Statistics show that Iowa still has a gender gap and that we are lagging behind other states when it comes to female leadership. As part of our event on June 5, we hope to explore why we have a problem. We know there are likely multiple factors that lead to the gender gap, but we asked our panelists to begin to identify the key factors.– Chris Conetzkey, editor of the Business Record

QUESTION: When it comes to female leadership, what do you think is the biggest reason Iowa is lagging behind the nation?

Lydia Brown
President & CEO, Ascent

"I believe the reason Iowa is lagging behind in female leadership is multifaceted. It ranges from a feeling of uncertainty regarding the ability to perform, to concern about how a leadership role in the workplace will impact her family. Women tend to underestimate their abilities, and while they possess the skills to perform very successfully in the highest positions, they are not likely to ask for those roles. Waiting for others to recognize their leadership capacity tends to be the pattern. This combined with the reality that women continue to shoulder much of the household and parenting responsibilities means we find ourselves in this situation."

Renee Hardman
Senior vice president community relations, Bankers Trust Co. 

"Women are making great strides in postsecondary and graduate-level education; however, the needle is not being moved significantly for women in key leadership and executive-level positions. While there are several factors that contribute to this conundrum, one major roadblock is the lack of female role models to emulate. Research shows that exposure to female leaders and mentors at a young age influences the direction that women take in their careers. This issue is not unique to Iowa. To help facilitate progress, we need to have current leaders take progressive and proactive steps to look beyond the “comfortable,”to challenge stereotypes made of women in the workplace and to take active steps to ensure that women are taken seriously and invited to the table."

Nora Everett
President & CEO, Principal Funds

"There are many forms of female leadership. Business and political leadership are just two examples. But in these arenas, Iowa is lagging well behind. Why? And – why should we care? The “Why?” is up for debate, but the “Why should we care?” is clear to me. With 50 percent of our Iowa talent pool (women) underrepresented in entrepreneurial ventures, corporate leadership, political office and our highest court, we are missing significant opportunities that would benefit all Iowans. The “business case” for more inclusive, more diverse leadership is compelling. Whether it’s more economic growth and job creation or diversity of thought and experience in our highest political offices and courts, more women leaders will be critical to our collective success."

Debi durham
Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority

"If we knew the answer to that, then I think you would see us making more progress than we have. It is critical that we identify the reasons so we can collectively work to change the environment. Over the past year, we’ve had some very productive conversations with private groups that are taking on the challenge to find out the root causes of this issue. Women are now and will continue to be critical to the growth and advancement of Iowa’s economy, so we certainly need to figure out the why."

Rebecca Hughes
Director of Human Resources, Meredith Corp.

In Iowa, we have more employed women than the national average and also a significantly higher percentage of families with both parents in the labor force. We can’t confuse the statistics on women in the labor force with women in leadership. Iowa has a greater proportion of male-dominated occupations and industries than other states, such as agriculture, manufacturing, production and transportation. At the same time, we have less professional jobs available than in other states. We need to encourage women to pursue advanced degrees and acquire relevant and consistent work experience. We also need to ensure that women in Iowa have access to mentors, networks, capital and available skill-building opportunities to help them rise to leadership roles, especially in male-dominated occupations and industries.

Chris Hensley
Des Moines City Council member

I am completing my 20th year on the Des Moines City Council and during this time, I have been the only female. There have been six different election cycles, and during all of the various elections, the percentage of women seeking office has been less than 5 percent at the city level. When you consider the number of women who represent the city on the various boards and commissions, which is well over 50 percent, and the fact that it is a logical step for individuals to move into elective office, you have to ask, why? Several reasons emerge: Can they raise the funds to run a campaign? Are they willing to put in the time and effort needed for the actual campaign? Do they have the qualifications to win an election? Can they balance this with family responsibilities? And, more important, are they willing to deal with the public scrutiny of not only them but their family? Any one of these can put an end to running for political office, but when you look at all of them, it does become overwhelming.