Iowa’s quest to bring more women into public leadership positions seems to be taken most seriously in the Quad-City region, where Scott and Muscatine counties are well ahead of Polk, Linn and even Johnson County for putting women on county government boards.
The study by Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics surprised us. We know our region has benefited from a long tradition of women in civic leadership posts. We didn’t know Iowa’s other metro areas were so far behind.
Polk County reports fewer than a third of county appointments filled by women. Black Hawk County, with Waterloo and Cedar Falls, is precisely a third. Scott and Muscatine exceed 40 percent, which looks good by comparison.
Only one county, rural Van Buren on Iowa’s southern border, hit 50 percent. In fact, after Muscatine and Scott, the rest of the top five are rural counties, suggesting that gender balance gets easier when there are fewer candidates.
Around here, county residents have had rich examples of effective female leaders. Davenport’s Public Works building is named for the same woman who now is top county administrator. The Scott County Board has benefited from strong women supervisors for decades. Those leaders show Iowa women that civic leadership isn’t just an option. It can be a calling.
Too often, the call for balance focuses on attributes generally ascribed to gender; women can be better communicators, or men can be more decisive.
The case for gender equity is built from the individual, unique qualities of each applicant, regardless of gender. But without the push for equity, half of those Iowa individuals rarely get inspired or called to serve. That’s why the legislature in 2009 set gender equity goals for public boards.
We’re proud to see ISU’s Catt Center make a project about documenting Iowa’s gender evolution revolution. And we’re proud to see our region lead this change among Iowa counties.