Six Iowa leaders weigh in
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Good morning and happy Monday. To those of you who were off on spring break last week, welcome back! I’m still collecting stories of your experiences with discrimination as well as your thoughts on what the last year has been like in terms of living through the pandemic. We’ve received some great responses so far! If you’d like to share your story, please send me an email at or reply to this email.

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– Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

‘A multifaceted issue that requires multifaceted solutions’: Six Iowa leaders on pay inequity, salary transparency
Photo credit: Getty Images.
In the Business Record’s annual survey on women’s and gender issues, 63% of respondents stated that pay inequity in Iowa is a major issue.

Recent analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that racial and gender wage gaps are still deep. When looking at median weekly earnings, Hispanic women earn 59%, Black women earn 64%, white women earn 80% and Asian women earn 95% of white non-Hispanic men’s earnings. In Iowa, women on average earn 76 cents for every dollar a man earns.

When looking at historical data, back in 1950 the female-to-male median annual earnings ratio was 61%. In 2019, it was just over 82%. At the current rate, women won’t receive equal pay until 2062.

The gender wage gap and pay equity are large, complex issues that can’t be solved by a silver bullet. But experts agree that the best way to start addressing them is by talking about it and acknowledging that it exists.

We selected and emailed two dozen Iowa leaders who work in areas including higher education, nonprofit leadership, state government, employment law and business interest groups with a short survey about pay equity and salary transparency.

Six of them took the survey by the time of publication:
  • Ann Brown, personal injury lawyer and employment law attorney at Ann Brown Legal in Cedar Rapids.
  • Beth Livingston, assistant professor, faculty director of the Dore Emerging Women Leaders Program at the Tippie College of Business at University of Iowa.
  • Rachel Bruns, deputy director of America’s Service Commissions, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing and promoting state service commissions across the U.S.
  • Kim Cheeks, executive officer at the Office on the Status of African-Americans and the Office on the Status of Women.
  • Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, Iowa state representative, District 43, which includes areas of Windsor Heights, West Des Moines and Clive.
  • Beatriz Mate-Kodjo, plaintiff’s employment attorney at Timmer Judkins in West Des Moines.

Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What is the best way to address pay inequity?
Mate-Kodjo: I think the first step in addressing pay inequity in Iowa is self-reflection and accountability, because the risk of unequal pay happens with or without ill intent. Some employers knowingly and proactively pay employees differently based on age, gender, race, etc. because of decision-maker biases and stereotypes about who is or is not qualified or "good" at any given job. Those choices open the door to unequal pay risk.

Livingston: This is a multifaceted issue that requires multifaceted solutions. Shedding sunlight on the magnitude of the problem and how it differs across industries and occupations and even within companies is the first step. Policies and guidelines regulating the sharing of salary and bonus information can help with this. Many times, employees do not know that they are being paid less for equal work. We should discuss this issue with nuance and a shared understanding that solving it requires public and private partnership and both individual and collective action. I think men should be encouraged to understand that this isn’t a "men vs. women" issue, but a "fair vs. unfair" issue.

Brown: The state of Iowa could require pay equity of private contractors and conduct audits like the federal government does. Iowa could enact paycheck transparency legislation, which would force employees to disclose to employees if they were being paid equally.

Bruns: Continue highlighting this issue and connecting it to how it’s harming businesses and the state’s ability to recruit and retain talent.

Cheeks: Identify causes and variables of the pay gap and find ways to resolve those root causes of the problem. Review compensation records and practices, and identify gaps. Collect data on certain work groups. Understand the difference between equal pay for equal work and the wage gap. Not providing equal pay for equal work to employees who do the same work is generally considered illegal discrimination. The gender wage gap, or pay gap, is a different concept that reflects the problems of unequal pay and a lack of other work-life support. Women earn less from the start, and the age range during which they earn the most is lower than it is for men.

Konfrst: Organizations should take a look at pay across the board and see if inequity exists. It probably does, so having that information helps ensure they’re starting from a place of facts. It’s important to do a thorough assessment of why. What assumptions have been used along the way to justify inequity, and how can those assumptions be challenged and remedied?

Would salary transparency policies help address pay inequity? Why or why not?
Brown: Yes. Women can't take action if they don't know they are being paid less than men who perform equal work.

Bruns: Yes. Research shows it works.

Cheeks: Yes. Transparency can attract and retain employees. Data can be used to determine practices and policies that are fair.

Livingston: Yes. Research has shown that pay transparency is useful for promoting equity and that employees do not react negatively to this information. It provides a check on manager actions and pay decisions, while also demonstrating trust in employees. For example, Lily Ledbetter did not know that she was paid less than her male counterparts because it was secret information. And some companies punish employees for talking about their pay (even though said punishment is illegal, according to the NLRB). But research has shown that pay transparency can actually improve employee motivation! When the process and outcomes around compensation are clearer, employees may actually perform better while simultaneously promoting equity and requiring companies to think through their compensation decision-making in more depth.

Konfrst: Yes. Information is key. When we're honest with ourselves and our colleagues, and we are able to see where inequity exists, we can address it. And when employees can see what positions are paying across the board, they can also see where pay equity already exists, which could help avoid questions and false assumptions about salary.

Mate-Kodjo: Yes. Every employer is different and deserves a high level of freedom, ingenuity and choice. I am not a believer in micromanaging what entrepreneurs and business owners/leaders can and cannot do. That said, I will advocate for transparency because pay secrecy can create circumstances that catch an employer off-guard. Privacy and confidentiality should be respected, but it is important to remember that how an employer pays an employee is an objective measurement of how that employee is valued, for better or for worse. It is a risk to value employees for subjective or intrinsic reasons as opposed to objective metrics.

What are action steps that can be taken at the employer level to ensure pay equity?
Mate-Kodjo: There is no quick fix or easy solution to ensure pay equity. I believe the first action steps are self-reflection (e.g., an internal audit) and accountability (e.g., intra-departmental pay transparency). Those steps may lead to the need to create or implement remedies. Those are likely much easier for smaller organizations. We don't hear enough about companies self-correcting, but it happens. That is honorable and should be celebrated. Most organizations do not mean to make discriminatory pay decisions, but if they find them or they are brought to their attention, doing the right thing is always an option. Corporate accountability does not make an organization weak or bad. Accountability is credibility; it shows the organization values the people that invest hours of their lives to advance the corporate mission.

Brown: Conduct internal audits by asking employees who they believe performs similar work to them in order to compare pay.

Livingston: Employer, know thyself. That's my main suggestion. Analyze your data. See where the inequity exists. Recent research has also suggested that even among "equitable" firms, gender pay inequity can exist in benefits or stock options, so be thorough. Examine the policies through which pay is set in your company and be honest about the trade-offs. Finally, volunteer to publicize pay information where possible.

Bruns: Employers should always provide information on compensation, including the salary/wage or range, on job postings and descriptions. If they are open to negotiation, that can still be mentioned. Organizations that have job boards should strongly recommend or require salary transparency in order to post on their job board.

Konfrst: Audit salaries and positions across the board. Take a hard look at the "why" for the inequity, and examine hiring practices, job descriptions, requirements and interview strategies. Make salaries transparent.

Cheeks: Review applicable laws and practices surrounding fair labor standards, discrimination, civil rights. Train managers to communicate with employees about employment policies and compensation. Advocate to raise the minimum wage, to strengthen the economic security for families, and those where the woman is the sole breadwinner. The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Committee for Pay Equity have developed best practices and an Employer Self Assessment that can be useful in determining if your business has areas to improve. Have compensation and promotion policies and practices be as consistent and transparent as possible. Look at to benchmark your compensation with other businesses in the field and in your area. Calculate the percentage of male and female employees. Calculate the average female and average male monthly salary, including every full-time employee, including all levels of management. Divide the average female salary by the average male salary to determine your overall rate of equity.

Vermeer Chair Mary Andringa, representatives from Kum & Go and the Iowa division of the National Federation for Independent Business declined to take the survey.

Representatives from the Iowa Business Council, Sammons Financial Group, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, other lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature, Women Lead Change and Casey’s General Stores had not taken the survey by its deadline for publication.

The NFIB, which lobbied against legislation introduced this year that addressed pay equity in Iowa, responded with the following statement: "The specific issue of 'pay equity' does not show up in any of our data points or surveys that we conduct at NFIB. … NFIB has always opposed legislation where the government mandates/regulates who can work for a private small business, how much they have to pay an employee of a small business or how someone operates a private small business. Aside from high taxes, burdensome mandates or government regulations on small business are of grave concern to our members. One size fits all regulations tend to be job killers and quite frankly small business killers. HF 188 is a prime example of a one size fits all government regulation that would have a serious negative impact on the smallest of the small businesses in Iowa and that’s why we oppose that specific bill."
Meet Isamar Caro Gonzalez, an immigrant and Latina leading in a men’s field at ISU
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I want to highlight a Latina woman who is breaking barriers and leading in a field dominated by men. Her immigration story helps me remember that leadership comes with a lot of sacrifice and hard work.

Isamar Caro Gonzalez was born in Mexico City and immigrated to Iowa when she was only 4 years old. She is currently in her second year at Iowa State University studying chemical engineering with a minor in biomedical engineering. One of her main goals is to become a prosthesis designer and support and empower other Latinas to finish high school and get a bachelor’s degree.

During my interview with her, she reflected on her life and how far she has come, thanks in part to the hard work and dedication her parents put forth for her and her brother.

How did you get here to Iowa?
"My family moved to Iowa from Mexico City because they wanted us to have a better life. At the beginning, I didn’t know exactly how we ended up here; my parents never told me anything about crossing the border until I was in fourth grade. I was with my mom and she was working cleaning a house. The owner of the house had a good relationship with my parents and invited me to go with their family to Disney World. My mom said that I couldn’t go, so of course I was super upset ― that’s a dream for every kid at that age. After that day my parents talked to me about it and they said that even if they wanted me to go I couldn’t because we didn’t have Social Security numbers, and they explained to me that we could be caught and could be deported to Mexico. That really hit me hard."  

How was it for you, growing up in Iowa?
"As a kid I think I had a pretty normal childhood, even with my immigration status. I adapted quickly to school and I learned English very fast with the ESL program. I knew I was a smart girl from a young age, but some people had assumptions about me, maybe because I was an immigrant or because I was the quiet and shy girl in the back. For some reason I didn’t want to be noticed. I remember one time in middle school, some people at school would ask me, ‘Why do you have curly hair?’ And I said to them that’s the way I was born. From then on, I started to wear ponytails and never wear my hair down because I didn’t want to be the girl with the weird hair. Now I laugh about it, but it definitely made me change my style. I was trying to fit in more and not be myself. Now I love my hair, but it took me years to realize that I needed to accept myself, including my hair."

What are some of the challenges you had growing up as an undocumented immigrant? "Not being able to travel and go back to see my grandmother, my cousins and other family. Not knowing if I was going to be able to have a driver's license. I stressed out about my parents being deported. I realized many things that I was not able to do just because I didn’t have a Social Security number. Some of us just take for granted those basic things, but unfortunately it’s not the same for everyone."

Isamar was able to obtain Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status from the Obama administration right after the bill was announced back in 2012. DACA protected her and many others from being deported and allowed them to obtain a work permit in the U.S. She was in high school when that happened, just in time to have a driver’s license.

When did you realize you want to become an engineer?
"My brother Jose studied engineering first, but I was very good at math and science, so I started taking engineering classes in middle school. It was challenging at the beginning, especially because I was the only girl in the class. But my confidence started to grow and I knew that was the field I want to be in. People just assume that girls are not as smart as boys, so I needed to step up and prove them wrong so they would take me more seriously. Even now in college, I always want to take the lead and be the first one to send the group email to make sure we all are on the same page."

Isamar was able to obtain a full scholarship for college, thanks to her hard work, good grades and dedication. "A lot of multicultural scholarship recipients don’t want to say that we have it, because some people assume that you get it just because you are multicultural. I want to make sure people understand that you need to work hard in order to obtain it."

How is it for you, being a Latina leader in engineering, knowing that men dominate in the field?
"I have the experience and knowledge to back it up, and I continually keep learning from others to push me to be a better person. Now I make sure they notice me. As I said, I was the only girl in engineer class in middle school; they didn’t even talk to me, I was always the first to start their conversations. I still do the same, I’m the icebreaker, and by the end of any project we are friends."

What would you say to young Latinas who want to be in similar careers led by men?
"Be confident. I was afraid at the beginning, but you need to make sure to start connecting with people, and especially with your professors. You will need reference letters in the future. Don’t question your possibilities, and if you are ever wrong for some reason, you will learn from that."

Talking about leadership and opening doors for others, what is leadership for you?
"As a person who holds many leadership positions, not only am I trying to help and teach people about my past experiences but also I try to learn from them. I try to help guide others through things that I wish I was guided on. I have learned a lot about being a leader as I continue to get these positions. Being an effective leader is not telling people what to do but showing from examples. I attempt to lead the life I want my students to lead so they can see that it is possible."

Ismar’s story reminds us that "Si se puede! Yes we can!" Life isn’t always fair. As kids we don’t decide where we’re born or where we grow up; only life will show us the way. She is an example of what immigrants have to do in this county, not only work harder than everyone else because of resources, but we also open doors for next generations and become leaders of our communities. Being a woman, Latina and an immigrant can be challenging, but it’s your hard work and dedication that will pay it forward for you to become someone in life. Now Isamar is a permanent resident and she travels all the time to Mexico to visit her family. There is no quiet or shy girl anymore, only a fierce woman who soon will be 21 years old graduating from Iowa State and representing our Latinx community wherever she goes.

Fabiola Schirrmeister was born and raised in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico. She has worked in the communications industry since 2011. A graduate of the University of Sacred Heart in Puerto Rico, she has had the opportunity to work with Telemundo Puerto Rico, WIPR and Azteca America Tucson and in Latino radio in Des Moines as a host and producer. One of her passions in life and in her career is to provide platforms to educate, inform, create awareness and empower the Latino community.

Left: Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Center: Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Right: Alexi McCammond.
In the headlines
  • The newest women to make history as part of President Joe Biden’s cabinet are Deb Haaland and Katherine Tai. They join eight other women who have already been confirmed by the Senate. Haaland is the first Native American interior secretary and Tai is the first woman of color to hold the trade representative post.
  • Alexi McCammond, who worked as a politics reporter at Axios, had planned to start as the editor in chief of Teen Vogue on March 24. Now, after Teen Vogue staff members publicly condemned racist and homophobic tweets McCammond had posted a decade ago, she has resigned from the job.
  • News of violence against women has been prevalent in the last few weeks. On March 16, eight people — six of them of Asian descent and seven of them women — were shot at massage parlors and spas in the Atlanta area. While police have said it’s not yet clear if the shootings would be classified as a hate crime, since the start of the pandemic, nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents against Asian Americans have been reported and the vast majority have been directed at women. Across the pond, a London Metropolitican Police officer has been arrested and charged for the kidnapping and murder of 33-year old Sarah Everard, who disappeared as she was walking home in London March 3. And in Australia, thousands of women have taken to the streets to protest violence and discrimination against women as accusations of sexual assault within the halls of Parliament have been brought forth.
  • The U.S. House has voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2019. Lawmakers added firearm restrictions for convicted domestic abusers, among other new provisions.
  • In a study of 560 male students from the University of Iowa and Arizona State University, psychology professor Teresa Treat found four major risk factors involved in sexual aggression: heavy drinking, misperception of a partner’s level of sexual interest, not seeking consent for sexual activity, and engagement in casual sexual behavior. Treat said she started the research because she wanted to find ways to reduce the likelihood that college-age men will act in sexually aggressive ways.
  • At 36 weeks pregnant, a South Florida front-line health care worker received her first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She gave birth three weeks later to a healthy baby girl — with COVID-19 antibodies. Doctors believe the newborn marks the first known case of a baby born with coronavirus antibodies in the U.S., which may offer her some protection against the virus.
  • A congressionally ordered report into the out-of-pocket costs incurred by military service members for uniform items confirms the long-held suspicion that female troops are paying more than their male counterparts. The report found that out-of-pocket uniform costs for enlisted women can add up to $8,000 or more over a career, while some men report pocketing allowance overages.
  • For the first time in the history of the Oscars, more than one female filmmaker has been nominated for best director in a single year. Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell scored nominations alongside Lee Isaac Chung, David Fincher and Thomas Vinterberg. The category of best director rarely features women: Before this year, only five female filmmakers had been recognized.
  • Ten women who are suing the Walt Disney Co. for what they have called "rampant gender pay discrimination" have added a claim involving pay secrecy. The court fight over equal pay at Disney started in April 2019 when two employees, LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore, filed a lawsuit claiming that Disney discriminates against female workers by paying them less than their male counterparts.
Bringing her full self to work: Munirah Khairuddin
As a young girl in Malaysia, Munirah Khairuddin wanted to see the world. And so she did, but during her journey, Munirah discovered that the person she’d become was the most important destination. Read more about how Munirah Khairuddin learned to bring her full self to work and why she traveled the globe only to return home again, READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
Pandemic parenting is impossible. American work culture is a big reason why (Vox). The women powering Biden’s economy are rewriting the course of American history (NPR). Black women are still underrepresented in America’s statehouses, new report shows (The 19th). How to use a vacation day right now (The Cut). Only your boss can cure your burnout (The Atlantic). How to help combat anti-Asian violence (The Cut). Living paycheck to paycheck, living diaper to diaper (New York Times). Meet Des Moines’ microinfluencers (Axios). Pregnant in a pandemic: ‘COVID couldn’t rob us of everything’ (NPR). This credit card rewards you for shopping at women-owned businesses (CBS News). How a year of wearing masks and talking on Zoom has changed us (ABC News). A love letter to Asian Americans (Time). Men's and women's NCAA March Madness facilities, separate and unequal, spark uproar (NPR).
Join the Business Record to kick off your day on one Friday each month in our Fearless Friday series. Focused on women and gender topics, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from and connect with others around the state equally as passionate about these issues. Women, gender-nonconforming individuals and male allies are all encouraged to be fearless with us.

This month's topic: Leadership
We’ll introduce you to female leaders across the state and will focus on gaps in representation as well as challenges female leaders face.

Featuring: Jen Carruthers, president, Capital City Pride; Jamie Butler Chidozie, director of diversity, inclusion and social justice, University of Northern Iowa; Sarika Bhakta, president, Nikeya Diversity Consulting LLC.

Register for the free event, scheduled for Friday, March 26, at 8 a.m.

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