Women leadership in Iowa considered after initial survey


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Following a study and recent forum on women in leadership positions in Iowa, community members are now trying to discover the reasons behind their last-place ranking in the country for women in leadership roles, as well as how they can best combat it.

The most recent report on women leadership, released in 2012 by the American Express OPEN, ranked Iowa last in the country for women in business leadership positions.

American Express OPEN is an affiliate of the American Express financial operation, aimed at businesses specifically. 

Lydia Brown, the president and CEO of Ascent, a nonprofit organization which helps growth in women’s business, said they have been looking at women’s programs in other states over the last 6 to 8 months to make a model of what they are doing.

Ascent will also be conducting focus-group based research beginning in December to understand the barriers make a difference in women-owned businesses in Iowa.

Brown said some common issues she’s found with women in business is a lack of affordable childcare, as well as a lack of confidence in women themselves.

“Men don’t have quite as much of a barrier,” Brown said. “They might be 30 percent qualified for a job they apply for, where a women feels she needs to be 80 percent qualified for the same job.”

This debate has also come to Iowa City, following the Women’s Leadership Panel hosted by the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce in October.

Veronica Tessler, the owner of Yotopia, said she did not see a lack of women leadership, at least in Iowa City.

“The statewide problem doesn’t seem to trickle down to here,” Tessler said. “I honestly don’t know why Iowa ranks so low.”

Tessler also said she didn’t think her own experience in business had been any different from “being a man in charge of a business.”

“I would say that one of my biggest challenges was working with contractors, who may not have taken a woman as seriously as a man in business,” Tessler said. “Making yourself an informed business owner is what it really boils down to.”

Leah Cohen, the owner of restaurant and bar Bo-James, had a different opinion.

“I think Iowa tends to be more of a conservative state,” Cohen said, noting that her perceived views of Iowa’s more traditional family environment may make women less likely to step out into the business world.

Tessler and Cohen agreed one of the main problems with women in leadership positions was the lack of female mentors in the different areas of business.

“Finding a trusted mentor is a huge part of owning your own business,” Tessler said. “Encouraging young women and girls is what is needed.”

Cohen said she was one of the few women in the restaurant and bar business in Iowa City, and a mentor would have been a great inspiration.

“When I was in business on my own, it was very hard to find women mentors,” Cohen said.

Tina Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority program, said it will partner with the Ascent program to help resolve this issue.

“It’s not just a government problem or in the state, it’s something we all need to fix,” Hoffman said. “At this point, it’s about raising awareness that this is an issue.”

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