by Bekah Porter

CEDAR RAPIDS – A longtime Corridor leader recently switched careers with the intent of creating a foundation focused on building women leaders throughout the state.

This past month, Diane Ramsey left her 15-year position as an executive at the Alliant Energy Foundation and accepted a job as principal project manager at Rockwell Collins.

“It was very difficult to leave my friends (at Alliant), but it is so very exciting to be embarking on this new chapter in my life,” she said. “For me, this is about following a passion and having an opportunity to do something that is very meaningful to me personally and that can have an impact on so many people’s lives.”

Rockwell Collins, which has been a financial sponsor of the Corridor-founded Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference, decided to create this particular position so Ms. Ramsey could have a salary while working to create the Iowa Women’s Leadership Foundation.

“Rockwell has been the lead sponsor for that event, but they have decided to create the job to create a salary for me to operate as the executive director for the conference and to (create a foundation), which would take that conference to the next level,” Ms. Ramsey said.

The Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference started as a volunteer effort in 2007. The event sold out, and so many women wanted to attend that there was a waiting list of 150. The women associated with the conference decided to host the actual conference every other year, with luncheons in the off years.

Every year has proven successful beyond all belief, Ms. Ramsey said, and speakers at the events have included the likes of Suze Orman and Arianna Huffington.

This year’s conference, which will be held April 26 and 27, will feature the internationally known poet, author and civil rights leader Maya Angelou as keynote speaker.

“We’ve reached a point where the conference has taken on a life of its own,” Ms. Ramsey said. “It’s just grown and grown, and we’re ready to move it to the next stage, and that means expanding it beyond just the conference or luncheon to a having a presence year-round.”

Ms. Ramsey said that continuous presence would mean everything from mentoring programs, networking activities, one-day events across the state and more.

“We want to expand our network and continue to reinforce our brand, and in order to do that, we really needed someone who could devote time that wasn’t in addition to their existing job,” she said. “That’s why this position was created, so that I would have time to create a foundation so we can continue to expand and really work on our mission and work on growing that mission.”

Ms. Ramsey, who was serving as executive director of the conference when she was approached about the new position, said her goal is to create the foundation within the next 12 months.

“A couple of the things I intend to do is to create an advisory board of executive women, and I am looking to create a series of awards for recognition of women leaders throughout the state,” she said.

“Additionally, I want to bring in additional speakers throughout the year and see how we can get our mentoring network going. Additionally, I want to build partnerships with organizations throughout the region who have similar missions.”

Ms. Ramsey said the foundation will operate independent of Rockwell Collins and will be a standalone nonprofit organization.

While she’s working on putting together a foundation, she wants to focus on making this year’s conference the best yet.

“Right now, my primary responsibility is to ensure that the upcoming conference is successful,” she said. “And that includes raising sponsorship funds, because one of the things that we try to do is make this conference affordable.”

The last conference had about 30 corporate sponsors who contributed at different levels. Ms. Ramsey said she wants to have 50 sponsors this year.

“I think it’s doable, especially since we keep ratcheting up who we’re bringing into speak,” she said. “This year, I’d say we have a rock star lineup. And I believe that if we bring in these kinds of speakers, then the (sponsors) will come.”

Tickets run $375 per person for early bird registration, with regular tickets costing $450. The event, which will be held at the Coralville Marriott, can accommodate 700 attendees.

The conference features several lectures and speeches, as well as breakout sessions. Topics covered will include everything from communication strategies, personal branding techniques, obtaining life balance and more.

“First of all, I hope that the women walk away from this conference energized and motivated and knowing that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to,” she said. “I believe that women in general underestimate the experience and talents that they bring to any organization, but when they attend events like this, it reinforces the tremendous impact they can have, and it encourages them to utilize their potential and to not allow themselves to underestimate what they can accomplish.”

Ms. Ramsey said that another goal of the soon-to-be-created foundation will be to encourage women executives throughout the Corridor and the state.

“I think that there are women in what I would call mid-level and higher and senior levels within the Corridor, but I would say that we could have more,” she said. “If 50 percent of the workforce is women, then rarely is it the case that that 50 percent of the senior ranks are women. We’re not there yet. There’s a lot of work to be done.”