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Guest opinion: Upmeyer paved way for other Iowa women


It’s not quite deafening, but it’s hard to miss the sound of glass ceilings shattering all around us. As the leader of an organization dedicated to advancing women leaders, it is truly music to our ears.

In 2002, we began hearing the first cracks in the Iowa legislative ceiling. The Iowa House of Representatives was, for the first time, under the leadership of a female representative, the distinguished woman from House District 54, Linda Upmeyer.   

While women had a place in the legislature before Upmeyer’s arrival, they had never enjoyed a seat with such influence. Upmeyer, reluctant to draw attention to her gender, quietly shifted the paradigm for future legislators.

Those keeping track of “firsts” could cross this legislative leadership position off the list. The gender of future House speakers would no longer be notable. Men and women now sit in the chair.

And yet, Iowa boasts just 44 women in the Iowa legislature and two in Congress (roughly 28%). We are, sadly, quite a distance from the goal set by our colleagues for 50-50 in 2020.  

Coming up short affects all Iowans. Research by Women Lead Change, Catalyst and others show overall outcomes are better when there is parity among women and men at the policy and decision-making tables.

Nationally, a record number of women ran for public office in the last midterm elections and a record number of them won. We expect that trend to continue. Will you be part of it? Either on the ballot or supporting a woman on the ballot?

Upmeyer began her career well before this type of progress made headlines. She undoubtedly made it acceptable and even welcoming for other females to run and serve in public office. We thank and salute Speaker Upmeyer on a job well done. Her ability to navigate challenges, drive change, and inspire others is legendary. Now, it is up to the next generation of young women (and men) to ensure the ceiling remains open and transparent.

Tiffany O’Donnell is CEO of Iowa Women Lead Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development, promotion and advancement of Iowa women, their organizations, and to impacting the regional economy. Contact her via email.

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