Guest Columnist

How awards for 'influence' perpetuate a cycle of sameness in Iowa

The downtown Cedar Rapids skyline in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The downtown Cedar Rapids skyline in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

This year’s Corridor Business Journal Most Influential Leaders list had as many men with the last name Smith on it as women.

According to the CBJ, “The CBJ’s Most Influential list recognizes the people who have made the biggest mark on the Corridor within the past year, whether through their leadership, business accomplishments or philanthropic efforts,” and “the list is strictly generated by votes from CBJ readers.”

The fact that this list lacks diversity is a reflection of who the CBJ writes about and who their readers view as influential. If you compared the number of times someone’s name appears in a CBJ article, there would be an obvious correlation to the names on this list.

...the Corridor is missing out on a lot of growth because it isn’t thinking about what the next generation of Iowans will look like.

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You could make the same comparison between people who have been recognized by various awards in the Corridor and who sits on prominent city and nonprofit boards and commissions. The CBJ has a huge platform that influences the business community in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Rather than working to change, the magazine is complicit in perpetuating a cycle of sameness.

I’ve been a CBJ reader for more than four years, and I respect the CBJ’s reporting and its impact on the Corridor. Not only have I been a reader of the CBJ for more than four years, but I have attended various CBJ events, nominated friends and colleagues for CBJ awards, and even been recognized by the CBJ as a Forty Under 40 honoree and C-Suite Awardee.

So yes, I’m also in this cycle, but how did I, a non-native Iowan, gain access to it? I know that I have been part of the right economic development organizations, I have shown up at events and I was in the right place at the right time and knew the right people. But these are barriers of access that come with hidden bias for people who don’t know the game or who haven’t been taught it.

The Corridor brags about being a great place to raise a family and strives to attract the “boomerang” (boomerang: someone who grew up in the ICR/Corridor region, left to go to school and/or job in large metro area — usually Chicago, New York City, D.C., Twin Cities, Dallas-Fort Worth — and returns to raise a family or “settle down”) demographic.

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This means that the Corridor is missing out on a lot of growth because it isn’t thinking about what the next generation of Iowans will look like. This status quo mentality is a big driver of the lack of diversity on the CBJ’s Most Influential list, but we have a chance to change this.

Using the CBJ’s Most Influential list as a starting point, the CBJ could add judging criteria, such as their rubric for Forty Under 40, which would increase the thoughtful consideration given to why someone is considered influential beyond name recognition.

In addition to creating more inclusive and representative judging criteria, the CBJ, as well as area nonprofit boards and commissions should challenge themselves to highlight and recognize voices and leaders from a more expansive segment of community participants or risk becoming irrelevant to a new generation of Iowans.

Jessalyn Holdcraft is the director of marketing at NewBoCo.

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