Iowa N.E.W. Leadership continues to help women become leaders


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As the state Legislature begins in chambers in which fewer then 25 percent of legislators are women, the Iowa N.E.W. Leadership Program is reminded of why, after seven years, the group focuses on bringing women into leadership positions The University of Iowa Women’s Action and Resource Center is pushing for applicants to assist in helping women into leadership roles of all sorts, and it uses the lack of women in the Statehouse as a reminder.

Iowa N.E.W. Leadership is a national program that was first created by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in 1991. The N.E.W. network includes 23 colleges and universities. Women may be nominated for the program until Jan. 30, and they may send in applications for themselves as well. The applications are due on Feb. 20.

The program is held by WRAC, after being adopted by the University of Iowa in 2007. Avinder Deol, the Iowa N.E.W. program coordinator, said the program is “a real confidence boost” for women wanting leadership roles.

“Women more than men need that boost,” Deol said. For five days, at least 35 women attend workshops with business leaders and elected officers while learning skills such as negotiation, strategic communication, relationship-building, and conflict and collaboration.

Sue Dvorsky, the former head of the Iowa Democratic Party and a former mentor of Iowa N.E.W., was asked to be a keynote speaker at the program. “Young women leadership has always been an interest of mine, so I’d watched the program with respect for a few years,” Dvorsky said.

Dvorsky spoke about how the women get experience at the panel, as well as leadership in the community and in academics. The program is nonpartisan, and any woman is welcome to apply, regardless of political affiliation.

“It’s really not political training,” Dvorsky said. “It’s leadership training.” Deol said that N.E.W. Leadership is “very intentional about the diversity of our program.”

Each year, she said, the group focuses on “a political access project” in which women attend mock panels and present a testimony for or against the panel. This year’s project will revolve around votor access and votor-ID laws. Rep. Sally Stutsman, D-Riverside, said sometimes women have a hard time getting into leadership positions because there is a lack of support.

“It’s been hard to make that transition,” she said. “Women don’t always think of themselves in those positions.” Stutsman said her experience of being an elected official has been very positive.  “I think women have a lot to offer in leadership positions,” she said.

After coming in last for women in business in a recent study, groups such as Iowa N.E.W. Leadership work to help more women become involved in such positions. “Iowa is one of four states that has never sent a woman to Congress,” Deol said, “This year there’s a real opportunity to do that.”

Dvorsky said most sectors want to train women for leadership positions because there are not nearly enough women in leadership positions now. “[The program] really took off here in Iowa, in ways that surprised even the university and the program leaders,” she said. “It really polishes and helps young women find their voice.”

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