there. We just really want to try and encourage them to go into those fields and- and, maybe, conquer some of those fears that they have.

Emy diGrappa: Well when they're, when they're in their younger years, and I don't know how ... How old are your girls?

Joanna Kail: I've got a 16 year old and 18 year old.

Emy diGrappa: Oh boy, good for you. (laughs)

Joanna Kail: (Laughs)

Emy diGrappa: And ...

Joanna Kail: Yes, oh my goodness.

Emy diGrappa: Yeah- yeah. Now you, now you have gray hair.

Joanna Kail: (Laughs)

Emy diGrappa: So, I think ... Is it because of our educational system that we don't encourage women to enter into those fields? Where- where do you think the obstacle happens?

Joanna Kail: You know, I don't think it is. Yeah, I think it is a long-standing ... You know, if you think about historically how long, how long those positions and how long those professions, and not just computer science, that's a fairly new one, it's slowly happening, right? You know, I'm ... I've listened to Justice Kite on a few occasions talk about how it's happening, it's just happening slowly. And that's, I guess, the takeaway there.

Joanna Kail: For so many years a lot of professions in the medical field and law, and if you listen to the Guthrie sisters talk about some of the- the challenges that they were facing not that long ago, with men saying, "Oh, there's just no possible way that that's gonna happen," I think that was truly a belief. It was a belief system that we had.

Joanna Kail: And I think it just takes, uh, time to come out of that system. I don't think it's ... I don't think the education system is to blame, certainly not. I think it's more of just our society continuing to encourage our girls to be courageous and- and step out of that- that box that, maybe, we've been, kind of, put in of, okay, here's whatever it may be, whatever, kind of, label we've put on it, we need to step outside of that and- and do what we want to do, and- and know that we can do a good job at it.

Joanna Kail: Being a mother, that's probably the most challenging job I've ever had in my life, and probably ever will have, but yet it's the one job I want to do the best at. And I feel like that for any woman is an admirable job, to want to just dedicate your life to. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But making sure that we can all do what we do, and do a very good job at it.

Joanna Kail: I think historically there's just all those labels that have been set in place for so many years. We're working on it, we're- we're slowly getting there, we just have to continue to encourage women to have the gusto to make it happen in their lives.

Emy diGrappa: So, thinking about that, and then I- I think about, okay, women in business, women in career jobs like engineering, male-dominated fields, basically. But, also, what about women in politics? Like, what do you think are those barriers, because I've heard different answers to that question, but I'd love to hear your answer. What keeps women out of politics?

Joanna Kail: You know, I can only, maybe, touch on my thoughts on a Wyoming local level. I think it's challenging for, really, anybody to get into politics in the state of Wyoming. But it ... especially at the legislative level. It's, uh ... Oh it's- it's ... I'm proud to have a citizen le- legislature. I think, um, it really speaks to the, just the nature of- of Wyoming, and that, you know, we can get work done while we're also taking care of the state Wyoming. It's- it's something that has been set in place for, obviously, decades and decades.

Joanna Kail: But I- I think that that ... It makes it very challenging for anyone to run for office. You don't get paid much, and for anyone to think that those men and women down there are only serving their time one month, or two months out of the year is- is crazy, because they're serving much more than that.

Joanna Kail: So, in order to have a career on the side, you have, uh, in most cases, you'll have a boss, you'll have a company that you're working for. And to go into their office and say, "I would love to run for Wyoming Senate, but that's gonna mean I'm probably gonna be gone for 50% of the time. Could you please pay me for that 50% while I work the other 50 and- and keep my full-time salary?" I think that's a very challenging thing.

Joanna Kail: And I think on one of 'em, I think [Kristin 00:13:10] in one of your podcasts was talking about how there's a gentleman that used to work in the mining industry, and he chose to run for mayor. And I think she mentioned there was, he was only making $800 a month. It's, it, it's just so incredibly challenging to make it, I believe, work financially to juggle those two, your career along with running and- and being in politics in the state of Wyoming.

Joanna Kail: So, yeah, that's, kind of, how I feel about that Emy.

Emy diGrappa: Well I think, also, what I've heard women say is that we're this big state and a small population. And you have to travel to Cheyenne to be in the legislature. You have to be there. You're ... can't do it from home. You can't be in your hometown taking care of your kids and be in the legislature at the same time.

Emy diGrappa: And, so, I think the- the whole childcare issue, being away from home. Maybe you're a caretaker of your parents, for example. I mean I just think there- there's so many other things that make it hard for a woman to just pick up and go for a month during the budget session for example.

Joanna Kail: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, absolutely. You're absolutely right. And I think, again, that's why we'll see a lot of retirees in those positions, and that becomes a challenge, because, of course, we always talk about how we want more young representation down there, both male and female.

Joanna Kail: Well, what you said, exactly, is the truth. It's just very difficult. And then adding onto the challenge the time of the year that we need, and- and I don't know if this is true or not, but I believe we meet during the winter, because, you know, it was too difficult so many years ago to pull away from our ag professions in the spring and summer to hold our sessions during that time of the year. So, yeah, so many challenges that ...

Joanna Kail: So I guess for me, I don't necessarily know if you can put it all on- on gender, necessarily, but I think when you start to look at all of the challenges it's across the board. But, yes, especially I- I do think for- for women, especially in caretaker roles, it's all very difficult. I know that those guys, when it comes to what they're compensated for their time, it's very low. So it ... that's, also, (laughs) challenging.

Emy diGrappa: Right, hard to raise a family on $800 a month.

Joanna Kail: Right.

Emy diGrappa: But, what did you get your degree in?

Joanna Kail: Communications and marketing, with a minor in political science. (laughs)

Emy diGrappa: Oh, wonderful. So, what was, kind of, your career path? When did you decide and become passionate about working for Wyoming PBS?

Joanna Kail: Well, you know, when I was in college it was, kind of, my dream to work for the State Department. I thought, "Oh, wouldn't that just be fabulous to go and travel all around the world and represent America in- in all these different countries." And then one- one of my political science professors at the University of Wyoming, who was just very encouraging to me, he gave me the test that you have to take in order to qualify for even applying for a position in the State Department, and it was massive, and it scared me to death. (laughs)

Joanna Kail: So I immediately said, "Okay, I need to take a different path." So, I, kind of, thought I might be interested in law, but that, kind of, went by the wayside. So I ended up in communications and marketing because I just had this- this natural, what I thought was a natural ability to communicate with people. And, so, I chose that path, but I also like to be creative.

Joanna Kail: And so we, kind of, made a custom degree. I met with Oliver Walter at the time, fabulous dean from arts and sciences, and we made, uh, a, kind of, interesting degree for me to be able to do public relations, communications, and then also marketing, all together in one. And I think they actually have something now at the university that you can do.

Joanna Kail: But then coming out of that I had a marketing company, I- I had done some consulting for several years. And, um, this opportunity came up with Wyoming public television, Wyoming PBS of course, and it was just a natural fit for me. Again, the- the passion of what Wyoming PBS does for our state, and what PBS does for the world, just seemed like something I could really stand behind and be passionate about.

Joanna Kail: And I've only been in this position for about three years now, and I- I love it. I love what we do, I love the stories that we tell, and- and what we share with the people of Wyoming. It's just ... It's a pride that, um, it's hard to come by, I think, in positions. I'm very fortunate, I'm very fortunate to be with Wyoming PBS.

Emy diGrappa: Who has inspired your life, and who has inspired your- your life work?

Joanna Kail: Oh, gosh, so many people. (laughs) I would say one of the biggest inspirations that affected me, both personally and professionally is probably my- my mother-in-law, Elizabeth Kail. She- she always- always pushed me and supported me to- to be the very- very best that I could. And- and oftentimes ... So when I'm in challenging situations, or when I'm questioning myself, when I'm questioning even what I do professionally, I'll sit back and say, "What would, what would Betty do in those situations?" And a lot of time that gets me through a lot of challenge that I face both as a mom and as a professional.

Joanna Kail: Also my kids. They teach me a lot all the time about acceptance, about changing world around us and how it's okay mom. (laughs) It's all right, it's all gonna be okay. Uh, we know that you don't understand any of this, but it's all gonna be okay. I think that they are a huge inspiration for me.

Joanna Kail: And then, you know, uh, my husband. There are so many men in my life that have been inspirational to me as well, both in my professions that I've had, and- and personally. But, um, honestly I think some of the decisions I have made have just been ... I have my husband behind me, just pushing me up. I've always, kind of, felt his hands saying, "Yup, you can do this. You ... Don't doubt yourself. You know, this is something you are perfectly capable of." And I wouldn't be, I wouldn't be in the position I am with Wyoming PBS if it weren't for my husband and his support with our kids, and support for our family. I owe a lot to him.

Emy diGrappa: Oh I ... That is beautiful, I love hearing that. And I loved talking to you, thank-you so much for your time.

Joanna Kail: Thank-you, thank-you so much, Emy, I really enjoyed it.