When it comes to leadership, many successful Iowa women say they lead best by watching others or by jumping in and learning as they go.

That’s just one insight gained through a comprehensive survey conducted this year by the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference. The Iowa City-based nonprofit teamed up with Vernon Research Group of Cedar Rapids to gauge where and how women lead, what factors contribute to their success in leadership roles and what circumstances hold them back.

The online survey began in April and continued through August. It was prompted, in part, by a series of statistical rankings and studies that seemed to show Iowa women lagging in leadership roles. One study said Iowa ranks last in the nation in the number of women-owned businesses. Another study, by Iowa State University, found that only two Iowa counties met the state’s requirement of having gender balance on county-appointed boards and commissions. 

The IWLC study invited more than 5,000 Iowa women, via email, to take its online questionnaire. Those surveyed represented many business fields and women at various stages in their careers.

Survey respondents also said female mentors were most helpful in guiding them professionally and most women leaders said they rarely experience gender discrimination. 

So what holds women back? According to survey results, 44 percent of respondents said it’s women’s lack of confidence in themselves.

The study is designed to aid the IWLC in advancing women’s leadership in Iowa. Complete results of the study will be disclosed at the IWLC conference, on Thursday, Oct. 16, from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m. at The Meadows Events & Conference Center in Altoona. Register at www.iwlcleads.org.