How I Lead: Katie Rock

Katie Rock was elected as a Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner in 2016. She shares what inspired her to run and her story with us in this How I Lead interview. Katie will be on the lunch panel at our next Plate to Politics workshop in Des Moines on March 18. Learn more and register here

Interested in learning how to write effectively about land and water issues? Join us for our Plate to Politics Toolbox Webinar: Letter to the Editor 101. Learn more here.

What inspired you to run?

The Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is one of the few organizations that combines local government with agriculture and the environment. That has always appealed to me.

My uncle served on the SWCD in my hometown for two terms and I remember hearing speeches at local farming events growing up. So it's a group I've been aware of and what they do is important. These boards were created as a response to the Dust Bowl under FDR, and it would be wise to not forget those lessons.

What are the issues you feel most passionate about? How did you come to have a strong presence on environmental issues?

I grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa and spent a lot of time outside. We raised cattle, hogs, corn and beans and kept a large garden and some horses. It instilled a love of the land at an early age and taught me that our lives rely on productive and healthy land. We have the best soils in the world and we farm them mostly without irrigation. We can grow just about anything here. We have to be responsible about how we use them.

I studied plant breeding in school and decided to get more involved with environmental groups after seeing what kind of effect extreme weather was having on our crops, especially after the drought in 2012.

What is a resource you would recommend to women who are interested in running for an elected leadership position?

Running for the Soil and Water Conservation Board in your county just takes 25 signatures from registered voters in your county, and an Affidavit of Candidacy. A lot of counties have open seats or uncontested positions. It is an easy way to get involved and learn how things work. I would also encourage anyone running for office to first identify who is your following? It is really hard to step up to lead, fundraise, and have people vote for you if no one knows who you are and is there to follow you.

The Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State is currently hosting their Ready to Run workshops this spring and it's not too late to sign up.


What barriers have you faced as a woman in politics? How do you overcome them?

I think women are underestimated across the board. I am pretty new in my political role here, but I can think of some experiences in my professional life. I often have random people comment on how young I look. I am young and I look even younger, and it is not an insult - I get that. But I get it often enough that it bugs me, and I don't have much of a poker face about it. I have had people tell me I don't look old enough to drive or drink at a bar. I have brought my kids to events and had people tell me they thought I was the babysitter. At the Capitol someone told me they thought I was a page. I mean really, not even a clerk? I thought it would start to drop off being a parent and in my 30s now. It hasn't. Most people take me for a college student. I'm curious how many other women have similar stories because I'm sure some of it is gendered.

I find too I have to push myself against the way I was raised to be, and I think this can be true for anybody but especially women. Being humble and kind were primo values in a person. It was rude to talk about yourself and we should all avoid conflict. Subtle things like that can hold women back.

On a high note, I also remember when I was a 19 year old intern working abroad, my male supervisor closed our first meeting by telling me, "you are a blond, young American girl and if anyone gives you attention you don't want, you let me know." I was surprised. It was really unexpected. I wish more men would do that. If you're one of the good guys just please make it obvious. It's not that hard.

And if I'm having a bad day, I remind myself that I have already had experiences and opportunities that my mom and grandmothers never would have imagined for themselves. The world is a wide place. It's good to keep some perspective and not be too hard on ourselves.

Do you have a mentor that has been particularly influential in your life? Tell us about them.

My parents have been my biggest mentors and have instilled in me to work hard, be fair and look for the best in others. I like to stay curious and learn from others experiences and not just my own, and to know when I need advice and seek it. You can learn a lot by listening to others.