The solution to Iowa's lack of female leadership was in the room of about 200 participants in the Business Record's Gender Gap Power Breakfast Wednesday morning.


The sellout crowd was largely female, interested in learning how Des Moines and Iowa can overcome the state's last-in-the-nation standing in women-owned businesses and a similarly dismal record in electing women to political office. The conclusion: Women need to help other women.


Six female panelists assessed the situation, spoke about their paths to leadership and suggested a specific action for each of the participants, either to take on leadership themselves or to help other women rise to leadership.

  • Pick one up-and-coming woman and sponsor her. Don't just mentor her, but sponsor her, said Nora Everett, president and CEO of Principal Funds. Then pick one risk and take it. Women's fear of failure too often holds them back, she said. (Check out the blog of the day below for more on this.)
  • Des Moines City Councilwoman Chris Hensley talked about how she is encouraging women to run for political office, but often hears them say that they believe their employers would frown on that. "Corporations need to make sure they don't have barriers to preclude employees from running for office, Hensley said. "And if you do, shame on you. You should encourage them."  
  • Rebecca Hughes  director of human resources at Meredith Corp., gave advice on applying for promotions and raises. "Men tend to apply for jobs based on their potential," she said. "Women tend to apply based on their experience - so apply, apply, apply." Also, women need to learn to negotiate. "Men will negotiate down to the penny on an employment deal. Women will take the first offer," she said.
  • "The solution begins with you. It begins with me," said Renee Hardman, senior vice president of community relations for Bankers Trust Co. "My mom always told me no matter where you go, always look back and find someone you can bring along."
  • Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, said she has a plan to increase the number of women-owned businesses in the state. Once she ascertains a baseline of accurate information, she wants to partner with the Kauffman Foundation to increase the number of women-owned businesses because it is an economic development issue for Iowa. "We need to own this issue and we need to solve this issue," she said. 
  • And Lydia Brown, a Cedar Rapids businesswoman who has formed an organization called Ascent to increase the number of women-owned businesses in Iowa, asked everyone in the audience to go to her group's website,, and volunteer to be a mentor or a resource for the organization. "We know it's going to take a village to do this," she said. 

At the end of the breakfast, Connie Wimer, owner and founder of Business Publications Corp. Inc., shared advice she learned from feminist leader Gloria Steinem.


"At the end of every speech she gave, she would say, 'Go do something outrageous for another woman today.' And you know, it really feels good when you do, and after a few days, it won't even seem so outrageous," Wimer said.