Iowa's gender balance law in limbo
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JANUARY 23, 2023
Good morning! There’s a famous scene in 30 Rock where Tina Fey’s character, Liz, says, "What a week, huh?" and Alec Baldwin’s character, Jack Donaghy, responds with, "Lemon, it’s Wednesday." That three-second bit perfectly sums up how I’ve felt about 2023 so far.

News broke last week that a state lawmaker had proposed a bill that would eliminate Iowa’s gender balance law, which requires all appointive boards and commissions to have equal – or, in the case of an odd number of seats, close to equal numbers of men and women.

Much like we’ve done in Fearless at every start of the legislative session, I had planned on publishing analyses of the representation of Iowa women at all levels of political office later this month. However, it suddenly became very timely, which led me to spend an afternoon up at the Statehouse to cover the subcommittee meeting.

My story from that meeting is below, and you can expect more coverage on the topic in the coming weeks.

Now, let’s get on to the newsletter!

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Bill to eliminate gender balance law passes through subcommittee
Iowa ‘no longer needs a quota system,’ chair says
From left: Sens. Jason Schultz, Pam Jochum and Sherielynn Westrich debate over SSB 1037 at a subcommittee meeting at the Capitol on Jan. 18. Photo by Emily Kestel.
A bill that would get rid of an Iowa law that requires all state, county and municipal boards and commissions to be gender-balanced passed out of a subcommittee Jan. 18.

State Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, introduced a bill to eliminate the requirement, saying it’s no longer necessary, due to the advances made by women in the professional sphere. He also acknowledged that boards and commissions are having a hard time complying with the requirement.

"It’s time for the laws to change along with the culture, which no longer needs a quota system," he said.

Schultz said he’s heard from those who are responsible for finding people to fill boards who are having a difficult time, and that "the idea that we would have a quota system in Iowa just seems shortsighted, the wrong direction to go, and looking for the best, most qualified people is a better way."

The majority of the lobbyists and members of the public at the meeting spoke out in opposition of the bill, saying there is a need for diverse representation and getting rid of this law would be "a huge step backward." No one at the subcommittee meeting spoke in favor of the bill.

Schultz and Sen. Cherielynn Westrich, R-Ottumwa, voted to advance the bill out of the subcommittee. Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, opposed it. The bill now moves to a full vote in the Senate State Government Committee, which Schultz said is expected to meet "in about a week and a half."

Background and context

Gender balance on state-level boards and commissions has been required since 1987, but in 2009 the Iowa Legislature extended the requirement to include appointive county and municipal boards, which became effective in 2012. Iowa is the only state to have the requirement for all levels of government.

To put it in practice, no person is to be appointed or reappointed to any board or commission if it would mean that the number of members of one gender was greater than the other. But in reality, there are no consequences if they aren’t balanced.

There is a section in the Iowa Code that says if a good faith effort has been made to fill a vacant seat in compliance with the gender balance law, but after three months a board is unable to do so, that board is exempt.

Key facts and figures

Since the law went into effect, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University has regularly examined the membership of county and municipal boards and commissions. In its most recent data collection, the Catt Center found the following:

  • County level: Women hold 38% of county board and commission seats while 61% of county boards and commissions are gender-balanced. (Many boards have an odd number of seats, which can lead to a disparity in the percentage of women on boards while still being considered gender-balanced.) Eight of the 77 counties that provided data have achieved gender balance on all boards and commissions that were examined, down from 14 in 2020.
Eight Iowa counties have all of their boards and commissions gender-balanced. Four of the counties shown above also had all boards gender-balanced in 2020: Guthrie, Floyd, Winneshiek and Van Buren. Graphic by Lauren Burt.
  • City level: According to the Catt Center, 62% of city-level boards and commissions are gender-balanced. Twelve cities have achieved gender balance on all boards examined. Of the 1,783 total board seats, 766 – or 43% – are held by women, with 87 vacancies.
  • State level: There are roughly 180 appointive boards and commissions at the state level. Monica Stone, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, said she believes most state-level boards are gender-balanced.


  • "Iowa has consistently been a leader in ensuring gender balance in representation in government and decision-making." – Monica Stone, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, in an interview ahead of the bill’s proposal.
  • "This is not an attempt to step in the culture wars. This is an attempt to make life easier for those working to organize and build boards and commissions." – Iowa Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who introduced the bill, at the subcommittee meeting.
  • "This [gender balance law] is part of Iowa’s legacy of equity and inclusion. … Rather than removing gender balance requirements, let’s look at some other solutions. Let’s look at putting some dollars for advertising. Let’s look at leaning into the Iowa Talent Bank program." – Keenan Crow, a lobbyist with One Iowa, at the subcommittee meeting.
  • "Women’s voices matter. Being at the table matters. … We should be making sure that we have equity in our boards and commissions at the state level and at the local level, and if it takes laws to do that, then we need to have those in place." – Connie Ryan, lobbyist and executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, at the subcommittee meeting.
  • "Our goal should be to build inclusive boards, and we cannot do that without this law in place. I’m not saying it is easy to meet requirements of boards, but you’re not asking to get rid of geographic balance to ensure rural Iowa voices are heard. You are assuming gender is the driving force in failing to fill positions. I don’t know that this is based in fact. … If we have a gender gap, let's address it head-on, not abolish the one thing that is keeping us on task to ensure women’s voices are heard where decisions are made in government." – Amy Campbell, lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of Iowa, at the subcommittee meeting.
  • "Iowa’s gender balance law works, yet there is still room for improvement. … Since 2013, the percentage of gender-balanced boards at the municipal and county level have increased by 13% and 12% [respectively]. … Iowa’s gender balance law is a national model. A 2022 study … found that Iowa was the most successful state in achieving representation on its state boards." – Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics (though she was not speaking on behalf of the center or Iowa State University), at the subcommittee meeting.
  • "One argument that’s been made is that the gender imbalance has corrected itself. That could not be farther from the truth. We need to only look around the legislative chambers to see that we’re not even close to representation reflective of our population." – Maureen White, lobbyist for American Association of University Women-Iowa, at the subcommittee meeting.
  • "I think we’re turning the clock back when we do legislation like this. … I can’t believe this is the solution to whatever problem it is that we’re trying to solve." – Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, at the subcommittee meeting.

Look for more coverage and analysis of the representation of Iowa women in public office in the coming weeks.

Angie Chaplin named regional coordinator of SMART Recovery USA
SMART Recovery USA recently appointed Angie Chaplin, founder and owner of Mindful Leadership, as Iowa’s regional coordinator.

SMART is a nationwide program that provides resources to those looking to overcome alcohol and substance abuse as well as other behavioral addictions. Regional coordinators work as volunteers to provide the first line of support for local facilitators.

"I was honored to be selected as regional coordinator," Chaplin said in a news release. "One of my core values is connection, and that is what I hope to be able to do for SMART — connect individuals with the help they need."

Regular readers of Fearless may remember Chaplin’s story that we published last winter. The first-person profile featured a deep, introspective look into her decadelong battle with alcohol addiction, how it affected her life, and what led her to start down the road of sobriety.

Chaplin is now more than 1,000 days sober. She lives in Iowa City, and hosts sober tailgates on Hawkeye game days. She continues to run Mindful Leadership, her consulting practice that works to build leadership capacity in individuals, groups, teams and companies.

Left: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Center: Iowa Business Hall of Fame inductee Liz Garst. Right: Alliant Energy President and COO Lisa Barton.
In the headlines
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she is stepping down from the role, because she no longer has "enough in the tank" to keep going. After ascending into the job at age 37 in 2017, she became the country’s youngest female prime minister.

Elizabeth "Liz" Garst, president of Greene Investment Co., will be inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame, along with Fareway’s Reynolds Cramer and Hubbell Realty Co.’s Rick Tollakson. Garst has devoted her career to humanitarian and environmental work, which includes the creation of Whiterock Conservancy.

Alliant Energy has named Lisa Barton to the newly created role of president and chief operating officer, effective Feb. 27. Barton will work with Alliant Energy Chair and Chief Executive Officer John Larsen to execute the company’s investment growth plan and continue advancing Alliant Energy’s work to enable a clean energy future for the customers and communities Alliant serves, according to a release.

Barbara Stinson is stepping down as president of the World Food Prize Foundation, the organization announced. Stinson assumed the role in January 2020, filling the position after Ambassador Kenneth Quinn announced his retirement after 20 years. The release did not give a timeline for Stinson’s departure or what her plans are for the future.

As part of its start to a new General Assembly, the Missouri House of Representatives strengthened its dress code for female lawmakers, saying they must wear jackets in order to maintain professionalism. Several members pushed back, saying the proposal was sexist, impractical and hypocritical.

Hy-Vee is looking for minority-owned and women-owned businesses to apply for its quarterly Best of Local Brands summit on March 1. Since the summit began in 2021, more than 125 new brands have been selected and made available to Hy-Vee customers. The deadline is Jan. 23.

A group of 15 Democratic senators have submitted a letter to the Biden administration, calling for him to include $547 billion in funding for a 12-week paid leave program in the upcoming budget. Some Republicans, including Sen. Joni Ernst, have expressed support for some form of paid leave legislation, but disagree on how to pay for it. Sen. Joe Manchin opposed a proposal guaranteeing paid parental, medical and caregiving leave last year, causing it to drop from the budget reconciliation bill that narrowly passed last year.

The Kirkwood Institute is suing the state of Iowa over a 1977 law that requires birthing centers to demonstrate the necessity of such a facility before they’re allowed to open. On behalf of Iowa certified nurse midwives Caitlin Hanley and Emily Zambrano-Andrews, the institute is arguing that Iowa mothers have a constitutional right to "give birth in safe, comfortable circumstances of their choice," and that Hainley and Zambrano-Andrews have a right to "pursue their chosen occupation and provide that setting and care." They hope to open a free-standing birthing center in Central Iowa.

Worth checking out
A woman on the moon: How has one small step taken so long? (Washington Post). For actresses leading their own production companies, the future is theirs (Vanity Fair). How I broke the last taboo: salary transparency (Insider). Olivia Dunne’s rise to fame is fueling the earning power of college athletes — but who is keeping her safe? (The 19th).
Iowa Women’s Foundation announces 2023 grant recipients
The Iowa Women’s Foundation has distributed $360,000 in funding to 23 grant recipients who are working to tackle the issues that IWF has identified as barriers to economic self-sufficiency for women and girls. Those barriers are child care, transportation, mentorship, employment, housing and education/training.

The foundation distributed the funding through two of its grant programs; the Core Grants and Community Child Care Solutions grant.

Core Grants is a $150,000 program that funds organizations that work to address any of the six barriers. Recipients of that program were announced last fall, and included Hawkeye Community College Foundation, Iowa City Sober Living, Iowa’s Jobs for America’s Graduates, Girls Inc. of Sioux City, NewBo City Market and Oakridge Neighborhood Services.

The Community Child Care Solutions Grant goes to organizations who are working to increase the number of child care slots in the state. Recipients of the child care grant are:

  • 4 C’s Community Coordinated Child Care.
  • Catherine McAuley Center.
  • City of Roland.
  • Community United Child Care Centers Inc.
  • Council Bluffs Schools Foundation.
  • Discoveries Learning Center.
  • Lutheran Services in Iowa.
  • MICAH House Corp.
  • Noble Initiative Foundation.
  • Shooting Star Childcare.
  • Sprouts Early Learning Academy.
  • Sumner Daycare and Learning Center Inc.
  • To the Rescue.
  • Waverly Child Care and Preschool.
  • Waypoint.
  • Wildcat ABC Child Care.
  • Williamsburg Community Child Care Center.

In its 25 years of grantmaking, the Iowa Women’s Foundation has awarded more than $1.6 million to 172 organizations across the state. More information about all of the recipients can be found on the Iowa Women’s Foundation website.
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At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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