Finding Inspiration and Nurturing Personal Growth: Insights from Joanna Kail

We need to encourage women to take a deep dive into their passions and break free from societal labels. We can conquer any field and be successful. - Joanna Kail

For Joanna Kail, her journey began with an instilled Wyoming pride and a natural affinity for communication. Born and raised in Lander, she was influenced by the close-knit community and the one-degree separation that tightly binds Wyomingites together. Her initial dream was to work for the State Department, a dream inspired by her desire to represent America globally. However, the realization of her natural communication skills steered her towards a custom degree in Communications, Marketing, and Political Science at the University of Wyoming. Her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Kail, the first female county and district court judge in Wyoming, provided constant inspiration. Elizabeth’s commitment to her role, overlooking her ‘first female’ status and focusing on competence instead, deeply resonated with Joanna. This inspiration, coupled with Joanna's passion for storytelling and the Wyoming community, eventually led her to Wyoming PBS. Joanna Kail's story is one of aspiration, redirection, and fulfillment.

My special guest is Joanna Kail

Meet Joanna Kail, a woman who balances resilience, humility, and pride with aplomb. Joanna has held prominent positions, including the executive director of the Wyoming PBS Foundation. Her journey continues as she steps into the role of general manager and chief executive officer for Wyoming PBS. Her commitment to universal education, information dissemination, and preserving Wyoming's history remains unwavering. Joanna is not just about breaking the glass ceiling, she advocates for women to redefine it, empowering them to explore fields and roles typically dominated by men.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  •  Visit the Wyoming Humanities website to learn more about their programs and initiatives. 
  • Tune in to Wyoming Public Broadcasting stations to stay informed about current events and important issues. 
  • Follow Wyoming Humanities on social media for updates and behind-the-scenes content. 
  • Encourage young women to pursue careers in male-dominated fields like computer science and engineering. 
  •  Consider running for political office in Wyoming to represent your community and make a difference. 
  •  Advocate for equal treatment and opportunities for women in all industries and sectors. 

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When I first met Joanna, she was the executive director of the Wyoming PBS foundation. And now she was just named as the new general manager and chief executive officer for Wyoming PBS. And I quote, Joanna, get ready because Wyoming PBS has only scratched the surface of the stories that are still waiting to told. It's truly an honor to continue to be part of Wyoming's only statewide public television network. Now we want to celebrate a woman rising to the top in media careers.         


Why is her new role important for women? Well, over the last three centuries, women working in media have had to fight for respect, recognition, and equal treatment, advancing the agenda that women have a rightful place in the media industry. So whether it's in journalism, public relations, television, radio, advertising, women have successfully been forging their way into positions once only held by men. In this episode, we celebrate Joanna Kail. Hello, my name is Emy diGrappa.         


Each week we bring you stories asking our guests the question why. We learn about passion, purpose, and the human experience brought to you by Wyoming humanities with the generous support of the Wyoming community foundation. This is what's your why.         


Today we are talking to Joanna Kail. Joanna is the executive director of the Wyoming PBS foundation. Welcome Joanna. Thank you so much, Emy. I'm humbled to be here with you.         


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. Sure, you bet. My family moved gosh, I 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 I grew up in lander, Wyoming. My main family was from Cheyenne. My grandfather, my grandmother and I had a few aunts and uncles that lived down in Cheyenne, 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 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. And where did you go to school?         


University of Wyoming. Go pokes. Go pokes. That is great. And so what was your passion and desire to stay in Wyoming?         


To know Wyoming has just such an incredible pride and camaraderie and support for one another. I've been listening to some of your other fantastic podcasts of some of our brilliant leading ladies in the state. And over and over again, it's just mentioned that there's this one degree of separation and 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 this real pride to be Wyomingites 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 the state, contribute as much as I can and be a proud member in Wyoming. And so you make Lander your home. I do. I was lucky enough to that's. Not always the 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 know we all turn around and say goodbye in our rear view mirrors when we grow up in Wyoming and we're in high school and we say, oh never going to go back to that small town lifestyle.         


I'm going to go to the big city. And then you grow up and then you realize that that small town has a lot to offer. And so we were able to fortunately come back and live in our hometown. And yeah, it's been a blessing and it's been wonderful ever since. 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 Wyoming PBS, Wyoming PBS so essential right now with what 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 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.         


Another part of why I think public media is so important is we are held to a standard. 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. 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 the state of Wyoming. We did a film on glaciers of the Wind rivers, talking about the recession of the glaciers and what that means long term and what it means right now.         


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


Well, I've always considered national public radio not just, but public broadcasting stations and the Wyoming humanities, the national endowment for the arts, national endowment for the humanities, they're all kind of sister organizations in that they preserve history and culture. Yes. And we do it on a local level, which I think is pretty incredible. It's incredible. And it's just so important.         


I think about my two I have two young girls, and I think about what they're going to be able to know about their state that they would have never known before without the Wyoming humanities, without the Wyoming cultural trust fund. These organizations are so important, so important for us to support, so important for us to know, pay attention to what we're doing in the state of Wyoming, both historically and currently. It's a partnership that I hope stays very strong and very alive. How many kids do you two. Two girls.         


Oh, wow. So two girls. So 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.         


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. I brought them here. We wanted to bring them back to lander so that they could be exposed to her leadership, her vigor, 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 grandma used to tell them, which I've always held dear to my heart, was she would always tell 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. And that just really rang true to me.         


And I'm not dismissing that there are things that Wyoming needs to 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 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. 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 would love to see more women at that age of decision. Emy, when you're in college and you're really trying 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 their attempt to really pull in women to that profession and so really helping our women understand that you can do this. This is not something that is out of your capability. 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 maybe conquer some of those fears that they have. Well, when they're in their younger years and I don't know how old are your girls? I've got a 16-year-old and an 18 year old. Oh, boy.         


Good for you. Yes. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Now you have gray hair.         


So I think is it because of our educational system that we don't encourage women to enter into those fields? Where do you think the obstacle know? I don't think it is. I think it is a long know. If you think about long, how long those positions and how long those professions and not just computer science, that's a fairly new one.         


It's slowly, you know, 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 for so many years. A lot of professions in medical field and law. If you listen to the Guthrie sisters talk about some of the challenges that they were facing not that long ago, with men saying, oh, there's just no possible way that that's going to happen, I think that was truly a belief.         


It was a belief system that we had, and I think it just takes a time to come out of that system. 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 step out of 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 do what we want to do and know that we can do a good job at it. 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, 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 slowly getting there. We just have to continue to encourage women to have the gusto to make it happen in their lives.         


So thinking about that, and then I think about, okay, women in business, women in career jobs, like engineering male dominated fields, basically. But also what about women in 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 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, especially at the legislative it's. I'm proud to have a citizen legislature. I think it really speaks to just the nature of Wyoming and that we can get work done while we're also taking care of the state of Wyoming. It's something that has been set in place for obviously decades and decades. But I think 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 crazy because they're serving much more than that. So in order to have a career on the side, you have 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 going to mean I'm probably going to be gone for 50% of the time. Could you please pay me for that 50% while I work the other 50 and keep my full time salary? I think that's a very challenging thing.         


And I think on one of them, I think Kristen 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 he was only making $800 a month. It's just so incredibly challenging to make it, I believe, work financially to juggle those two, your career along with running and being in politics in the state of Wyoming. So, yeah, that's kind of how I feel about that. Annie? 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 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. And so I think the whole childcare issue, being away from home, maybe you're a caretaker of your parents, for example. I mean, I just think 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.         


Oh, absolutely. You are 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. Well, what you said exactly is the truth. It's just very difficult and then adding on to the challenge, the time of the year that we meet.         


And I don't know if this is true or not, but I believe we meet during the winter because 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, yes, so many challenges. I guess for me, I don't necessarily know if you can put it all 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 do think 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 that's also challenging. Right. Hard to raise a family on $800 a month. Right. But what did you get your degree in?         


Communications and marketing with a minor in political science. Oh, wonderful. So what was kind of your career path? When did you decide and become passionate about working for? 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 all these different countries? And then 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. 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 what I thought was a natural ability to communicate with people. And so I chose that path. But I also liked to be creative, 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 a kind of interesting degree for me to be able to do public relations, communications, and then also marketing altogether in one. And I think they actually have something now, the university that you can do.         


But then coming out of that, I had a marketing company. I'd done some consulting for several years, and this opportunity came up with Wyoming public television, Wyoming PBS, of course. And it was just a natural fit for me. Again, 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. And I've only been in this position for about three years now, and I love it.         


I love what we do. I love the stories that we tell and what we share with the people of just. It's a pride that's hard to come by, I think, in positions. I'm very fortunate. I'm very fortunate to be with Wyoming Humanities.         


Who has inspired your life and who has inspired your life work? Oh, gosh, so many people. I would say one of the biggest inspirations that affected me both personally and professionally is probably my mother-in-law, Elizabeth Kail. She always pushed me and supported me to be the very best that I could. And oftentimes 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 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. Also, my kids, they teach me a lot all the time about acceptance, about changing world around us and how it's okay, mom, it's all right. It's all going to be okay. We know that you don't understand any of this, but it's all going to be okay. I think that they're huge inspiration for me and then 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 personally.         


But honestly, I think some of the decisions I've made have just been I have my husband behind me just pushing me up. I've always kind of felt his hand saying, yep, you can do this. You don't doubt yourself. This is something you are perfectly capable of. And I wouldn't be in the position I am with Wyoming PBS if it weren't for my husband, his support with our kids and support for our family.         


I owe a lot to oh, that is beautiful. I love hearing that and I love talking to you. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you. Thank you so much, Emy.         


I really enjoyed it.         


Thank you for joining us for this episode of what's your why? Brought to you by Wyoming humanities with support from Wyoming community foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to, subscribe and never miss a show.