A longtime veteran of Bozeman’s tech world, Susan Carstensen, said the business climate for women in Montana doesn’t look like it did when she first started.

“The difference between 1995 and today, I think, is pretty dramatic,” she said.

Carstensen worked for RightNow Technologies, now Oracle, as a chief operating officer, chief financial officer and senior vice president of customer experience. She serves on numerous organizations’ boards and now does consulting for up-and-coming tech companies at Yellowstone Growth Partners, and she said she and others have worked hard to bring more women to the table.

As the tech sector grows rapidly, women are making gains in Montana. On Monday, women-led, Bozeman-based home childcare website MyVillage announced it raised just shy of $6 million in seed capital funding, the largest seed round in state history.

In 2017, Inc. magazine used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine that Montana had the highest percentage of women-owned businesses in the U.S. The same year, Montana was also No. 8 on American Express’s list of states with highest employment vitality for women-owned businesses.

Shortly after onX Maps, a Missoula-based hunting app company, closed a $20.3 million growth equity investment deal, they hired a woman, Laura Orvidas, to run the company. Orvidas came with 19 years of experience at Amazon and lives in Bozeman, where onX also has offices, according to a news release by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance.

There are also more resources than ever, said Suzi White, Prospera’s Women’s Business Network director. There are organizations throughout the state dedicated to advancing women in the workplace, and she thinks entrepreneurs do well in general because there are fewer chains in the state, she said.

Still, as women make gains, leaders say there is work to be done. In 2018, MHTBA executive director Christina Henderson said 18 percent of Alliance member companies had women leaders. The last time she did an analysis in 2015, that number was still 18 percent.

Part of the problem is representation, Henderson said.

“I think part of the challenge is the lower percentage of executive leaders,” she said. “Women can feel outnumbered or feel like they’re the only woman in the room.”

Carstensen said she often felt outnumbered in her earlier days in tech. She was often the only woman at the executive table, she said.

“When you’re the only one, it’s hard to bring others with you,” she said.

It was hard enough to move forward by yourself, she said. She had a good experience working in tech in Montana, and she said she succeeded by focusing on business and moving forward.

She thinks things are different now, though. She sees more women bringing other women forward and speaking up. She speaks up more. When boards she serves on look at candidates for jobs, she asks if members are evaluating all candidates fairly, as most people have unconscious biases. She brings up people who are due for promotions and encourages companies to evaluate equal pay.

While she’s faced some challenges, she said she thinks there’s less of a “bro” culture in Montana than more tech-saturated, populated places. On a few of the boards she serves on, more than half of the members are women.

Being in a less populated state can also make it easier to network, as Montana is so connected, she said.

“Women helping women helps,” she said. “In places like Seattle, not everybody knows everybody.”

It’s important for more women to be in leadership positions, Carstensen said, as multiple studies have shown diversity is good in the workplace. Henderson pointed out that in MHTBA’s list of high-growth companies to watch and top tech employers of 2018, around 30 percent of the pool of 60 companies had a woman co-founder or top leader. So tech firms that MHTBA has identified as top-performing are more likely to have a female executive at the top, she said.

Above all, it’s important for women to be visible, Carstensen said.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to be seen so others feel more inspired,” she said.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

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