Importance of women on boards, Inspiring Women of Iowa finalists
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FEBRUARY 13, 2023
Good morning! Here’s what’s on deck in this week’s edition of Fearless:

  • For this month’s Leading Fearlessly column, Suzanna de Baca discusses the importance of women on boards and commissions. This topic is especially relevant with the bill moving through the Statehouse that would get rid of a law that requires all state-, county- and city-level boards to be gender balanced. (If you want to catch up on that news, you can find more information in our 1.23 and 1.30 editions.)
  • The third installment of Foster Group’s four-part series on financial health as you age is hot off the presses. This week’s column is targeted toward those who are approaching retirement.
  • The finalists of the 2023 Inspiring Women of Iowa awards have been announced and are listed below.

All that and much more below!

Have a great week.

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Women improve results in the boardroom, but still need a seat at the table
From left: Joyce Chapman, Beth Coonan, Jennifer Cooper, Miriam Lewis and Susan Voss.
New research shows that more women than ever hold seats in corporate boardrooms worldwide and female representation on boards improves the bottom line. Given the proven benefits of gender-balanced boards, continued work is needed to ensure women are given opportunities to serve on all types of boards and commissions.

The good news is that this year’s just-released Deloitte Women in the Boardroom study shows that 19.7% of global corporate board seats are held by women, an increase of 2.8 percentage points over the prior year. "If this rate of change were to continue every two years, we could expect to reach something near parity in 2045," says the report, which points out that the figures for individual countries vary widely.

The U.S. ranks a fairly unimpressive 19th place, with women making up 23.9% of board composition. This compares with top-ranking France, with 43% of board members being women (and a gender quota set at 40% over a decade ago), and with low-ranking countries like Qatar or South Korea, which have less than 5% female representation on boards.

Boards that do have good gender representation are reaping positive results. A recent study by Catalyst shows that having women in the boardroom has a favorable impact on financial performance, indicating that having just "one more woman on a company’s board, while keeping the board size unchanged, produces a return on investment of 8 to 13 basis points."

The bad news is that despite our positive contributions, the pace of progress remains slow and claims that parity has been reached impede equal representation.

For example, Iowa has historically been a leader in prioritizing gender equity, including representation on boards. Back in 2009, Iowa passed a law localizing the scope of gender equity in our state because, despite the fact women make up more than 50% of Iowa’s population and outnumber men in almost 90% of our counties, there had not been corresponding gender representation on boards and commissions.

According to a report by the Iowa Department of Human Rights, that law required "all political subdivisions of the state" to have balance in gender in appointments to municipal commissions, committees, boards and councils. This law raised awareness and improved the status of women on boards.

Recently, however, an Iowa lawmaker has introduced legislation to eliminate these gender-balance requirements. His rationale is that this law is no longer necessary "due to advances made by women in the professional world," and because panels and boards in Iowa are having a challenging time complying with gender-balance requirements. This is just one example of how progress can be inhibited, just as women are making some advancement in the boardroom.

Since there are proven benefits to female representation on boards, now is the time to continue identifying qualified women for service on boards and commissions and to encourage women with potential to develop their skills for future consideration. It is worth the effort to find women who can serve, because once identified, we have shown that we add value.

I asked top women leaders who serve on boards and commissions why it is so critical for women to be represented on boards, and for advice for women who are seeking to serve.

Beth Coonan, shareholder, Dentons Davis Brown: The best governing is done when those in the room making decisions for their community are representative of that community. If we stop striving to put women on boards and commissions, we risk losing the perspective of some of our most talented and engaged citizens who for many years did not have a voice. Gender-balanced boards and commissions have played a vital role in informing good public policy in Iowa since 1987, and should continue for many years to come. (Editor’s note: The opinions reflected here are solely those of the individual and do not represent Dentons Davis Brown or the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women.)

Jennifer Cooper, senior vice president and manager, commercial real estate, Bankers Trust; board commissioner, Iowa Finance Authority: I believe women have unique leadership characteristics that provide a diversity of skills, experiences, opinions and strategies that can provide for better governance and results. For example, women more naturally speak truth to power by using logic and facts to create persuasive arguments in discussions. It’s an effective way to present challenging or opposing points of view.

Joyce Chapman, board director, American Equity Life: Board service can be a very rewarding and challenging experience. Thankfully, women are being invited onto boards to offer different perspectives and skill sets. It is important not to accept a directorship at a corporation, commission or nonprofit simply because it is a compliment. Be sure your priorities align with the organization’s reputation, products and services because you are committing your talents to help the organization succeed in both good and challenging times. Dedication and duty of care are imperative because serious legal implications exist.

Miriam Lewis, chief inclusion officer, Principal Financial Group: Leading companies are prioritizing gender parity to bring new perspectives, inspire innovation and accelerate business results. Forty-three years ago, Mary Grefe was the first woman to join our board, and today 38% of our board of directors are women. Boards exist to look out for stakeholders' interests, and it's our belief that can only be accomplished through directors with broad knowledge, backgrounds and experiences that mirror the makeup of one's stakeholders.

Susan Voss, former Iowa insurance commissioner; retired vice president and general council, American Enterprise Group; corporate director: Don’t be afraid to reach out. You may be surprised by who will lead you upward! Mentors can be a great avenue for access to boards or commissions. Who have you interacted with in the past who understands "the ropes" and can be your champion? That person (male or female) can be someone totally unexpected. For me, it was a retired executive. I reached out to him and he was willing to answer my questions and guide me through the board process whether it was successful or not. We still touch base a couple of times a year and he continues to provide me good advice. I now sit on six boards and his support has been key to my success.

Are you approaching retirement? It’s time to get your financial health in order
Editor's note: This is the third of a four-part guest commentary series from Foster Group that aims to provide insight into navigating your financial health, from early career to retirement.

Planning for retirement can be one of the most daunting financial stages of life because there are so many competing priorities to manage and responsibilities to juggle. Should I pay down debt or accelerate my savings? How will I help my children cover the cost of college? What can I do to support my aging father on a fixed income? What about my own physical, mental and financial health? Women especially are pulled in many directions and burnout is all too common. Read on for some tips to help you manage it all. You can do this, and you are not alone!

Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others
If you recently have taken an airline flight, you are probably familiar with the preflight emergency instruction to put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others around you, and the logic is sound. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone else around you. Safeguarding your financial health by saving for retirement is similar. Without building a solid foundation for your financial independence, it is difficult to assist others in a meaningful way. Even in your peak earning years, you may still lack financial confidence, because there is so much demand on your cash flow. "Analysis paralysis" can lead us to freeze up, and to tell ourselves we’ll address it next week. Soon, months and years will have gone by with little progress.

Creating a financial plan makes all the difference in regaining a sense of control and achieving peace of mind. Simply put, a plan is a decision-making framework for life’s ups and downs. It usually starts with identifying and quantifying your long-term goals, mapping out your income, expenses, savings, debts and investments, and identifying the steps you’ll need to take to get from Point A to Point B. As advisers who often work with women and families in their 40s and 50s, one of the most frequent questions we hear is, "How can I be sure that I’ll have enough?" This is exactly what creating a financial plan can help you address. We advisers act as trusted guides and partners on this lifelong financial journey, providing encouragement, expertise and accountability. A plan is only valuable if you implement it!

Embrace your role as an investor and save, save, save!

Recent research by Fidelity reports that women investors are less confident than men, despite women earning about 1% greater investment returns than men over longer periods of time. In the work we do with women and families, we try to normalize talking about money and investing, to help our clients gain confidence and familiarity with these concepts. A few times a year, we host women’s "conversation circles" where small groups of 10-15 women discuss financial topics in an intimate setting, paired with social time, sips and snacks, journaling, guided questions, and open discussion. The insights and stories that come out of these groups are in equal turns funny, sad, poignant and uplifting, and the beginnings of new friendships are forged.

Much conventional wisdom on investing suggests that, as we approach retirement, we should adjust our portfolios to more conservative allocations, and it’s easy to understand why. There is less time before retirement for riskier investments, like stocks, to recover from any downturns before you start taking withdrawals from them. While conventional wisdom can be helpful in general, your situation is unique, and striking the right balance between investment risk and reward looks different for everyone.

Whether you are a more conservative or aggressive investor, this is your key time to save, save, save, especially if you are making up ground from earlier years when you weren’t able to save as much. Consistently increasing savings is the simplest and most bulletproof financial plan when it comes to preparing for retirement, and there are tax-advantaged ways to do it. "Catch-up contributions" to employer retirement plans ― 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc. ― allow workers 50 or older to make extra tax-deductible retirement contributions. IRA contribution limits also rise for workers aged 50-plus.

Keep a pulse on your financial health

As we get older, our doctors advise us to come in more often for regular checkups and special tests, like mammograms and colonoscopies. We recommend the same approach in caring for your financial health. As you get closer to retirement age, more frequent financial checkups are good medicine to make sure that your financial picture is healthy. We recommend annual checkups, at least, for many clients, but your regimen will depend on your preference and the financial complexity of your situation.

During your financial checkups, pay close attention to your vital signs: income, expenses, investments, savings and debts. Every few years, review your estate plan and philanthropic priorities. Outside of your regular checkups, if you experience a significant life change (career change, job loss, major medical diagnosis, receiving an inheritance, etc.), it’s time to review your financial situation, from top to bottom, to determine if your plan should be adjusted.

Here’s to a happy and healthy financial journey toward retirement!

at A copy of our written disclosure Brochure as set forth on Part 2A of Form ADV is available at

In the headlines
Several women made Grammy history earlier this month: Beyoncé set a new record for most career wins by any artist; Kim Petras became the first transgender woman to win a Grammy in the best pop duo and group performance category for her duet with Sam Smith; and Viola Davis became the 18th person to join the EGOT club, having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

The Des Moines Art Center announced Feb. 7 that its next director will be Kelly Baum, who has served multiple roles at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City since 2015. Baum will become the center’s John and Mary Pappajohn director in May, following the retirement of Jeff Fleming, who has served in that role for the last 18 years.

A Republican leader in the Iowa House says lawmakers need to wait for an Iowa Supreme Court opinion before trying to enact new abortion restrictions. A district court ruling has blocked a 2018 state law to ban most abortions after the sixth week of a pregnancy from taking effect. House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl has said the ultimate goal is to ban all abortions in the state.

Nearly 1 in 4 parents reported last year being fired from their jobs due to the continuing breakdown of child care for their kids, according to a new study. The report puts the price tag for the lack of access to affordable child care at $122 billion in 2022 due to lost wages, productivity and tax revenue.

A new LendingTree report found that single women own and occupy more homes than single men in the U.S., despite earning 83 cents for every dollar that men earn. The study, which analyzed 2021 U.S. Census data, found that 10.76 million U.S. homes were owned and occupied by single women, while 8.12 million were owned and occupied by single men. Iowa’s gap is 1.44 percentage points, with single women owning and occupying 115,687 homes, compared with 102,224 by their male counterparts.

Sydney Rieckhoff, CEO of Cedar Rapids-based Almost Famous Popcorn, was Sen. Joni Ernst’s guest to the State of the Union address last week. "Our job creators and entrepreneurs are the backbone of Iowa’s economy, with small businesses making up 98% of businesses across our state," Ernst said in a press release issued before the address, adding she was "thrilled" to have Rieckhoff join her in Washington to highlight her successes and discuss solutions to her challenges.

About 51% of women in marginalized racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. and four other countries said they'd experienced racism or discrimination at their current workplace, according to a new survey by Catalyst released earlier this month. Researchers from Catalyst, a women's advocacy group, surveyed 2,734 women from Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the U.S. The research included anyone who selected at least one race or ethnicity besides white.

Starting in March, a new program will cover the cost for eligible child care providers in Johnson County to receive an extra $2 per hour. American Rescue Plan dollars provided through Iowa City and Johnson County will fund the $1.5 million Wage Enhancement Program.

The 12th annual African American Children and Families Conference will be held virtually on Feb. 17. The event is hosted by the University of Northern Iowa College of Education, and will include a dozen sessions on topics ranging from policies that affect equity in early childhood education to how curriculum can affirm race, culture and identity in early childhood classrooms. The conference is free to UNI faculty, staff and students and there is a $50 fee for the general public. More information can be found on the conference’s website.

The University of Iowa Tippie College of Business is once again hosting its Tippie Women Summit this year. The summit will include one in-person event and two virtual events, all in March. All events are free and open to the public. The virtual events, held March 3 and 30, will include discussions on how to overcome mistakes and how to build authentic work relationships. The in-person event will feature comments from associate professor Beth Livingston, who is the author of "Shared Sisterhood: How to Take Collective Action for Racial and Gender Equity at Work," and will be held on March 23 at 5:30 p.m. More information can be found at the Tippie College of Business website.

Worth checking out
Women have been misled about menopause (New York Times). A 1993 family and medical leave law was supposed to be just the start. Thirty years later, not much has changed (The 19th). These Black women are changing TV weather, a field long dominated by white men (Washington Post).
Inspiring Women of Iowa award finalists announced
The 16 finalists for the annual Inspiring Women of Iowa awards have been announced. The event, whose proceeds benefit the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, honors women of courage, confidence and character, as well as advocates who support them.

Courage award finalists are: Dr. Elizabeth Day, Riley Schreder, Bethany Snyder and Jennifer Trevillian.

Confidence award finalists are Courageous Fire, Erin Kirtley, Iowa Rep. Jennifer Konfrst and Melissa Ness.

Character award finalists are Zuli Garcia, Maria Alejandra Guevara Hernandez, Denise Kleuever and Monica Yori.

The finalists for the Inspiring Advocate for Women award are Emily Huebsch, Emily Shearer, Tina Padavich Smothers and Teresa Zilk.

Finalists will be honored May 5 at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center. More information about the honorees and registration for the event can be found at the Inspiring Women of Iowa website.

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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