IWLC rebrands with a global vision

Women Lead Change CEO Tiffany O’Donnell, shown in 2017 with Dubuque conference keynote speakers Lauren Leader Chivee and Gretchen Carlson. CREDIT WLC


By Katharine Carlon

Iowa Women Lead Change is dropping “Iowa” from its name as it prepares to go national – and even global.

“We’ve found that having ‘Iowa’ in our name tended to be a question we were asked all the time: ‘Can you do this work outside of the state?’” said Tiffany O’Donnell, CEO of the newly rebranded Women Lead Change, in an interview with the CBJ.

“When you just look at Iowa, we are already literally river-to-river from the Quad Cities and Dubuque, which put us in Illinois and Wisconsin in the east, to Sioux City, which put us in Nebraska and South Dakota in the west,” she continued. “Just from an operational standpoint, we’ve found ourselves working in other states as we’ve expanded over the last five years, so in order to eliminate questions as well as expand our scope and function, we felt the need to refocus what we are about.”

The 11-year-old organization formally announced the name change – as well as a new logo, website (wlcglobal.com) and redefined mission – at a Jan. 2 news conference at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

Born out of the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference, the Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit has opened offices in Des Moines, Sioux City, Dubuque, and just last year, the Quad Cities in an alignment with the 20-year-old Women’s Connection.

Women Lead Change has evolved from an organization devoted primarily to events to a comprehensive statewide resource offering a variety of activities, events and tools. Those include conferences and professional development groups; the EPIC Corporate Challenge, which encourages companies to promote and foster women leaders; and programming like the Ascent Leadership Program, a 12-month course aimed at positioning women for leadership opportunities.

Ms. O’Donnell said attendees from around the English-speaking world are already participating in the Ascent program, for example, while many of its corporate partners, like Nationwide Insurance, Collins Aerospace, Principal Financial and John Deere have local, national and global presences.

“I mention taking this global on purpose because there are ways to leverage what we’re offering here and taking it elsewhere,” she said, adding that technology such as livestreamed content makes putting geographic boundaries on WLC’s reach irrelevant. “There is potential across the country and abroad. Not many people do what we do. Looking at leadership through a gender lens is rather unique, and we’re very disciplined about staying in this lane and benefitting from the work we’ve been doing over the last 12 years.”

Ms. O’Donnell said there are no plans to move Women Lead Change headquarters from Cedar Rapids, although the organization does hope to expand its staffing both locally and potentially elsewhere.

Over the next three years, Women Lead Change will add an additional year-long Ascent Leadership Program and assess whether to launch Women Connect networking and mentoring groups and EPIC initiatives in other locales.

“We are very mindful of our roots in Cedar Rapids, and we’ve had opportunities to move to different cities in Iowa that we have resisted,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “Cedar Rapids is our home, but as we continue to take on projects and initiatives, we will require additional staff – and that could be here, or anywhere.”

The decision to grow the organization did not happen overnight, she noted, adding it came after vigorous discussion among the group’s statewide board of directors, intensive research and assessing the opportunities and gaps both inside and outside Women Lead Change.

“Five years from now, we will still see our hallmark conferences and workshops, and our programming will still be run by our steering committees – but they may be in Ohio or Minnesota or Florida,” she said. “What will remain the same is our mission will be developing women leaders where they are and that means a local presence … we are just formalizing something that has been going on for quite some time.”