A new study shows that Iowa ranks No. 8 of all states (and Washington, D.C.) for working women, but persistent challenges remain, including for Quad Cities women.

A WalletHub study found that today, women in some parts of America still get the short end of the stick — even as they outnumber men in most states. For instance, women represent nearly two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers in the U.S.

Their political representation also suffers, as women make up 51% of the U.S. population but only 24% of the Senate and 27.6% of the House of Representatives. In addition, a recent study found that working women are experiencing the worst effects of the COVID-19 recession when it comes to burnout and are leaving the workforce at a higher rate than men.

In order to determine how women are faring and where they can find the best opportunities relative to where they live, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 25 key indicators of living standards for women. Iowa ranked 8th overall, and Illinois 16th, including the Hawkeye State reaching No. 4 in women’s economic and social well-being.

The top 10 overall states are:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. Minnesota
  3. New York
  4. Hawaii
  5. Washington, D.C.
  6. Vermont
  7. Maryland
  8. Iowa
  9. Washington
  10. Rhode Island

Tiffany O’Donnell, CEO of Women Lead Change (Iowa’s premier leadership organization for women) said this week:

“Studies like this are critical in the work of advancing women at all levels as they identify opportunities and areas for improvement. In regard to workforce development, we see a bright spot in Iowa as ranking as No. 5 in the country for highest high-school graduation rate for women,” she said.

Tiffany O’Donnell, CEO of the Iowa organization Women Lead Change.

“We’ve got organizations and programs actively working to engage this workforce, and keep this talented pool of future leaders in Iowa. Career options are out there in trades, corporations, and industries that might traditionally be male-dominated,” O’Donnell said.

“When Women Lead Change hosted its first leadership development conference 15 years ago, it was to address the need of engaging the entire workforce, and improving women’s overall economic outlook,” she said. “We can see from this study that there is still work to do, underscored by Iowa’s rank as one of the worst states for the percentage of women-owned businesses.”

“We are always pleased when one of the states in our QC region ranks well. This Iowa ranking is another example of the great quality of life for women in the QC,” said Julie Forsythe, senior vice president of business and economic growth for the Quad Cities Chamber. “The Chamber offers resources for women-owned businesses including a peer roundtable for women CEOs and soon to be launched Women’s Business Council.”

Melissa Pepper, Chief Strategy Officer, Russell Construction, and founder of Lead(h)er, a women’s mentorship and empowerment organization, is thrilled to see her home state achieve a high ranking as measured against others.

Melissa Pepper is chief strategy officer at Davenport-based Russell Construction.

“I think that makes me proud to be a working woman in our state,” she said this week, noting March is Women’s History Month and next week Davenport-based Russell will celebrate Women in Construction Week.

“It’s so timely, because we’re celebrating women across our workforce and we’re proud to employ a lot of women of throughout Russell, at all different levels and in all of our locations, and a lot in Iowa,” Pepper said.

Caitlin Russell (daughter of company founder and CEO Jim Russell) is company president, and that is a relative anomaly to have a female boss of a U.S. construction firm, she noted.

“But Jim, since the beginning, I think he’s always emphasized to put a strong importance on having women in leadership positions,” Pepper said. “That’s true in our company in small ways and in big ways, so Caitlin is just a really awesome example of that. And we have so many other stories of women throughout the organization as well.”

For the first time, Russell received a “family-friendly workplace” designation from The Best Place For Working Parents, and those kind of policies reflect why Iowa has a positive ranking, Pepper said.

“That’s related to our flexibility for our good parental leave policy, related to our benefits, related to professional development opportunities,” she said. “We really take care of people and their career development and so they see a path for themselves. At Russell, we need to innovate with our benefits and our development and just caring for people, which is what we’re all about.” 

Megan Brown-Saldana, executive director of Lead(h)er, said this week that her organization works to address some devastating statistics about the QC, which don’t reflect well upon Iowa. “Perhaps the area has lots of work to do to catch up with the state,” she said.

Megan Brown-Saldana is executive director of Lead(h)er, a mentorship group that works to give local women the personal and professional tools to address systemic issues that hold women back (the sticky floor, the broken rung, and the glass ceiling).

Among key issues, she said, are:

  • In 2021, the median income for men in the Quad Cities was 37% higher than income for women.
  • If the Quad Cities pay gap was ranked against all 50 states and D.C., it would rank 49th.
  • Poverty rates for women in the QC area (Davenport, Rock Island, Moline) are higher than men at all education levels.
  • Median yearly earnings for women in the QCA and the surrounding counties of Rock Island, Henry, and Mercer lag the nation and states of Illinois and Iowa.

For more information, visit leadherqc.org/why.

A U.S. News & World Report 2021 study also shone a favorable light on Iowa, ranking the state No. 12 overall and tops among all for opportunity — which encompasses affordability, economic opportunity and equality.