C.J. Niles
C.J. Niles
April 22, 2014

Women may be their own worst enemy when it comes to taking leadership roles, said C.J. Niles, owner of consulting firm C.J. and Company.

They don't lack the necessary skills, but they lack confidence in their abilities, Niles continued. Coupled with hectic work and family schedules, and a lack of awareness of the range of state and local board positions available, women are not equally represented in political and civic life.

To combat these roadblocks and encourage women to get more involved, Carroll residents Niles and former Iowa Lt. Gov. Art Neu are pairing up with 50-50 in 2020 to host a workshop at the Carrollton Centre from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

50-50 in 2020 is a bipartisan organization dedicated to achieving equal gender representation in the Iowa Legislature by the year 2020 - the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage. It was started in 2010 by Jean Lloyd-Jones, a former Democratic legislator from Iowa City, and Maggie Tinsman, a former Republican state senator from Davenport.

Its mission is to recruit, train and mentor women to fill these leadership roles, said executive director Mary Ellen Miller. It does not lobby or educate on specific issues, or endorse or support individual candidates.

Niles' assertions echo the sentiments of the cover story of the current edition of The Atlantic magazine - "Closing the Confidence Gap" - in which authors Claire Shipman, reporter for ABC News, and Katty Kay, anchor for BBC World News America, highlight a study that revealed women apply for promotions only when they believe they met 100 percent of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet 60 percent. Too often, women hold themselves back from aiming for more ambitious goals.

According to the 50-50 in 2020 website, Iowa is one of only four states that has never elected a woman to U.S. Congress. It has never elected a female governor. Only eight women were elected to the 50-member state Senate in 2012, and only 24 women were elected to the 100-member state House, bringing the total representation of women in Iowa's legislature to 21.3 percent.

Locally, the numbers are even lower - only one woman is currently serving on the Carroll Community Schools Board of Directors, only one woman sits on the Carroll City Council, and there are no women on the Carroll County Board of Supervisors.

No stranger to leadership, Niles served as director of the Carroll Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Area Development Corporation for 12 years, director of the Iowa Department of economic Development for 21/2 years, served on school board when she lived in Audubon, was co-chair of the state sesquicentennial effort in 1996, recently finished a six-year term on the City Development Board of Iowa, as president of the Professional Developers of Iowa and most recently as director of the American Cancer Society.

A native of Coon Rapids, she credits positive female role models - such as the Garst women, her mother and women on school boards and city councils she worked with through the years - for her own confidence to lead. Through Thursday's event, she hopes fellow women will be empowered through networking and stories of success from peers who have held office, including former Lt. Gov. Joy Corning.

"Too many women in our area don't think they have the skills or resume to serve, and they certainly do," Niles said.

Miller agrees that connecting women with others who have succeeded is key. The 50-50 in 2020 organization then follows up with training programs, such as its Blueprint for Winning Academy to help women develop campaigns to run for office. In 2012, 40 percent of the women who attended the academy and ran for office were elected, compared with only 14 percent of women who ran and did not attend the academy, said Miller.

Events like the one that will be held Thursday are the first step.

"Unlike men, women need to be asked or encouraged to run," Miller said. "It's not something they usually think about."

Though the event will highlight the leadership opportunities available in local and state organizations for women, it is not "anti-men," Niles stressed. Men and women from across western Iowa are invited to attend the workshop, share their stories, and return home with resources to support campaigns for female leaders in their regions.

"We just have a long way to go sometimes in Iowa," Niles said. "And in the country, too."