May 29, 2012

Reflections on Women's Contributions this Memorial Day

As we reflect upon this national holiday, you might like to consider how to honor women this Memorial Day and encourage you to think about how women have served our country in many ways.

Beginning with the American Revolution and continuing to the present, women have always volunteered in defense of our nation.  Women have played a key role in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and beginning with World War I, women for the first time began to serve overseas – those who were not nurses were allowed to enlist in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (1917).  Over 24,000 women served in this war.

From 1942-1945, while men fought in the battlefront of World War II, over 18 million women filled the civilian and defense positions created is the country's shift to wartime productions (remember “Rosie the Riveter?).

Nationally, the number of women who served in the Persian Gulf War (Desert Storm) was 41,000, and over 200,000 have served to-date in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

As of September 2009, more than 1.8 million living women veterans had served in the U.S. military.  The percentage of veterans who are female has increased by more than 25% in recent years; in 2000, 6.1% of living veterans were women, and currently are 8% of the veteran population.  This number is expected to rise to 9.0% by 2013 and 15% by 2035.

Women in Military Service for America reports there are 15,084 female veterans in Iowa, roughly 6.5% of all Iowa veterans.  The median age for U.S. women Veterans was 48 years old (46 for non-Veteran women), 23% of who were divorced, which is nearly double the percentage of non-Veteran women (12%) divorced in the United States.  It is estimated that about 8% of sheltered homeless veterans are female, a number that has been increasing since 2000.

Drake University graduate, Kirsten A. Holmstedt, began researching women serving in combat in 2003, and authored 2 books, Band of Sisters, covering the roles, challenges, and accomplishments of women on the battlefields of Iraq.  Her second book, Girls Come Marching Home, digs into the racism, sexual harassment, and drugs, as well as the difficulties and challenges when they return stateside.

Women in the military is just one of the many issues of importance to women and to our community, so please take time to honor the women who have so bravely served our country this Memorial Day.

To learn more about the author:

To learn more about the history of women in the military:

PS - If you haven’t yet visited the meaningful exhibit on Iowa Women in the Military, please visit the Fort Des Moines Museum on Des Moines’ south side.

May 21, 2012

We Are Making Progress

We’ve long known that equal rights – women’s, civil, gay – are continuing struggles for what so many of us believe is “right.”  But a recent article in The New York Times frames equal rights as being strong for our economy.

Research presented by 4 U.S. economists makes the case that in the last 50 years, 20% of increased productivity in our country can be credited to women and blacks.  Changes that have affected both populations – and the equal talents they bring to the workplace – have tremendously increased the availability of highly skilled and enterprising professionals.  This is referred to by researchers as “improved allocation of talent.”

This swell in the “talent pool” and its effect on our economy is confirmed by a 2009 report, The Business of Empowering Women, based on a survey of 2,300 senior private sector executives conducted by McKinsey and Company.  The report asked corporate respondents, “Do you expect your company’s engagement with women to increase the company’s profits?”  

Attracting and retaining female employees is also an effective business strategy, according to McKinsey.  Their research  demonstrates that the presence of gender- and race-diverse leadership correlates with stronger financial and organizational performance.  Companies with greater leadership diversity have reported operating margins twice as high as those with little or no female leadership, and there is a strong correlation between the percentage of top managers who are female and a company’s return on assets and equity.

Although we certainly aren’t a gender- or race-neutral society yet, significant shifts have occurred over the last half-century, note the researchers.  The New York Times article notes:

In case you are behind in your viewing of “Mad Men,” the television drama set in 1960s New York, (the show) is a reminder of how truly supreme white men were in the United States half a century ago. In 1960, 96% of lawyers were white men, 94% of doctors were white men and 86% percent of managers were white men. The subsequent 50 years were a revolution.  By 2008, white men accounted for just 61% of lawyers, 63% of doctors and 57% of managers.

“We’ve come a long way, baby.”
Thank you for being part of this movement.

May 9, 2012


We are receiving quite a bit of tremendous feedback on SHE MATTERS: 2012 Status of Women and Girls in Iowa, the report we released last week at the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference.  As we continue to publicize the information, I will be submitting an op-ed piece to the Des Moines Register and the Business Record which will include some of the highlights.  Here is the copy for the op-ed:

OP-ED submission
SHE MATTERS: 2012 Status of Women and Girls in Iowa
May 2012

The World Bank calls investing in women “smart economics” because research shows economic growth for women has a critical multiplier effect.  Women are more likely to share their personal economic gains with their families and communities; in fact, women reinvest 90% of their income in food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling for themselves and their children.  In short, “women’s progress” is “society progress.”

In Iowa, there are changes in the lives of girls and women that we see every day:
×          we’ve embraced more women in our military
×          more women are attending and graduating from college
×          more women are in our labor force
×          girls are reaching greater proficiency in academics, including science and mathematics
×          women’s life expectancy has increased

Although these are reasons to celebrate, research presented in a new report from the Iowa Women’s Leadership Project, SHE MATTERS: 2012 Status of Women and Girls in Iowa, tells us that for many Iowa females, the vision of self-sufficiency, independence, and opportunity isn’t within reach.

This report provides a measure of the demographics of our state, the health and well-being of our girls and women, the achievement and autonomy we’ve attained, and the employment and income levels we’ve reached.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, women and girls comprise just over half (50.5%) of our state population.  Since the 1070, Iowa women’s participation in the workforce has more than doubled – today over 80% of Iowa women ages 16 to 64 are working.

With this enormous increase in the female workforce, Iowa women – like women throughout the country – still earn only 79% of what men earn when all other factors are equal.  This may seem insignificant, but consider that collectively, Iowa women are paid over $4.1 trillion less annually due to this wage gap.  Per woman, this could mean 82 weeks of groceries, 8 months of mortgage payments, 29 months of family health insurance, or over 2,000 gallons of gas.

And there are other glaring disparities:
×          21.3% of Iowa’s legislators are female
×          women hold only 11% of executive positions in Iowa’s insurance businesses
×          only 16% of corporate board positions are held by women
×          the number of women-owned businesses has dropped over the last decade
×          13% of Iowa women have no health insurance, 14% live in poverty, and over 80% of homeless families are females with children
×          Nearly ¾ Iowa’s nursing home population and 2/3 of home health care patients are female

When we see these indicators, we realize that not only have women not progressed – in many cases, we’ve lost ground.  The facts underscore the reality that the value of Iowa’s (and our country’s) women and girls must be demonstrated.  By adequate earnings.  By career and promotion opportunities.  By assuring safety.  And by having an equal voice for all decisions affecting Iowans.  When these are realities, women and girls can participate fully in the life of Iowa communities.

We can do better, and we will do better.  The Iowa Women’s Leadership Project has engaged women and organizations throughout the state to provide input and energy toward changing the trend lines.  Our intent is that our daughters, nieces, and granddaughters will have role models will have role models that reflect Iowa’s population – half of our leaders, at a minimum, will be women.

SHE MATTERS: 2012 Status of Women and Girls in Iowa has been created by a public/private partnership of Iowa organizations forming the Iowa Women’s Leadership Project.  The report was released at the 2012 Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference in April, and will serve as a guide for the partnership’s shared work to improve the quality of life for Iowa’s women and girls.