Making more Iowa history

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Iowa’s 43rd governor will go down in history as one of the “firsts” for women in this state, just like Iowan Julia Addington did in 1869 becoming the first woman in the United States elected to office (Mitchell County) and Burlington’s Arabella Mansfield did in 1869 becoming the first female attorney in the U.S.

We couldn’t be more proud to have Kim Reynolds add her name to the history books as our first female governor of Iowa. Iowa Women Lead Change, IWLC, points to Iowa women over and over as those who have broken down cultural and organizational barriers. While we honor and celebrate these achievements, we still have a long way to go. Even with notable successes, we are forced to ask, “What still is holding us back?”

50 percent of Iowa’s population is women. So why are women only:

• 25 percent of leadership in private, for-profit companies

• 22 percent of leadership in publicly traded companies

• 16 percent of board members of publicly traded companies

• 28 percent of elected officials at all levels

Two reasons:

Cultural: We (women) don’t raise our hands quickly enough. We want experience in 10 out of 10 qualifications for a new job before we even apply (he’ll apply with six or less and learn the rest when he gets there). Men: You know this now. No excuses. Tap her on the shoulder and tell her she’s perfect for a promotion.

Organizational: Change is hard. It’s hard hiring people who don’t look like us. A friend of mine who is the chief administrative officer at Patagonia asked his leadership team in Japan, all male, to intentionally bring him three qualified female candidates in addition to the dozen male applicants. When they said “They don’t exist,” he repeated “Go find me three qualified female candidates.” Guess who got the job? I hear she’s doing very well in her new position. This isn’t about quotas, it’s about intentionally bringing all talent to the table.

Companies leading the way not only understand social responsibility, but point to a clear business case for women in leadership at all levels. Statistics from Catalyst show that companies with the highest representation of women on their board have a better:

• Return on Equity: On average, companies with the highest percentage of women board directors outperform those with the least by 53 percent.

• Return on Sales: On average, companies with the highest percentage of women board directors outperform those with the least by 42 percent.

• Return on Invested Capital: On average, companies with the highest percentage of women board directors outperform those with the least by 66 percent.

Iowa is a state with an impressive record of leveraging all available talent to attain the best results. In addition to leading the way by putting women in new places of leadership, in 1848 it also became the first state to allow unmarried women to own property. In 1857, the University of Iowa became the first university to allow women students.

Here’s to Gov. Reynolds for raising her hand and saying “yes” when Gov. Terry Branstad tapped her on the shoulder. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s keep making history.

• Tiffany O’Donnell is the incoming CEO of Iowa Women Lead Change (IWLC).

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