Articles and Blogs

EPIC Corporate Challenge Helps Iowa Economy and Communities Grow

Iowa Lt Governor Kim Reynolds.jpegKim Reynolds, Governor of the State of Iowa

Earlier this year, I spoke at the Young Women in Business – Leadership Camp hosted by the ISU College of Business. Young women ages 13-17 were exploring the wide range of opportunities available to them through studying business. During my remarks, I strongly encouraged them to become visible leaders in the public-private sectors.  

Currently, women make up just 22 percent of CEOs and less than 20 percent of corporate boards of directors. The executive female talent gap is real, and that’s why it’s critical to champion women throughout their careers.  

Having more women in leadership helps our economy grow strong and our communities become even more vibrant.

In Iowa, we’re fortunate to have a public-private initiative called the EPIC Corporate Challenge. EPIC stands for “Economic Potential for Iowa Companies and Communities.” Last year, Iowa Women Lead Change (IWLC) and NEXUS brought the initial concept to me. The EPIC Corporate Challenge helps companies track how they’re growing leadership for women at all levels.

Delta Dental and Hy-Vee have stepped up two years in a row to support the initiative. Organizations taking the challenge agree to examine their recruitment processes and retention practices for women. Some look at board representation. Others even study pay equity.

Company leadership determines which metrics to measure. Data is kept confidential and collected by Iowa Workforce Development (IWD). The numbers are aggregated to protect organizational identity.

Within the first year, more than 60 organizations became members including: Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Alliant Energy, Bankers Trust, Business Publications Corporation, Cedar Rapids, Coe College, DMACC, Drake University, Dubuque Chamber of Commerce, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Iowa National Guard, Iowa State University, MidAmerican Energy, Pella Corporation, Quad Cities Chamber, Principal, Rockwell Collins, Simpson College, Transamerica, Unity Point Health System, University of Northern Iowa, University of Iowa, Van Meter, Vermeer, Wells Enterprise, and West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.

In 2017, I’m excited that we’re moving into the second phase of the EPIC Corporate Challenge. Please join me as honorary chair, alongside co-chairs Diane Ramsey, IWLC co-founder, and Beth Townsend, IWD director, in moving Iowa forward by closing the executive talent gap for women. For more information about taking the challenge in October, go to iwlcleads.org/EPIC.


Why did companies like Pella and Rockwell Collins take the Challenge?

Pella, Karin Peterson is the vice president of Human Resources at Pella Corporation, serves on the EPIC Advisory Board, and is passionate about developing talent. She is an advocate for women at various stages throughout their careers, education, and development.

Karin Peterson.png

Why Join EPIC Corporate Challenge?

When the EPIC Corporate Challenge was presented to us, it was a no brainer to participate. Why wouldn’t we join the challenge and commit to growing and retaining women at all levels of leadership within Pella Corporation? We want them to realize that they have plenty of career opportunities here, and the best way to demonstrate that is for women to see women in leadership roles. As the labor market gets tighter, female talent is a vast opportunity for manufacturing companies, including Pella. They will help us continue to grow our businesses and our economy.

Pella has proudly focused on developing and advancing women for over 15 years in all functions from the factory floor to the executive suite. However, we continue to experience gaps in certain STEM related areas and in manufacturing leadership. We are committed to staying focused on the end goal of attracting more professional females and breaking down barriers that exist. EPIC can help us do just that through survey results and research, networking, education, and by connecting members to learn from each other. The EPIC goals reinforce ours and include:

  • Actively recruiting females to fill open positions at all levels of our organization.
  • Increasing the percentage of women in our workforce and in leadership roles.
  • Improving the retention rate of females and all team members.
  • Increasing the percentage of women among the top 10% of the company’s senior positions.
  • Ongoing monitoring to ensure equal pay.

Pella by the numbers

As a manufacturer, we are in an industry that is challenged when it comes to attracting and advancing women. Since 2003, when we first started tracking our gender diversity metrics, we have made substantial progress, thanks in part to our Women’s Connections group. We have doubled our female leaders, moving from 9% to 20% of women holding management roles in our top three leadership categories. Within our female ranks, we’ve grown from 8% to 19% occupying our top paid positions, and 50% of direct reports to the CEO are women.

Take the EPIC Corporate Challenge.

Join today so we can continue to advocate for and with women across the state. You still have time to sign-up at no cost and be a part of the 2017 survey and Annual EPIC Awards Luncheon in January.

Share your ideas.

I am very fortunate to have a great team of leaders across Pella who recognize the value that women bring to the organization and continue to focus on developing all of our talent. While we have gaps, we recognize them and will continue our work and challenge ourselves to do better.

We know we can learn from others, so please comment and share some of the practices your company has used to recruit, retain, and recognize females.


Rockwell Collins, Ann Ruske, SHRM-SCP, is a Senior Director, Commercial Systems HR Business Partner at EPIC Corporate Challenge member and Presenting Sponsor of the Eastern Iowa conference, Rockwell Collins.

ann Ruske.png

At Rockwell Collins, our purpose is to keep people safe, connected and informed. We do this through building relationships, being committed to success, focusing on innovation and maintaining our integrity. All this results in one word that we hold at the heart of all we do: trust. 

Trust so that our customers know that they can count on us to deliver superior products and services.

Trust in our commitment to innovation and high-integrity solutions.

And our employees trust us to foster an inclusive work environment so that everyone can be their best. As a part of this, we are proud to take action by participating in the EPIC Corporate Challenge.

Developing solutions to create gender balance in the workplace can definitely be a challenge. That’s why organizations like IWLC are so powerful. When we bring together Iowa businesses to face this challenge head on, we are able to learn from each other, expand our networks and move from having conversations to creating real change in our communities.

At Rockwell Collins, we know that the first step in making change is awareness. People need to know more about gender balance (or more often, imbalance). Through awareness, we enable others to have their ‘aha’ moments and come to fully understand why this initiative is so critical.

But the bottom line is we need more women engineers. More women as program managers. More women as leaders. And more women across our company in general. Increasing balance in our workforce at all levels isn’t just the right thing to do, it also helps increase our competitive advantage as we continue to grow globally.

By encouraging and celebrating each person’s unique qualities, experiences and perspectives, we not only become a stronger team, but a stronger community, as well.

That’s why I’m proud to be a member of the IWLC and to work for a company like Rockwell Collins, who is joining the EPIC challenge. While we’ve come a long way, we recognize that we still have a long way to go together. But we can’t do it alone. We need the help of other leaders in our communities to step up, show their support and pledge action to set and accomplish goals that move us all closer to a more gender balanced workforce.

Here’s a few examples of what we at Rockwell Collins have done so far:

Established the Women’s Forum, an employee group dedicated to establishing networks of colleagues to help support professional growth, mentoring and to provide resources supporting the attraction and retention of women.

Developed an internal training program focused on Gender Intelligence

Sponsored, developed and maintained a relationship with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), making a commitment to attend the national career fair annually and actively involved in local chapters. We’re also prepared to make offers on the spot for qualifying student employees.

Implemented a Reverse Mentoring program in which individual contributors act as a “mentor” to senior leaders, with the intent of providing a new and more diverse perspective to our leaders.

Host annual “Introduce a Girl to Engineering,” an ongoing initiative focused on attracting young female talent to the STEM field.

Here’s what we still are working to do:

Increase participation of male leaders in the Women’s Forum to expand the quantity of male advocates to assist in recruiting and promoting women to leadership positions.

Further develop the partnership between the Women’s Forum and the Workplace and Community Inclusion team to monitor the development and retention of women within Rockwell Collins.

This is a powerful reminder that although we’ve come along way, we still have work to do. But at least we’re on our way.