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Pipeline Project takes aim at power struggle


Kathryn Dickel and Heather Hansen have seen it before: the pipeline that exists in Greater Des Moines, and every other city in America, that enables men, through the guidance of mentors, to rise through the ranks to achieve power, both in their careers and in politics.

But the two women, co-owners of IowaTix.com and Swaelu Media, look at that system and see the potential to build a similar pipeline that, through mentoring, education and networking, will carry women into positions of power, whether they’re stay-at-home moms who want to run for PTA president, or business professionals who aspire to climb the corporate ranks.

“Women are going to identify their own goals,” Dickel said. “We just want to help them attain those goals. We would like to see a larger percentage of women running for office, opening their own businesses, attaining positions of power within the corporate structure, and a larger percentage of women on philanthropic boards, and not just women who have a lot of money, but women with moderate incomes and a lot of energy to put on those boards.”

Dickel and Hansen will officially launch Pipeline Project in two weeks after years of brainstorming and collaboration with “established” and “emerging” women who understand the need for an organization that will promote advocacy by women for women.

“We want to connect with those established women through networking, relationship building and mentoring so that we can address the big problem: We’re not seeing the number of women in positions of power that we really should be,” Dickel said.

Pipeline Project, which will apply for 501(c)(3) status to be considered a non-profit organization, originally got its start within the Chrysalis Foundation as a pilot project, Connect With Chrysalis, but failed to get off the ground. The organization has gained new momentum through the support of a number of women, several of whom have come together to form a planning committee that will establish a vision for the organization and appoint a board of directors.

“I think our biggest key is to have the most diverse board possible, with everything from traditional diversity, both racial and ethnic, and in terms of their professional backgrounds and age,” said Edwina Brandon, director of development for the Des Moines Art Center and a member of the planning committee. “If we want to reach out to all women in all industries, we’re not going to accomplish that if we don’t start with a diverse board.”

This fall, Pipeline Project will hold its first of four annual events, which will provide opportunities to network and build valuable relationships with other women. Dickel and Hansen have discussed hosting these events in the homes of women throughout the city.

The group’s Web site, www.pipelineproject.org, which will launch this fall, will also serve as a source of information for users on a variety of topics, and Pipeline Project will establish an education component, which Hansen said will provide opportunities for the organization to collaborate with others locally to provide those educational and information services.

“We’re not trying to go after someone’s funding or be who they are,” Dickel added. “We want to work together because we have to in order to have a pipeline. Now how that’s going to go over, we don’t know.”

The crux of the organization centers on providing mentoring opportunities to women, both young and old. The Web site will feature a database that will help users connect with mentors according to careers, interests and other elements.

“I think young women need to start seeing themselves in positions of leadership,” said Peggy Huppert, development director of the Iowa Association of School Boards Foundation and former executive director of the Chrysalis Foundation. “We need to groom women to be in those positions and we’re just not doing that.”

Hansen said the “established” women who serve as mentors will be in a position to learn something new about themselves, but also leave a legacy in the community through another woman.

And though Pipeline Project has taken a women-centered focus, some of those involved hope men will play a role in the group’s efforts, and acknowledge that there is plenty to be learned from male mentoring relationships. Huppert said there is more of a sense of competition among women, whereas a man is more likely to take an emerging leader under his wing and advocate for him.

“Women who have already made it in the corporate world kind of think they’re doing women a service by letting them cut their own teeth and make their way up the ladder as well because that’s what they had to do,” Hansen said.

Pipeline Project will launch its Web site and host its first event this fall, all while trying to recruit more emerging and established women to participate and become mentors. Hansen said the organization will require constant brainstorming to keep it moving forward. The organizers hope to have a full-time executive director in place within the next year to give the program the attention it deserves. But all those involved recognize it as a long-term effort.

“The key is being in this for the long haul,” Huppert said. “The problem is that efforts like this end to be episodic – they start with a flourish, but it’s tougher to keep it going and sustain it.”

Women in power

Organizers of the Pipeline Project received further encouragement to move forward with their plans for the organization with the release of the 2004 Nexus Index in 2004 by the Nexus Executive Women’s Alliance, a Des Moines breakfast club.

Despite an increasing number of women in undergraduate and graduate-level educational institutions, there appears to relatively few women in positions of power. Among the top 10 publicly traded companies in Iowa, women represent an average of 17 percent of board members. Nineteen percent of partners/shareholders at Central Iowa’s largest law firms are women, and 12 percent of the highest paid employees at Iowa’s three state universities were female in 2003, up from 6 percent in 2002.

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