In the News

NAWBO Member Q&A: Donna Miller

Donna Miller is a partner in the law firm of Miller, Zimmerman & Evans and represents people who are divorcing or need help with other custody, support and legal issues. She also represents employers, insurers and claimants before the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, and she advises both large and small companies on workers’ compensation issues within their operations. She has represented clients before the Iowa Supreme Court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Outside of work, Donna is passionate about non-profit organizations, both serving in numerous leadership positions and volunteering in her spare time. Milller was recognized by the Des Moines Business Record as a member of its 2005 Forty Under 40 class. 

Can you take me through your personal background?

I grew up in Creston, Iowa. I received my undergraduate degree at Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville, Missouri (now Truman State). I attended University of Iowa Law School and graduated in 1995. I also returned to school and received a Master's Degree in Public Administration in 2010 from Drake University. 

After law school I was a law clerk for the district court judges in Polk County for a year and then I clerked for a federal trial court judge in Cedar Rapids for a year. I started at the Des Moines law firm of Grefe & Sidney in 1997. I worked there for 21 years, 16 of them as a partner in the business. 

What is your business?

I recently started my own law firm. Our focus is on family law (divorce, custody, child support). In addition to family law, I also take cases focusing on workers’ compensation and asbestos personal injury. 

How did you get into entrepreneurship?

Over the years when I thought about starting my own business, the prospect seemed overwhelming. The administrative, running-the-business tasks were intimidating. I just wanted to work on solving client’s problems. I joined NAWBO with the goal of meeting women business owners and marketing my new family law practice. I learned immediately there was a whole community of women out there to help — either their business could support mine or they were so generous with their experiences and advice. I became more confident in my own business skills and realized that I could do this. I, and two attorneys I had hired, broke off from the larger firm and now work with something that's our own. We also get to focus on our priority — providing the best possible customer service for our clients. 

As I write this, an email from a fellow NAWBO member arrived, checking on how things are going. You all are amazing!

What is a unique talent you have that people might not know? 

While maybe not a "talent," I have been involved in non-profit board leadership since 1997 when I joined the board of Des Moines Habitat for Humanity. That started me on the path of serving on up to three boards at a time over the years, including Goodwill of Central Iowa and Goodwill International, AIDS Project, NAWBO and many more. I have met great friends, learned about the community and developed business skills that helped me get where I am today. This week I will continue my board service focus when I am sworn in as the President of the Polk County Bar Association.   

Your favorite type of ice cream and why? 

Any kind that is on top of a piece of pie. 'Cause it’s really all about the pie. 

The gender pay gap for women entrepreneurs

The gender pay gap has been well covered in media and research. The unadjusted pay gap for women — which doesn’t account for hours worked, occupations chosen, job experience, etc. — has been commonly cited as 78%, meaning a woman makes 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.  

But there’s also a gap when it comes to women and entrepreneurship.

One of our previous blogs touched on the gap in funding and investment in women-owned small businesses, but the gap extends to how much women are paying themselves. FreshBooks, an accounting and invoicing software company, launched a study called “Women in the Independent Workforce Report” in 2018. The data suggests self-employed women pay themselves 28% less than men.

Here are a few ways women entrepreneurs can advocate for themselves and raise their rates:

Research fair and equitable rates

You’ll need to know what the marketplace demands before you jump in and ask for more money for your services. You can conduct salary research in your industry via websites like Glassdoor or Career Contessa, which collect data for different markets and industries.

These numbers are a good start, but they don’t account for self-employment taxes, health insurance, retirement, overhead and so on. Another benefit to this research is knowing how much you can expect to pay your own employees.

Another way to conduct research is through your personal network. Ask other budding entrepreneurs about their salary structure, or reach out to other self-employed folks in your industry. You can also turn to a local industry or trade organization and see if they have salary figures.

Study negotiation techniques

Almost everything in business is a negotiation. Whether it comes down to your rates or an employee’s salary, knowing how to properly negotiate is an essential business skill. The book “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babock suggested women often don’t even attempt to negotiate their salary. That bleeds into other parts of business.

There are many online and print resources dedicated to the art of negotiation, so take ample time to read up and learn.  

Confidence goes a long way!

You might be starting to see a theme in some of these blogs. Confidence is important in any type of work you do, but it’s especially important in all facets of self-employment. To increase your salary and improve your business, you might have to raise rates for your services. And that isn’t an easy task.

In the same FreshBooks study, 20% of self-employed women said they had to charge less than their male equivalents to get and keep clients. Having research and confidence in your increased rates will help you during negotiations and convince your clients you’re worth the extra money.