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Four women in leadership positions spoke about their experiences in the business world at a lecture on Thursday

BY MEGAN DEPPE | OCTOBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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A recent study showed that Iowa is ranked last in the United States for women in leadership positions in the business world, which was acknowledged at a panel on Thursday before a predominately female audience. The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a Women’s Leadership Panel at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts in which four women in leadership positions spoke about their experience in the business world. 

American College Assistant Professor Mary Quist-Newins said that in the financial-services industry, 57 percent of workers are female. However, only 1.5 percent of the CEOs are female in that industry. Women account for approximately one-third of M.B.A classes, but only 6 percent of top earners and 8 percent of top leadership positions are women.

“We wanted to address as a Chamber of Commerce that issue,” said Rachel Schunk, the vice president of communication of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. And while representing different aspects of the business community, with varying degrees of experience, the speakers all shared one theme.

The four were selected to speak on their specific areas. “Big Business” was represented by Kathleen Minette, the senior vice president of operations and scoring assessment information at Pearson. “Elected office” was represented by City Councilor Susan Mims, Iowa City mayor pro tem and CFP investment adviser. “Nonprofit” was represented by Dawn Oliver, the executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation. “Startup Business” was represented by Yotopia owner and founder Veronica Tessler. Of the main issues that were discussed, there was a notion of women “having it all,” the idea of balancing a stable home life and a successful business career at the same time.

When asked about how she balanced her career, home life, and public service, Mims answered that she didn’t — priorities needed to take place. “I am the strongest believer in that you cannot ‘have it all,’ ” Mims said. “There are not enough hours in the day, and there’s not enough energy in the body to do all that. So what you have to do is decide what your priorities are.”

Oliver agreed that flexibility was important in the business world as a woman. “You have to learn to find that balance,” she said.

The panelists also spoke about their mentors and the importance of mentors for the younger generations. Minette noted that many of her mentors in life had been male, but had she wished she had someone who had been a female mentor who had “drawn the path a bit.”

“In the ’70s and ’80s, for a woman in the workspace, you heard things about being a woman in the workplace that you, I hope, will never hear today,” Minette said. Oliver said an emphasis needs to be placed on mentoring the younger generation.

“They don’t know what they don’t know, and some of the best programs out there right now are programs that are mentoring and providing support to the younger generation,” she said. The four panelists ended their discussion with the idea of what was next for the women’s movement.

Mims said the women’s movement must try to spread into more diverse groups. She said looking around the lecture hall, the majority of women were white — an example of the lack of diversity in the business world. She said there was an idea in place of “white women helping white women,” and that needed to change. “Everybody should be supporting everybody,” Mims said.

Briana Hoffman, who works at Innovative Software Engineering in Coralville, agreed with Mims’ comments about increasing diversity. “I think I could do more,” Hoffman said, noting that her workplace has a very diverse group of people.

Allison Johnson, the vice president of performance excellence and regional director of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, was very impressed with the stories of the speakers. “They were very honest about the challenge of finding role models for girls and the struggles of balancing,” she said. “It was very refreshing to know that they struggle with similar things.”


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