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Clair Williams of Des Moines was one of the more than 800 women and men who gathered at the IWLC Central Iowa conference on October 14 to hear nationally known speakers Kathy Ireland and Debora Spar discuss women’s leadership and their individual journeys to success. Additionally, more than 150 undergraduate students eager to network with professionals in their fields joined Williams and other leaders from across the state.
“IWLC’s conference dedicated to leadership and empowering women to speak up is incredibly important for societal equality and personal and professional growth,” said Williams. “This conference has shown me that it is important to foster open dialogue about leadership and to empower women to work together to build a strong ‘sisterhood’ for change.”
IWLC also publicly released its second research study at the conference. “Pathways to Leadership” was released in 2013, which told the stories of 725 women and their personal leadership journeys. This year, through IWLC’s partnership with Nexus, Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center, and the University of Iowa Tippe College of Business, “Iowa Women in Leadership” was completed.
Phase One of “Iowa Women in Leadership” includes statistics on women in leadership in all sectors of business across Iowa – non-profit, for-profit, public, privately held. The statistics are broken down by business sector, allowing the data to be viewed through the all-important lens of where women are working. Phase Two of the study will be rolled out at IWLC’s Eastern Iowa Conference on April 22 in Cedar Rapids. This segment of the study examines the policies and practices of organizations across the state.
IWLC Central Iowa conference keynote speaker Kathy Ireland, chair, CEO and chief designer of kathy ireland Worldwide, spoke about her path from “the beach to the boardroom.” The former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model encouraged women to be vocal in their personal and professional lives. “As someone whose former job description was to ‘shut up and pose,’ don’t ever let anyone silence you.”
Ireland began her business with a simple sock line – and it has grown to more than $2 billion in sales, according to Forbes magazine, which dubbed her “Supermodel to Supermogul.”
Despite the company’s success, Ireland’s early days as an entrepreneur were often rocky; she admits that she and her team slept in airports to save money while they were trying to build the business. Her advice to conference attendees was genuine and straightforward: “surround yourself with people who believe in you and are honest enough to tell you the truth.” Ireland has met adversity and encourages others to educate themselves to overcome it. “Sometimes the best plans don’t go your way,” she said. “Some days are grim and you have to start all over. But ask powerful questions and know the details.”
Barnard College President Dr. Debora Spar was equally inspiring, calling on challenges of leadership to be shared by women and men. “We need to invest and involve men in this conversation,” said Spar. “Men want their daughters, sisters and wives to succeed.”
Spar is the author of the recently released book “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” which chronicles the struggles women face on the road to professional success. She believes that society “places way more expectations on young girls than on young boys.” As a leader of an undergraduate institution, Spar encounters young women every day – and what she finds is shocking. “Expectations are now overwhelming for young women. They are trying to do it all – and they are exhausted.”
Other IWLC Central Iowa conference speakers included: Liz Wiseman, author of “Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work”; Connie Glaser, author of “GenderTalk Works”; and Karen R. Jenkins, who discussed “women, wisdom and wealth.”
“Leadership is a skill most young professionals are eager to attain, and it's conferences like IWLC’s that allow for a confluence of various backgrounds and skill levels to learn from each other and grow as a collective,” said Williams. “I am excited for the continued growth of this conference, and to enact the lessons I learned into my daily professional life.”
IWLC CEO Diane Ramsey wrapped up the conference, congratulating those in attendance for “demonstrating your own commitment to the importance of women’s leadership – at home, in the office, and in our communities.”
The IWLC Central Iowa conference also marked a turning point for the organization. Ramsey announced the organization’s new identity as Iowa Women Lead Change, which more accurately reflects the mission and vision of the non-profit as the state’s premier leadership organization for women, offering comprehensive leadership resources including events featuring prominent speakers, frequent networking opportunities, and other important services. Since 2007, IWLC has staged events attracting more than 10,000 women and men from across the Midwest.