From the editor: A week of coverage dedicated to the women of Iowa

Advocacy journalism…

That’s what Geoff Wood—Gravitate founder and co-founder of—told me we’d be doing during my job interview for the open Managing Editor position.

“We are to be advocates for Iowa’s tech, startup and art communities,” Wood said.

And with the Technology Association of Iowa hosting its tenth annual Women of Innovation Awards this evening, we felt this would be a great time to be advocates for the women in Iowa’s tech, startup and art communities.

This week will feature Q&A’s with several of the nominees from the Women of Innovation Awards in various industries. But it starts with a discussion on diversity and the lack of it.

Addressing the issue

Both Megan Milligan and Nancy Mwirotsi lead two nonprofits in Central Iowa that want more women-led businesses and diversity in STEM education. But they are taking different routes to achieve success.

Milligan—President and CEO of The Iowa Center, an economic development organization—that works with individuals on business ownership and investment, with a particular focus on women.

The Iowa Center will do microloans up to $50,000 for small businesses and manages the microloan portfolio for the state of Iowa; It’s also responsible for FIN Capital—an Angel Investing network of 33 women—that was the idea of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Debi Durham, Director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

She says to increase the diversity in STEM education and to have more women CEO’s, doctors and business owners, girls need to be raised like boys.

“We have done a really good job of finally teaching our daughters that they can grow up to be anything…And they are starting to listen to us,” Milligan says. “The problem is we haven’t started teaching our sons they can grow up to be anything.”

Targeting the teenagers

Mwirotsi— the founder of Pi515, a nonprofit that works with refugee and at-risk high school students—says to reach the students, they need to find the people those students talk with.

“The people who talk to them about those opportunities lack information,” Mwirotsi says. “And most of these kids don’t have access to technology. So you are telling a kid with an old beat up cell phone who uses it for Snapchat that they can do anything?”

Mwirotsi announced three new initiatives for Pi515 in 2018 that included getting 100 kids to design their own website and a mobile STEM lab.

“Encourage kids, I don’t care where they come from,” Mwirotsi says. “If you want to set up a club in a library in West Des Moines, call us. We will give you the equipment. We are getting high tech equipment, we just can’t do it by ourselves.”

She says students in Pi515 are building a drone and taking classes taught by tech industry professionals.

“People always talk about STEM education, and it’s a beautiful talk right?” Mwirotsi says. “But nobody is out there doing it. It’s not about getting awards, it’s about seeing those kids get somewhere.”

Kids create the pay gap

According to an article in The New York Times on the gender pay gap earlier this year, college-educated women make about 90 percent as much as men at age 25 and about 55 percent as much at age 45.

In that same article, it said the average college-educated man improves his earnings by 77 percent from age 25 to 45, where similar women improve their earnings by 31 percent.

“Men’s job description has stayed the same essentially since the beginning of time with marriage and parenting,” Milligan explains. “Women’s have grown, where we get to dip into the fancy careers and all that, but we have to keep the rest of our job description.

“It’s like getting a promotion from administrative assistant to program director, but you still have to be your own administrative assistant.”

She asks when was the last time somebody heard about a boy wanting to grow up and just be a father? And why are men not invited to baby showers?

“It is so hard to be an executive working mom and feel like a good mom,” she says. “So why would anybody put themselves through that unless you are super hungry and super ambitious?”


A focus group of fifth graders

Milligan hosts a robotics club for a group of fifth graders at her home with her youngest son. The club has three girls and six boys.

“I think if we’d of done that robotics club 25 years ago it might have been only boys,” Milligan says. “But the smartest one in the group is a girl.”

So she is seeing progress, but it can’t just be women who try to fix it.

“I think we are headed in the right direction by identifying the problem,” Milligan says. “But again, when we are having an event for STEM, it can’t just be women in the room. It is everybody’s problem to fix. It can’t just be women helping women.

“It needs to be people helping girls.”