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Bill proposes gender equity on corporate boards

A bill proposed in the Iowa Senate would have the state set criteria and a certification program for companies that have at least 50 percent of women on their corporate boards.

Senate File 217, introduced by Sen. Liz Mathis of Robins, calls for the Iowa Economic Development Authority to come up with criteria and to put in place a plan that recognizes companies that meet the criteria. The bill calls for such a program to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. IEDA would have to track the companies and follow up to certify the boards have gender equity.
“The time is now. We’re beyond being polite about it,” said Mathis.

Iowa has a low unemployment rate and businesses need to be able to recruit skilled workers. Businesses that have the certification could be more attractive to women, Mathis pointed out.

The bill’s certification program would not be mandatory, Mathis said. She said the workers shortage could make it difficult in recruiting women to serve on boards. “This is easing into it,” she said.

There are tougher laws in the U.S. California requires publicly traded companies with headquarters in the state to have gender equity on their governing boards. The law was signed into law in late 2018.

“The new law requires publicly traded corporations headquartered in California to include at least one woman on their boards of directors by the end of 2019 as part of an effort to close the gender gap in business. By the end of July 2021, a minimum of two women must sit on boards with five members, and there must be at least three women on boards with six or more members,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

California’s law has fines for companies that fail to meet the requirement.

Iowa does have a gender equity law for county boards and commissions that is over a decade old. In a 2018 report, 63 percent of city boards and commissions had equal numbers of men and women, according to the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics at Iowa State University.

There’s also a voluntary gender equity program for the business community. The EPIC Corporate Challenge is a statewide public-private initiative that aims to increase female leadership in Iowa businesses and organizations. The challenge now has 90 partners across the state of Iowa. For more information or to sign up for the EPIC Corporate Challenge visit www.epiciowa.org.

Mathis said she and her husband own a small business. Companies do better when all workers’ voices are heard, she said, and it’s time for Iowa businesses to realize that. “They need to come into this century.”

SF 217 was introduced earlier this month.

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