Plus, meet 8 women in this year's Forty Under 40 class
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Good morning and happy Monday! Thanks to Emily Barske for taking over last week’s newsletter while I was out of the office.

This week I’m working on compiling results from our annual gender issues survey – check back next week for results and analysis! That being said, one question we didn’t include in the survey keeps coming back to me, and that is: What’s your biggest struggle right now?

I’ll venture out to say that everyone is likely facing some sort of challenge. Personally, my biggest struggle right now is finding time to do all the things I want and need to do – and doing them with 100% effort. I’d love to hear what you’re struggling with right now – we may use aggregated answers in future coverage. Who knows – other people may be in the same boat as you!

One last thing before we get on with the newsletter: We’re excited to announce our new virtual event series, called Fearless Focus. Join us on April 28 over Zoom as we discuss the topic of women in leadership. Find more details below.

Have a great week!

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Announcing our new Fearless Focus virtual event series
Some of the stories gave us goosebumps. Some of the speakers had us nodding along as they reflected experiences we could relate to that leaders aren't always talking about. And some of the guests made us stop and think for a moment about what it would be like to walk in the shoes of someone who differs from us in their identity or perspective.

Last year we heard incredible speakers from around the state talking about women’s and gender issues with an intersectional approach through our Fearless Friday series. This year we’re excited to build on that effort as we announce the Fearless Focus series.

Our three-event virtual series throughout the year will focus on leadership, confidence and risk-taking.

Through the Fearless Focus event series, we will give you the opportunity to learn from and connect with others around the state who are equally as passionate about these issues. Women, gender-nonconforming individuals and male allies are all encouraged to be fearless with us. We believe women’s issues are everyone’s issues, and it will take all of us to reach gender equity.

We hope you’ll consider joining us for our first virtual event in the series.

FEARLESS FOCUS: How to address representation of women in leadership

Representation matters – especially in leadership. The latest data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that in Iowa’s private sector, women held 30% of executive-level leadership positions and 40% of midlevel management positions. Furthermore, women of color made up just 3% of leaders at the executive level and 8% in midlevel management. In this conversation, we’ll talk about why these disparities exist and what can be done about it. We’ll hear from female leaders about how they got to where they are and what support systems have helped them the most. The discussion will also focus on how male allies can support and promote women in their organizations.

Time: Noon to 1 p.m.

Date: Thursday, April 28

  • Amy Kristof-Brown, dean, Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa
  • Kelly Winfrey, director of graduate education and assistant professor, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Iowa State University
  • Tiffany O'Donnell, CEO, Women Lead Change
  • Dawn Martinez Oropeza, executive director, Al Exito
  • Evette Creighton, senior manager, talent, inclusion and diversity, Transamerica

We encourage you to get registered for our conversation on leadership.

You can also save the dates for our June 22 and Oct. 5 events, both at noon, and learn more about the full series. Know someone who you think would benefit from being a part of the conversation? We challenge you to show up and invite a friend, colleague, mentor or mentee to join you!

Meet 8 women in this year's Forty Under 40 class

This year, 24 of the 40 young professionals in this year's class of the Business Record's Forty Under 40 are women. We'll introduce you to all of them in upcoming newsletters. To read their full profile, click on their name.

Kristyn Arnold, managing director, Anawim Housing

What is it that drives you? I grew up in a home with a rotation of over 50 foster siblings over 14 years. From a young age, I saw firsthand the effects of abuse, malnutrition, neglect and instability as well as the separation anxiety of longing to go home even though it wasn’t safe. This implored me to work within systems providing the tools and education to keep families together, preventing trauma when possible.
Sarah Barthole, senior delivery manager, Principal Financial Group

What’s your biggest passion, and why? Connecting and collaborating, building meaningful relationships, and having engaging conversations with others gives me so much energy and drive. We’re better when we work together, and I love sharing my positivity and can-do mindset in any situation. I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the great things that can happen when you bring people together focused on one common mission.
Leslie Berckes, director of programs, Trees Forever

What’s your biggest passion, and why? I am passionate about preserving and improving the environment. To me, we have nothing if we do not have clean water to drink, healthy air to breathe and ecosystems that support us and wildlife. I want us to confront environmental justice issues and ensure a safe, healthy and livable future for all.

Meghan Blum, founder and owner, Meghan Blum Interiors

What is it that drives you? The thing that drives me to pursue success is my children. They motivate me to be the best person, designer, boss I can be. I want to show them how to have balance, how to do tough things, and how to be successful. Life is hard and instilling in them a good work ethic and that you can be a mom and business owner. I love sharing stories with them on things I have to do and sharing the real-world lessons. This drives me to be a better person all around.

Gracie Brandsgard, director of government affairs, PolicyWorks

What is it that drives you? My family, friends and neighbors. As I continue to learn and recognize the privileges I have, I feel called to use my voice and position to break down barriers for others. Success to me is knowing that I have made a real, positive impact for others at an individual and systems level.

Maria Corona, executive director, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence

What is it that drives you? I am a first-generation immigrant from Ecuador who was undocumented for 15 years in the U.S. As part of the Latin American diaspora, we experienced many barriers but my family’s story of resilience has always been my motivation in pursuing lifelong dreams and justice for immigrants.
Torey Cuellar, assistant Marshall County attorney, Marshall County

What's your biggest passion, and why? Helping others move forward. Whether it is recommending a peer for a new job, listening to the needs of a sexual abuse survivor or showing up for a friend in a time of need, I will do everything I can to help someone progress.

Sarah DeKock, associate partner/senior vice president of accounts, Flynn Wright

What's your biggest passion, and why? Being one of the first female owners at Flynn Wright in many years, I love that I can help empower my three daughters to chase their dreams and impact our world. I have a passion for positively changing the lives of girls and women in the community and increasing their chances for leadership opportunities.

Left: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Center: Grand View University President-elect Rachelle Keck. Right: Wartburg College President-elect Rebecca Neiduski.
In the headlines
Worth checking out
TheSkimm’s founders asked employers to #ShowUsYourLeave. Nearly 500 companies shared their paid leave policies (Fortune). Women make up just 24% of the cyber workforce. CISA wants to change that (CBS News). A preschool teacher couldn’t find care for her 3-year-old. She’s not alone in the struggle (Des Moines Register). Mom of former Ohio State football player shares journey with son through mental health crisis (Today). There’s a life coach for everything these days (HuffPost). 'The dreams we had are like a dream': Conversations with Afghan girls about how life has changed under Taliban rule (New York Times The Daily podcast). What working mothers heard in Judge Jackson's words (The Atlantic).

Eileen Gannon: From executive to entrepreneur
In today’s labor market it’s more and more common to hear of people leaving their jobs or at least reconsidering how they want to work and their career aspirations.

The "pandemic pivot," as she calls it, is not Eileen Gannon’s entrepreneurial story.

The former communications senior vice president at Workiva was with the company from its startup days to its IPO and enjoyed her 35 years in that and previous corporate roles. Her leap from a software company to baking was one motivated by a passion that had built up throughout her career.

"I was coming out of a good place, corporate-wise, but I always knew I wanted to run my own thing at some point and food was always my passion," Gannon said.

Gannon’s Sunday Night Foods, a line of premium chocolate dessert sauces, was in the making for years — she had confidence in her baking skills and started developing the brand, recipes and the sauce before leaving Workiva.

She said building the company one piece at a time allowed her to build up the bravery and readiness to make the transition to full-time entrepreneur.

"I worked a little bit on it on the side. I knew what I was going to do. … but then realized if I was going to go further, I couldn’t do this part time anymore," she said.

For her whole career she had set out to retire by 55, so that birthday was her trigger to make the switch.

With 35 years of building up her passion, courage and business expertise, Gannon was off and running once she put everything into the new business. She left Workiva in July 2020 and scaled to a national launch about a year later in November 2021.

A baking business often means a bakery, but Gannon said she knew from the start it would be better to center the business on a product she could replicate and scale.

"What I learned from working in a software company that went from a startup to an IPO — I learned how to scale," she said. "In my mind that means finding the right people to do the right job, and if you focus on that, it’s easier to replicate processes and be more efficient in production, more efficient in sales and marketing."

She also tries to bring the culture of Workiva, which was an attitude of everyone doing "whatever it takes to get the job done," to her business and focus on hiring people who work for the collective team over the individual.

Gannon told the Business Record more about her experience transitioning to entrepreneurship, and being a female executive and business owner.

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