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'Unleash the Power of Women'

 Deann Cook, president and CEO, Iowa Women's Foundation

By: Deann Cook, president and CEO, Iowa Women's Foundation

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day, a global opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. We are pleased to be able to share the following guest post from Deann Cook, president and CEO of the Iowa Women’s Foundation (IWF). As a nonprofit organization based in Iowa City, ACT has been a supporter of IWF for many years through charitable donations, awards programs, and research projects. We asked Deann for her perspective on recent promising discussions, developments, or trends in education and training that she hopes will improve the lives of women and girls in Iowa and nationwide in the years ahead, as well as how policymakers, advocates, and other education and workforce stakeholders can best help empower women and girls when it comes to education and training.

The success of women creates stronger households, which become the building blocks for thriving communities. Every society benefits when women achieve economic stability for themselves and their families. Education and training are essential components for empowering women and girls and advancing their efforts to become economically self-sufficient.

Women have been shut out of many of these opportunities for too long, not due to lack of talent and initiative, but rather to awareness and access. It can be very difficult to learn about available education and training programs, understand eligibility, find the necessary financial resources to participate, and overcome obstacles such as transportation and childcare. 

The great news is that more programs and schools have invested in navigation services that identify potential students and assist with addressing their particular barriers to success. This kind of individualized support makes it much more likely that students, especially women, will be able to realize their potential.

The emerging understanding of the importance of mentoring and the growth of women in “non-traditional” jobs are additional trends that have positive effects on women’s success. These careers are usually higher-paying than jobs that have typically been filled by women. As more women enter STEM careers, the trades, and manufacturing, they become vital role models. This creates a cycle in which girls and women can see more possibilities for themselves and serve others by mentoring those who follow.

Stakeholders and policymakers have a crucial role to play in expanding these promising trends. First, they can recognize that the economic success of women is a foundational piece of a strong community. Women represent 50% of the available workforce. Investing in their readiness for good-paying jobs by making education and training programs accessible, and providing support to solve for challenges that prevent women from participating, puts successful achievement within reach while increasing the skills of the available workforce. 

It is also vital for women and girls to see examples of success. Employers and advocates can highlight women who have overcome obstacles, found ways to participate in education and training, and improved their futures. Role models and mentors provide a valuable window to see the potential for things never imagined. Fostering connections and offering opportunities for girls to see women in environments where they are leading and succeeding can be a simple step to sparking interest. 

Every year, Iowa Women’s Foundation invests in education and training through grantmaking and advocacy. We invite others to join us in closing the gaps for women and girls by building pathways for their achievement. We build thriving households, stronger communities, and a better workforce when we unleash the power of women. 

Deann Cook joined IWF in January. She served for 10 years as president and CEO of United Ways of Iowa where she strengthened local United Ways through advocacy, training, and statewide projects, including the ALICE Report for Iowa. She has more than 25 years of nonprofit experience as both a staff and board member at the local, state, national, and international levels. Her professional and volunteer experiences have focused on empowering women and families by removing barriers to opportunities and giving voice to those most affected by policy decisions. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Central College and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Northern Iowa.