Iowa governor speaks at young women’s camp

Maggie Curry

Thirty young women filled a classroom to hear from several important guest speakers, who arrived one by one to greet each other. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds came in with a cheerful “Hi!” and a big hug for Pat Allen, who had accompanied her husband. “We’re just hanging out every other week,” she said to Iowa State’s Interim President Ben Allen. 

They were here to speak to the high school students participating in the Young Women in Business Leadership Camp through Iowa State’s College of Business. Reynolds would spend half an hour talking about her career, and the importance of helping other women along the way, while answering questions for the camp attendees.

College of Business Dean David Spalding introduced Cara Heiden, an involved Iowa State alumnae. She spoke on her career in Wells Fargo. Heiden retired in 2011 after steering through the 2008 financial crisis.

She also talked about the importance of knowing her professors well, and that those relationships became life-long career references and connections.

“The saying of the day is, I hear this all over, but it’s ‘own it.’ It will have a huge payoff for you, for your career and your life,” Heiden said.

She introduced the interim president, who had served as dean of the College of Business while she was on the advisory council.

“I’m pleased Dean Spalding is doing this, getting women here to talk about business,” Allen said.

He said Heiden and Reynolds were two of the “best in the business.”

“Governor Reynolds has established a long legacy of encouraging women to lead,” Allen said. He mentioned her work encouraging STEM careers, and that she had the same passion for women in business fields.

“Governor Reynolds strongly supports all three universities. That said, I’m proud to say she’s only a graduate of one of them, Iowa State University,” Allen said.

Reynolds said she was “incredibly proud” of that degree because she didn’t receive it until December 2015. Her daughters were all Iowa State graduates and she told them repeatedly to stay focused.

“We do a lot of red and gold at our house,” Reynolds said, joking about her grandchildren in Iowa State onesies.

She congratulated the young women on not only applying for the camp, but being selected to take part.

“Like many things in life, your experience at the leadership camp is what you make it. Like you heard Cara say, be curious, ask questions,” Reynolds said.

She talked about being involved in anything she could in high school, from chorus to sports to academics. Her mother was a stay at home mom, her father worked and farmed.

“I was not that girl in eighth grade who knew someday she wanted to be the governor of Iowa… I wanted to be a teacher,” Reynolds said.

She talked about her career, from working in the County Office to the governor’s seat. Her husband was the one who – nicely – suggested she run for office or stop complaining about the lack of progress in how the office ran. 

“I think sometimes we think we have to be asked,” Reynolds said. “Don’t be focused on one path that you miss opportunities.”

When she did her first campaign for country treasurer she handed cards out with an apple bread recipe on the back, something people held on to.

“When I think back on it, I think it’s so reflective of the opportunities that exist within our borders, that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” Reynolds said. “It’s really really important to us, you are our future, that we continue to have opportunities [for you] here.”

Reynolds also spoke on the importance of business being a “team sport” and building a great team around you. She also talked about tackling scary or difficult moments by closing your eyes and going through it.

She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“You talk about stepping through uncertainty? Well here’s a good story,” Reynolds said.

She talked about when former Governor Branstad asked her to lead a trade mission to South Korea early in their term. Completely unprepared and from a small town, she said yes anyways, then surrounded herself with a good team of people and asked questions.

She then let the women ask their own questions. The first student said she hadn’t experienced setbacks as a woman, yet, except in sports, but wanted to know why Reynolds thought she was only the first female governor.

Reynolds said the first reason was not enough women ran.

“My message is always, don’t be afraid to do it, get involved in a campaign. Run for local office, school board,” Reynolds said.

The second reason was Iowans tend to elect their incumbents, like the senator before Joni Ernst and former Governor Branstad. The third was recruiting and promoting women who do run.

Bringing women to STEM, which the student had heard also lacked women, was something Reynolds said the state had to be proactive about, because most girls decided by eighth grade if they liked those fields or not.

Reynolds said they were working with Girls Who Code to start 100 groups through 4-H.

The student also said gender stereotypes even play into class choice, from languages to extracurriculars to STEM.

One student asked what was Reynolds’ most challenging adversity. Reynolds said she would be honest, and told the young women about being a recovering alcoholic. Choked up, she reiterated that they should surround themselves with the right people, stay determined and believe in themselves. The room applauded after her admission.

One student talked about the Crysallis Foundation in Des Moines, and the clubs that got her involved and over the fear of joining STEM classes. The student was now a peer mentor.

“Girls, when you’re at the table, the first thing you need to do is bring seven or eight more with you,” Reynolds said.

She also talked about the importance of using programs that have job shadows or internships even for high school.

One student was interested in politics, and wanted to know her advice.

“Be authentic, work hard,” Reynolds said. She also mentioned the internships or job shadows in government and campaign offices.

One student was the captain of her robotics team, but found no one was listening to her. She said she tries to be collaborative, but it always ended up in shambles. She wanted advice on working as a team.

“Sounds like the legislature to me,” Reynolds joked. “It’s important to make sure everyone feels like they’re heard.”

She said to make it clear what expectations were for each position, to get input just on that and to remind them of the big picture.

She left the women with a run of messages, including confidence, but said “Most importantly, stay in Iowa!”