Iowa’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds Talks Women in Public Service and Business
The Center for American Women and Politics paints this picture of women in public service in 2017: Women hold seven cabinet and cabinet-level positions in the current Administration; three Supreme Court seats; 19.4% of Congressional seats; 21% of U.S. Senate seats; 9.1% of U.S. House seats; 23.7% of statewide executive seats (governors, lieutenant governors and other statewide elected officials); and 24.9% of state legislature seats.
Kim Reynolds is proud to be counted among these women currently in public service, and like NAWBO, she’d like to see more women join her. Kim, a former state senator and county treasurer, serves as Iowa’s 45th lieutenant governor—a position she was elected to on November 2, 2010. With Governor Terry Branstad set to resign to become the next U.S. ambassador to China, Kim will, at some point this year, become Iowa’s first female governor.
As lieutenant governor, Kim has used her in-depth understanding of Iowa’s small towns and urban communities to continually move Iowa forward with bold economic development initiatives. She co-chairs the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress board, which is comprised of CEOs from the state’s major industries. Since 2011, she has also helped attract more than $11 billion in private investment to the state. Companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, CJ Bio America, Cargill, Mid-American, CF Industries and Valent Biosciences have chosen to locate or expand in the state. In March 2017, Iowa Workforce Development announced that the state of Iowa’s unemployment had fallen to 3.3%, well below the national average and 9th lowest in the country.
Here, Kim talks to NAWBO ONE about women in public service and business and more:
As you prepare to become the first female governor of the state of Iowa, what advice do you have for other women considering a career move into public service?
Kim: Now more than ever, we should be encouraging women to run for elected office on the local, state and federal levels. It’s critical for young women to see females holding office, especially for top-of-the-ballot positions.
It’s important for women to know that they shouldn’t wait to be asked to run for elected office or a leadership position. Especially if they think they’re not experienced or qualified enough.
That’s one of the biggest misperceptions for women. Women worry about not knowing enough about every issue, policy or program. Or, some women might be afraid to fail.
The thing is we don’t have to be perfect. We just need to have a desire to make a difference or a passion to serve. Then, there are many pathways for entering public service, including:
- Running for a local or state office
- Working for an elected official in a staff capacity
- Being part of a campaign
- Applying to serve on a state board or commission
That’s what public service is all about—assessing the present, envisioning the future and moving into the unknown by taking ideas and putting them into action.
Whatever a woman chooses to do, she should be confident in her abilities and take initiative when opportunities arise. She’ll never know what’s possible until she pushes herself outside her comfort zone.
If a woman waited until she thought she was qualified or had enough experience, then she would never be ready!
What experiences do you think best prepared you to assume this new position?
Professionally, I’ve been honored to be a full partner with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for the past seven years. Being able to learn from the nation’s longest serving governor has been an incredible experience. He believes in my ability to lead.
Early in our partnership, the governor appointed me to highly visible positions that involve public-private partnerships, such as the statewide STEM initiative, through which we’ve become a national leader in STEM education. As co-chair of the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress board, I collaborate with leaders from our state’s major industries.
As Chair of the Iowa Energy Plan initiative, I’m actively involved in setting state priorities and providing strategic guidance for our state’s energy future. Other governance activities are tied to strategy, the state budget, legislative priorities, appointments to boards and commissions and statewide programs or services, to name just a few.
Personally, growing up in a small Iowa town also was an unbelievable experience that prepared me to lead this great state. My parents, Charles and Audrey, made sure I understood the importance of honesty, integrity, resilience and hard work. Their emphasis on family, community and responsibility drives who I am today.
I was educated in a strong school system, where I had the opportunity to learn, not just in the classroom, but also on the court and in the community. My family and our caring community instilled in me the value of giving back and being prepared for every opportunity that might come my way.
Becoming Iowa’s first female governor is both humbling and exciting. I will do my best to serve as a role model for others to follow and emulate the finest qualities of those who led before me.
You have worked tirelessly to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs. Are you seeing results in that space? And what more can we be doing?
STEM is transforming learning across Iowa. We’ve seen first-hand how it’s providing students with knowledge, confidence and problem-solving skills that will help them succeed in their personal and professional lives.
In addition, how STEM offers professional development to educators is redefining the classroom. They’re collectively working with business partners. This approach helps students learn in a way that is directly linked to the real world.
Students who participated in our STEM Scale-Up Programs scored an average 7 percentage points higher in National Percentile Rank on the Iowa Assessments in mathematics, 6 percentage points higher in science and 4 percentage points higher in reading than peers. The percent of students who said they were very interested in someday working in Iowa was 45 percent of STEM Scale-Up Program participants compared to 39 percent of students statewide. These are important indicators of success. Yet, even more needs to be done.
Recently, I was visiting with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at the Facebook Data Center in Altoona, Iowa. We began talking about STEM. I told her the story about two little third-graders who were at a STEM event in Iowa. The first little girl raised her hand and said, “So, governor, tell me how you think this STEM thing is going to work out. Then, another little girl down the row raised her hand. She said, “Well, I want you to know that I want to be an entrepreneur when I grow up and start my own business.” I love the fact that we’re beginning to hear questions and conversations like that in Iowa!
When I’m visiting these schools and observing young girls working together on high-quality scale-up programs, you can see the confidence that they’re gaining. They’re also learning that it’s okay to fail. Math, coding and STEM skills are so important to Iowa and the entire nation.
With women being 53 percent of the population, we need young girls and women entering and staying in STEM fields. So, I encourage all NAWBO members to consider ways to become actively involved in STEM at the local and state levels. Your leadership, guidance or financial support can make a major difference.
You have participated in several trade missions. What advice would you give to women business owners in the U.S. hoping to export their goods or services?
One of my first major responsibilities as Iowa’s lieutenant governor was to lead a trade mission to China and South Korea. Originally, the governor was going. However, due to devastating flooding along the Missouri River coupled with the fact that the Iowa Legislature hadn’t adjourned, the governor remained in the state and sent me to lead the Iowa delegation.
It was an eye-opening experience on so many fronts. Especially when you consider that I had only been on the job for five months. My nine days in China were a whirlwind. We toured factories, visited sites and met various dignitaries, including Xi Jing Ping, who is now President of China. South Korea’s schedule was similar.
I went on to lead trade missions to Germany, Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Argentina and Uruguay. While each trade mission clearly was different in terms of culture, geography and industry—there was one common element: the value of relationships.
For women business owners wanting to export, they should consider establishing a relationship with a state’s international trade office. (In Iowa, that entity resides within our Economic Development Authority.) The Iowa Trade Office offers timely news, guest articles, events, programs, financial assistance programs, foreign office reports, education and resources.
Other valuable relationships can be with the local chamber of commerce or sister state or sister city organizations. Currently, Iowa has nine sister state partnerships around the world:
- Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan (established in 1960)
- Yucatán, Mexico (1965)
- Hebei Province, China (1983)
- Terengganu, Malaysia (1987)
- Stavropol Krai, Russia (1988)
- Taiwan (1989)
- Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine (1996)
- Veneto Region, Italy (1997)
- Kosovo (2013)
In addition, be sure to establish relationships with national organizations or associations that can provide key information for exporters about agriculture, education, compliance, export finance, foreign procurement, statistics, trade agreements, tariffs and export contacts.
What do you hope you can accomplish to strengthen and expand the role of women business owners in the economy?
A vital part of our economic development vision and ability to create a strong human capital pipeline relies upon female leaders.
I believe women who lead bring unique qualities to the workforce, such as diversity of thought, different approaches to problem solving and an ability to find consensus.
In addition, I understand women business owners in Iowa are driving our economic and community wellbeing. Just consider these facts:
- There are 1.5 million women in Iowa.
- We have more than 82,000 women-owned businesses in our state.
- These firms have $1.5 billion in receipts.
If we encouraged only 15 percent of Iowa women to become business owners, we could nearly TRIPLE the amount of female-owned businesses in our state.
That’s why we must provide the necessary tools to women business owners and entrepreneurs to help them succeed. Tools like: Establishing an Iowa Center for Economic Success; providing access to capital; encouraging angel investors for women-owned companies; advocating for more women on bank boards; and hosting regional forums. Those are just a few of the activities that we’re trying to do in Iowa right now.
We also must identify and share success stories about women business owners. In 2015, I launched my “Stories of Women’s Lives” tour to meet with female leaders and highlight how women are positively impacting Iowa with their ideas, actions and ingenuity.
It was amazing how many women small business owners and entrepreneurs participated in the roundtables. Often, I found the allocated time of 60 minutes wasn’t nearly long enough to share best practices, identify challenges or just network. So, I continued the “Stories of Women’s Lives” tour the following year and into 2017.
It has to be a public-private partnership, in order for our economies to thrive and women business owners to be successful. On the public side, we must strengthen our business ecosystems. On the private side, women business owners should continually communicate what is working and what is not.
By working together, women can fully reach our potential as an economic force in America and beyond.
Anything else you would like to add?
I firmly believe that women need to lead, learn and lean into new experiences. My path to public service was not preordained. It wasn’t a goal of mine as a young girl to become Iowa’s first female governor. Rather, I saw a need, had an idea and took a leap of faith—completely unsure of the outcome.
My journey started out serving a county, then serving seven counties and now, I serve 3.1 million Iowans. My story can be any girl’s story. My path can be any woman’s path.
We owe it to ourselves and others to follow our passions. To be courageous and take risks. By doing so, our communities, states and nation will greatly benefit now and in the future.
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