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APRIL 29, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:
We send our support and love to all of those affected by the tornados this weekend.

The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines has a disaster recovery fund set up for the Pleasant Hill community; the Community Foundation for Western Iowa has a disaster recovery fund set up for southwest Iowa here.

The August 2020 Midwest derecho destroyed the only lilac bush in our Beaverdale backyard. Lilacs have always been my favorite flowers. The split, then decaying, lilac bush seemed like a metaphor for 2020.

This spring, almost four years after the derecho, there is a tiny lilac bush blooming in the cracks between our front steps. Lilacs typically need good direct sunlight. This baby plant is anchored in the shade beneath our front porch. I have been bringing it water. I have been begging my 8-year-old daughter not to step on it or pull it. I’m slowly making plans to attempt to transplant it.

I want to believe that both lilac plants taught me something about resilience – that we can sometimes bloom under extremely unfavorable conditions, even in peculiar cracks. There is evidence that resilience can be learned, and I want to believe that.

How will you cultivate resilience this spring, Fearless friends?

In this week’s Fearless e-newsletter, you will find:

  • A story about the conclusion of the Iowa Legislature: What action (or inaction) will most affect Iowa women and girls?
  • A story about the April 18 Fearless Focus event on financial empowerment. See the full video here.
  • In the headlines: MercyOne in Des Moines will end its gynecologic oncology surgical services as of June 1.
  • In case you missed it: Meg Schneider joined the Iowa Association of Business and Industry leadership team.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

With the Iowa Legislature adjourned, Fearless reviews what will affect Iowa women the most
Iowa Capitol building. Photo by Duane Tinkey.
Lawmakers approved numerous plans that will directly affect Iowans before they adjourned April 20. Other policy proposals related to women's and gender issues didn't make it through.

Below is a brief survey from Fearless of legislation and other state government developments most directly relevant to women and girls. We intend to tackle some issues in greater depth later this year.


Passed both chambers, awaiting governor's signature: Senate File 2251 would extend the time some women and babies can remain on Medicaid to 12 months after the end of pregnancy; current law caps it at 60 days. The bill also makes fewer families eligible for Medicaid benefits during and after pregnancy by lowering the income cutoff to 215% of the federal poverty level, down from 375%.

Signed into law: Senate File 2252 softens the requirements for administering Iowa’s two-year-old MOMS program, which subsidizes anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers. The Department of Health and Human Services had not identified a third-party administrator for the program and will now be allowed to work directly with centers.

Failed: House File 2584, a priority of Gov. Kim Reynolds’, would have permitted adults to obtain hormonal contraception without a prescription and required insurance companies to cover such non-prescription birth control. The bill was never debated in the Iowa House or the Iowa Senate.

Failed: House File 2575 dealt with penalties for the destruction of embryos, though critics said its language would threaten the legality and availability of in vitro fertilization. The bill passed the House but did not receive a Senate hearing.

Pending: The Iowa Legislature did not debate any bills pertaining to abortion in 2024, but the Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments April 11 on whether a ban on abortions after six weeks was correctly blocked from taking effect. State regulators have passed rules to implement the ban if an injunction is eventually lifted.


Passed both chambers, awaiting governor's signature: House File 2489 would require insurance companies to cover diagnostic mammograms – those ordered to investigate a potential concern – in the same way they do screening mammograms. The change, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2025, should reduce out-of-pocket costs for women, and advocates said fewer women will avoid diagnostic mammograms over cost fears.

Passed both chambers, awaiting governor's signature: House File 2402 addresses Iowa’s children’s mental health system. It would pay higher reimbursements to care providers that address more severe mental health problems and expand services available to children. The bill also orders studies of existing regulatory barriers. Another bill headed to Reynolds’ desk, House File 2673, is a dramatic overhaul of Iowa’s bureaucracy for behavioral health care and substance abuse disorder treatment.


Passed both chambers, awaiting governor's signature: House File 2658 would require the state to pay higher rates to child care providers that participate in an assistance program that helps low-income Iowans afford child care. It also would extend a pilot program to let child care providers use that assistance for their own children. Nonpartisan analysts estimate the bill would increase spending by about $25 million, with about $17 million of that coming from the federal government.

Failed: Reynolds proposed lowering property taxes on commercial child care facilities as part of a larger tax reform bill. Senators split the idea into its own bill, but the idea did not advance in either vehicle.


Pending: The federal Victims of Crimes Act provides money nationwide to assist victims. Funding is expected to drop by over 40% later this year. State Rep. Brian Lohse said during debate on a budget bill that the situation is fluid and that state lawmakers intend to consider supplemental state funding when they reconvene in January if the federal cuts aren’t reversed.

Pending: A state program to pay for emergency contraception and, occasionally, abortions for sexual assault victims has been on hold since Attorney General Brenna Bird took office in January 2023. Her office told the Des Moines Register in March that an audit of the policy to pay for those expenses is not yet complete.


Failed: The advocacy group One Iowa said on X that the Legislature did not approve any "explicit anti-LGBTQ+ bills" this year. The most prominent bill that failed to advance was one proposed by Reynolds to define "man" and "woman" in Iowa Code. Reynolds said it was necessary to ensure safety in spaces reserved for women; critics dubbed it the "LGBTQ erasure" bill. House File 2389 was never debated in either chamber.


Signed into law: House File 2586 was passed after a January shooting outside Perry High School killed a student and an administrator. The law authorizes schools to allow trained educators to carry firearms on school grounds. Districts can decline to participate. A companion bill before Reynolds, House File 2652, includes additional physical security measures for school buildings.


Signed into law: Senate File 2096 abolished a three-decade-old requirement that the appointed membership of state and local boards and commissions be balanced by gender. Advocates said the requirement was no longer needed. Another bill reduces the number and authority of state boards and commissions.

Signed into law: Senate File 2243 modifies a law making it a felony to possess a visual depiction of a minor appearing to engage in a sex act to specify that the depiction can be a doctored image. Advocates said the law is a response to the rise of child pornography generated using easy-to-access artificial intelligence tools.

Failed: Legislative Democrats introduced several proposals to try to force Iowa to participate in a federal program to provide grocery money in the summer to families whose children receive free or reduced-price school lunches; none received a hearing. House File 575, which was introduced in 2023 and had bipartisan support, would have made reduced-price meals free to families, with the state picking up the tab. It never received a hearing.

Signed into law: House File 2612 increases Iowa teacher pay while overhauling the Area Education Agency (AEA) system that for 50 years has provided special education to students statewide and delivered additional specialized services to school districts. The law gives public school districts more control of how to spend money not earmarked for special education. It also centralizes oversight of special education. The Des Moines Register reported that hundreds of AEA employees have resigned in the past four months.
Fearless panel on financial empowerment: It’s not just the wage gap keeping women from security
Kara Hoogensen told her co-panelists an uncomfortable statistic.

"The fact is, there’s five panelists here on this event today. Odds are, at least one of us is going to go through a period of time during our career where we’re unable to work for a lengthy period of time. And it can be a very big challenge," said Hoogensen, senior vice president and head of workplace benefits – benefits and protection at Principal Financial Group.

One solution can be good partnerships between the government and the private sector, she said.

"So one of the movements here in the states – and we are seeing this happen – more states embrace paid family medical leave programs and more employers that are supplementing those programs. Or in states where those programs don’t exist, offer short-term disability coverage for purposes of people at least taking care of their own illness and injury and having an income stream," Hoogensen said.

Women are traditionally the caregivers – of children, of aging parents, of the sick and the dying. Women are more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. They also typically outlive men. All of this can affect their career trajectory, their budgets and their finances.

Over the years, many Iowa women have told Fearless that they struggle with aspects of their personal finances. They’re often ashamed. To help Iowa women with this challenge, our first Fearless Focus panel of the year was on financial empowerment.

The April 18 panel included:

  • Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president and head of workplace benefits – benefits and protection, Principal Financial Group
  • Marcie Ordaz, executive director, Lift Women’s Foundation
  • Sonya Sellmeyer, consumer advocate, Iowa Insurance Division
  • Ashlee Vieregger, senior lead adviser, Foster Group
  • Michele Williams, associate professor, management and entrepreneurship, University of Iowa Tippie College of Business

Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Business Publications Corp., introduced the panelists. Emily Wood, the Business Record’s special projects editor, moderated the discussion.

Wood’s first question was solutions-oriented: What is one financial barrier that adversely affects women? How does the business community play a role in addressing it?

The following responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

We find that 68% of women, relative to 80% of men, feel financially secure. What do we mean when we say "financially secure?" We mean, they feel comfortable that they can get a loan. They feel comfortable that they can get a mortgage. They feel comfortable that they can make investment decisions, whether that be an employer-sponsored retirement plan or outside of that kind of framework. So, there is absolutely a discrepancy here.

Employers play a big role. Employers are the most trusted institution in the United States. ...

The child care responsibilities, being able to take time off, whether that be for one’s individual illness or sickness or to care for a loved one, is a major issue. If there’s not an income stream coming in, you as an individual may or may not be in a position to be able to do what in your heart of hearts you want to do in providing care for another or for oneself.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to move into a career in nonprofit, working with small-business women entrepreneurs, and also taking the time for myself to really jump in and be better about my learning and education around financial stability.

One of the things that I recognized not too long ago, was the barrier for women to maintain an almost equal opportunity to have retirement funds built. ...

Statistically, we’re the ones who are taking those long-leave absences to care for family members, to care for children. We’ve seen it heightened after the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor says the impact of taking time off for a woman is a 15% difference in wages lost, compared to what men are earning. And that’s on top of wage gaps already.

So I really feel like as a business community, there has to be some sort of program or first acknowledgement of that loss for women when planning for retirement, and really identify how can we fill those gaps, not for us working today, but for the time that we are ready to retire – if we can retire.

I found a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that was conducted in January of 2023 that found that 50% of all workers spend three or more hours per week dealing with their finances or worrying about their personal finances while we’re at work. Three hours a week for 56% blew me away. That’s a lot of lost productivity while we’re at our workplace.

I think employers can do a lot to help with the financial literacy efforts, and have that as a benefit in our workplace – offering that empowerment and confidential financial wellness program to their employees as a benefit for men and women. But as the poll showed, I think maybe women need it more.

Pay inequality – inequity – persists, and that’s just one part of the puzzle. Equal work, equal compensation, is not the reality that a lot of women experience today.

A decade’s worth of research by McKinsey and Co. found that women are also overrepresented in low-wage occupations. So it’s not just a matter of equal work for equal pay, but women occupy a lot of low-wage occupations in comparison with men of a similar education level of attainment. So yes, income is a big deal. But there’s also a confidence gap that persists. ...

With respect to the income-related challenges, companies and businesses need to continue to promote women in equal measure to men to fix this leaky talent pipeline that persists, meaning women, when they start in entry-level positions, there are fewer and fewer who advance to manager or senior manager or executive level.

Then on the confidence piece, I feel like a big part of that disparity and disconnect happens because a lot of us simply are not comfortable talking about money and finances. ... If we can’t talk about this comfortably as adults, what message or inspiration or education are we modeling for the next generation? We want them to be more equipped with these skills and have more comfort than maybe we were raised.

A lot of times people who are experiencing a gender wage gap don’t know they’re making less than the person sitting next to them, and so when we talk about the gender wage gap; women are paid on average 84 cents to the dollar of what men are paid, and this gap is larger for Black women compared to white men and larger for Hispanic women and Latina women, so this is both broken down by gender and then intersectionality with other forms of ethnicity.

I’ve taught negotiation for a long time, and one of the differences between men and women in terms of starting out at that first salary is men tend to negotiate their salary more often than women, and women don’t negotiate for multiple reasons. It’s not that women don’t necessarily know that negotiating and asking for more. More is better than less, right? Women know that. But there can be backlash against being more assertive based on stereotypes.

What the research has found coming out of Harvard Kennedy School is that ways for women to express confidence. Women express confidence in nonverbal ways so the way they the tone of their voice, the way they dress, the way they stand, they don’t get the same backlash for negotiating or in addition when women present what they’re negotiating for in terms of a more relational aspect … so, being a team player. When you come to a job and negotiate, people should see that as a value added.

In the headlines
MercyOne to end gynecologic oncology surgical services: MercyOne is ending its gynecologic oncology surgical services starting this summer. The hospital system confirmed that on June 1, patients will have to find somewhere else to receive those surgical services. The hospital system would not say how many patients are affected, according to this story from KCCI.

Iowa native Beth Ford makes TIME 100 most influential people list: Her first job was detasseling corn, now she is the CEO of Land O'Lakes. Beth Ford made the Time 100 Most Influential People list for 2024, according to this story in the Des Moines Register. The Sioux City native and Iowa State University graduate became CEO of Land O'Lakes, an agribusiness cooperative of thousands of farmers, in 2018.

State universities eliminate, reorganize DEI offices to meet Regents directives: Presidents of the state’s public universities told the Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday they are eliminating departments and positions related to diversity, equity and inclusion and looking to support students on a more individualized basis. Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa have been working since the fall to adopt board directives relating to diversity, equity and inclusion, according to this story in the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

America’s child care crisis is holding back moms without college degrees: In 2022, more than 1 in 10 young children had a parent who had to quit, turn down or drastically change a job in the previous year because of child care problems. And that burden falls most on mothers, who shoulder more child-rearing responsibilities and are far more likely to leave a job to care for kids, according to this story by the Associated Press.

Worth checking out
Supreme Court appears split on if states can prevent hospitals from providing abortions in medical emergencies (the 19th). The troubling trend in teenage sex that can result in brain damage (New York Times). Pressure mounts on NCAA to clarify stance on transgender athletes (Washington Post). About 60 babies are stillborn in the U.S. each day. This memorial symbolizes a single day of loss. (ProPublica). Nestlé adds more sugar to baby food in poorer countries, report finds (Washington Post). The Caitlin Clark Effect and the uncomfortable truth behind it (The Athletic)
Meg Schneider joins Iowa ABI leadership team
The Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) has named Meg Schneider vice president of strategic initiatives and member engagement.

Her work will focus on maximizing existing partnerships and creating opportunities for members statewide for both ABI and the workforce development and leadership programs of the ABI Foundation, a news release said.

Schneider previously spent two decades at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, most recently as senior vice president for business resources and community development.

Be fearless with us
At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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