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MAY 13, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

When I moved back to Central Iowa, the first Des Moines festival I attended was CelebrAsian. I was a coach at Chow’s Gymnastics in West Des Moines, and several of my students danced annually at the celebration. I fell in love with CelebrAsian – especially the Kathak dance performances, where my young students excelled.

A decade later, CelebrAsian was the very first Central Iowa festival my daughter attended. This year, the festival is May 24-25. Will I see you there?

Attending festivals is easy and fun. But there is still much work to be done to ensure that AAPI women have truly equitable participation in American democracy. What will you do to help, Fearless readers?

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

  • A guest column by Natalie Mahoney about how employers and co-workers can support pregnant workers.
  • A story about Liz Lidgett Gallery and Design and why 50% of the art in Lidgett’s gallery is by women artists, which is wildly unusual.
  • In the headlines: The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services will distribute more than $680,000 to four crisis pregnancy centers under its More Options for Maternal Support, or MOMS, program in the next two years.
  • In case you missed it: Jasmine Brooks was hired as 6th Avenue Corridor’s executive director.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Commentary: How to support pregnant employees in the workplace
As a public relations professional, I am often behind the scenes writing pieces for my clients. There are few times when I actually get to put my name on the byline and directly share my thoughts. Almost eight months pregnant, I stumbled upon Nicole Grundmeier’s column on supporting postpartum employees in the workplace. She encourages readers to think critically about helping female employees during one of the most challenging periods in their lives. I found comfort reading it and thought, well, perhaps it’s possible to also write something to pair with her piece and examine ways to support working women through both pregnancy and postpartum. Thanks, Nicole, for giving me the green light.

To say the least, I am in quite an interesting period of my life. While navigating this upcoming chapter, I have been flooded with an immense to-do list, unsolicited advice, fluctuating hormones, a changing body and closing the door on my “old” life, as most say.

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but sometimes it can be accompanied by challenges, particularly in the workforce, where women may feel unsure about how their pregnancy will be perceived or accommodated. With more than 24.2 million mothers in the U.S. workforce, it’s important now more than ever for employers to support and foster an inclusive work environment for women.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, I found this the best time to shine light on pregnant women and list a few ideas for both employers and employees to explore to ensure women feel empowered through their pregnancy journey. As Nicole mentions, not all of these ideas are realistic or practical for every company; however, I hope this can spur more conversations or additional ideas in the future.

Below are some things to consider.

Prepping for accommodations
From the raging heartburn, round ligament pain and frequent trips to the bathroom, pregnancy brings a lot of uncomfortable physical challenges. A study from the National Partnership for Women & Families reported that 71% of women surveyed needed frequent breaks at work when pregnant and more than 50% of women needed a change in duties such as less lifting and more sitting.

While the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act already requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations, companies can get ahead by adjusting schedules to accommodate for the days pregnant employees may have longer medical appointments (such as the glucose tolerance test or ultrasounds), providing unlimited bathroom breaks (if allowed), keeping the break room stocked with cold water and snacks (protein bars are great options if the budget allows) and looking into ergonomic workstations when standing becomes more uncomfortable. For those working remotely before leave, managers can schedule more check-ins to keep them feeling connected to the rest of the team.

Redirecting the conversation
I’ve had my fair share of comments on my body and how I look during my pregnancy at family gatherings, the grocery store and practically any other public place. This is all too common for many mothers-to-be. When I asked a few moms their experience with comments during their pregnancy, some responses were:
      “You’re massive. It must be twins (when it wasn’t)!
      “You’re so tiny. Are you sure you’re really pregnant?”
      “You’re carrying so low. The baby is probably coming any day now.”
      “You don’t even look pregnant.”
      “Oh wow, you’re due any day.”

Whether they are meant as a compliment or a passing thought, comments such as these can often leave mothers worrying that there is something wrong with the progress of their pregnancy and health. Let’s also not forget the uncomfortable belly rubs from strangers. Cringe.

Unfortunately, some of these comments make their way into the break room. In these moments, colleagues and managers can step into the conversation and help redirect these awkward notes. They can easily shift the tone by asking questions like: “How are you feeling?” “What are you most looking forward to in your pregnancy” or “What is the theme of your nursery?” These slight shifts can bring immediate relief and get the employee away from feeling examined.

Reviewing policies and exploring parental leave options
With the U.S. birth rate slowly rising again, it may be a good time for both employers and human resources managers to review maternity leave policies and explore parental leave options. Are there sections in the policy that could be tweaked or is some of the language outdated? Even if extensive changes can’t be made, it’s a good rule of thumb to review the policies more frequently and educate managers, so they can relay that back to pregnant employees and know what to expect.

My company recently made changes to its maternity leave policy and updated the length of its parental leave. This alone has made me feel more confident as I transition into motherhood and am grateful for the time I can spend with my baby. Again, every workplace is different, but a yearly peek at the policy truly can be helpful.

Having open communication
In any professional setting, clear and open communication is vital. When it comes to supporting pregnant employees, this principle takes on even greater significance. Open communication creates a foundation of trust and understanding between managers and pregnant employees, ensuring that both parties are aware of each other’s needs, concerns and expectations. If a pregnant employee raises a concern or requests an accommodation, managers should take the necessary steps to address it in a timely manner. This may involve consulting with HR, making adjustments to work assignments or providing additional resources or support through regular check-ins.

Some conversations could look like this: “How can I support you best during this time?” or “What accommodations would be helpful for you as you navigate pregnancy?” This sets the stage and ensures both the employee and manager are on the same page. This may also be important when mothers return to work. Around the 60-day mark, approved postpartum accommodations could be discussed if they’re working out for both parties. By demonstrating a commitment to addressing these issues, employers can show pregnant employees that their well-being is a top priority. 

Creating a safe space
Pregnant employees should feel comfortable discussing their pregnancy, any related challenges and their needs with their managers without fear of judgment or reprisal. This requires managers to approach these conversations with empathy, active listening and a genuine willingness to accommodate their employees’ needs. However, in the same study collected from the National Partnership For Women & Families, 42% of respondents never asked their employers to accommodate them – with many likely fearing repercussions, refusal or uncertainty about how the request would be received.

The survey data above shows that creating a safe space is easier said than done, yet small steps generate a large impact.

An approach to consider: Employers could create a support network for expecting mothers, which could help them navigate and support each other through their journey to motherhood. This could be as simple as creating a Teams or Slack group for pregnant employees. Creating communities where parents-to-be can openly share their experiences is a great start to make them feel seen and heard.

Laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act offer some protection to workers from discrimination and establish rights to reasonable accommodations, but it is evident more work can be done to ensure pregnant womens’ needs are met. By creating a culture of support and inclusivity, employers can attract and retain top talent, boost employee morale and productivity, and ultimately create a more positive and dynamic work environment for everyone.

If you have more ideas on supporting both pregnant and postpartum employees, Fearless would love to hear from you. Reach out to Nicole Grundmeier at You can also check out the Business Record’s coverage of its annual gender equity survey, which includes a section on addressing barriers to workplace inclusion for pregnant women and underscores how women continue to balance competing expectations.

Natalie Mahoney works in public relations and assists clients with media writing, strategy and communications. She is the 2023 Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism Young Alumni Award recipient. She lives in Johnston with her husband, Ben.

Liz Lidgett talks about her commitment to women artists
Photo by Duane Tinkey
Liz Lidgett, whose art gallery in Des Moines’ East Village is marking five years in business, makes sure about half of the work on display there is by women. Research has pegged the proportion in major galleries and museums around the nation at closer to 13%.

It’s not a hard gap to bridge, Lidgett said.

“Women artists are not hiding under a rock. They’re out there,” she said. The big-picture statistic is shocking, she said: “It’s almost like the gallery owners are putting their head in the sand.”

I spoke recently to Lidgett, a longtime leader in the city’s culture and young professional scenes, about lessons from her business that launched shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s ahead for her and for Liz Lidgett Gallery and Design, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year rated as one of America’s top 70 small businesses.

These questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

I read that just 13% of the art in most art galleries is made by women?
From the very beginning, the second that we opened our doors, we committed to representing at least 50% women artists. That is a core value for us in the gallery. And early on, I had people that I really respect say things like, “I don’t think you should do that because I don’t want you to shoehorn yourself into having to do that.” Because it can be difficult. And I said that is, quite frankly, BS. I believe that doing good is good business. I really wanted to show people that you can do things that are true to your beliefs and feel ethically good, and then also be successful; they don’t have to be separate things. Women’s issues are very important to me, and so I want to walk the walk and talk the talk and show that you know you can live your values.

What extra work does it require for you or your staff to maintain that?
None. Women are 50% of those graduating with MFAs. Women artists are out there and they are crazy talented. So it is not an extra lift to have to do that. It’s not hard. If you look at it through the right lens, it’s not hard. It’s just good business. It’s just the right thing to do. I’m more shocked by the fact that those statistics are so abysmal worldwide when there are so many incredible women artists out there.

Your business is in the East Village. What does that area need the most in order to keep thriving for years to come?
One of the things that I love most about the East Village is that it is predominantly small businesses. It is predominantly women-owned small businesses. I think one of the best things about owning a business here is the community that we’ve been able to create. … We look out for each other in a way that you probably don’t if you are in an area that has internationally owned retailers. We communicate, we know what’s going on, we work as a team to create things like First Fridays, and Promenade. We really bring our resources together to make an impact for everyone here. I think the thing that the East Village needs most is for people to be out walking around like on a beautiful day like today. The East Village is packed right now. So the thing that would make it better is just more people thinking of it on a gorgeous day. Nothing against the mall, but come walk around and support small businesses where the dollars will stay in your community.

What changed permanently for your gallery because of the pandemic?
We opened nine months before the pandemic. We thought that we were going to be predominantly focusing on retail traffic, and the major shift was creating an e-commerce website so that people could shop from any point in the country. We last year shipped artwork to all 50 states and seven countries. And we’re on track to do that again this year, which is amazing. When we ship out, we’re shipping to places like Maine and North Dakota, and Hawaii. We’re shipping to all areas, which is very cool.

Our social media presence really changed, too, because our strategy changed. People weren’t able to go into museums and galleries. I thought, what if we could just talk to people about the art that we’re loving, that we have the privilege of being around on a daily basis? And what if we could just be a really beautiful spot in people’s feeds, because social media can be such an odd place, and it definitely was during the pandemic. What if we could be the prettiest, most joyful thing in your feed? And I still think about that, and what a privilege it is to be able to talk passionately about something I’m really excited about every day.

We ship about 80% of the work that we sell. So that means 80% of the time, they’re not seeing it in person when they purchase it, which is a really interesting thing in the art world, when seeing it in person is so important, really seeing the nuances of an artwork. I think that the reason is that we show our faces on social media every day; we’re showing up, and when people buy a work we have this trust relationship built, that they know that Tina and Monica are the ones that are literally physically wrapping the work and ensuring that it is arriving to you in Virginia in one piece and doing it well. I take that as a huge responsibility.

You’re starting a book project, right?
It’s been a goal of mine. It’s been on my vision board for five years. I just recently in the last year started taking it very seriously and was working with an agent. We were really perfecting the proposal and so many wonderful things about it. And then, the universe is an amazing thing sometimes, and an editor from Simon and Schuster reached out through Instagram the day after I finished the proposal and said, “Would you ever think about writing a book about art collecting and making art accessible for people?” We literally sent the finished proposal about that exact idea to her within days. The deal was done really quickly.

We keep using the word kismet. It was the right people. It was the right brand. It just feels so good. So my first couple of chapters have been submitted. The book is due in the spring of 2025. And then it’ll be published in 2026. … People want to be a part of the art world. You can literally see the words “art for all” behind me right now. It’s something that we preach on a daily basis, and I think that people sometimes – it’s like the fear of missing out, but it’s the fear of looking stupid. They have this vision of a really snooty gallery in New York, you can’t ask about prices, you can’t ask about anything, you’re probably not even wanted in the gallery. We’re the exact opposite of that. I want people to feel like they’ve got all of this knowledge in one book, and that they honestly truly feel ready to go support artists and buy art and live around beautiful, meaningful things.

What do journalists never ask you about but they should – something you would like to be asked?
One thing that I think about a lot is, how can we as a community support our small businesses? And there are so many ways that you can support a small business without even spending a dollar. Yes, those purchases matter. They do, don’t get me wrong, we all have families to support. But following somebody on social media, sharing that, speaking up; some of our most incredible clients have just been through word of mouth and people saying, “Hey, there’s a gallery I like in Des Moines. You should follow them.” Leaving a Google review or a Facebook review. There’s just so many ways; it may cost you two or three minutes of time, but there’s a longer impact for a business owner. Not everybody has the funds to purchase artwork, and I completely understand, but if you have worked with us or you want to and you like something that we’re doing, and you left a review, that feels so good, and small-business owners actually know when that happens. We’re doing that little dance of, somebody sees what we’re doing, and it feels so validating. It’s a morale boost, too.
Getty Images.
In the headlines
Iowa HHS contracts with 4 crisis pregnancy centers under MOMS program: The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services will distribute more than $680,000 to four crisis pregnancy centers under its More Options for Maternal Support, or MOMS, program in the next two years, according to this story by Iowa Public Radio. Iowa HHS has signed contracts with Informed Choice of Iowa, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Bethany Christian Services of northwest Iowa and Alternatives Pregnancy Center, according to records obtained by IPR.

Iowa education department awards nearly $6 million in grants for before- and after-school programming: The Iowa Department of Education awarded nearly $6 million in competitive Beyond the Bell grants to 67 Iowa schools to create, expand and sustain high-quality before-and-after school programs, according to this story in the Business Record.

Reynolds signs postpartum Medicaid coverage bill into law: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a new law changing postpartum Medicaid coverage for thousands of Iowans, according to this story from KCCI. New moms and their newborns will be covered for a full year under Senate File 2251. At the same time, the bill changes Medicare income requirements. A pregnant woman in a family of four with a total income of $64,000 a year qualifies; currently, those making $112,000 a year or under qualify.

Iowa joins 20 other states suing to block gender identity from being protected under Title IX: Iowa is joining 20 other states suing to block changes to federal rules against sex discrimination in education, according to this story by Iowa Public Radio. The rules finalized by the U.S. Department of Education clarify that gender identity is covered under Title IX protections, which puts into question Iowa’s ban on transgender girls participating in girls sports and another law that requires students to use school bathrooms according to their sex assigned at birth.

Worth checking out
Researchers plot migraine-menstruation connection (Washington Post). In China, ruled by men, women quietly find a powerful voice (New York Times). Updated federal workplace guidelines protect employee gender identity (Washington Post). More states are allowing child support payments to reach children (ProPublica). State legislators are taking the maternal mortality crisis into their own hands (the 19th). ‘Kinkeeping’ plays a crucial role in a family’s health and well-being, and it’s still predominantly done by women (New York Times).
Jasmine Brooks hired as 6th Avenue Corridor’s executive director
Des Moines native Jasmine Brooks has been hired as the executive director of 6th Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Main Street Program.

Brooks, a licensed real estate agent, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and her master’s degree in communications and marketing from Drake University. Brooks and husband Darryl Brooks co-founded Brooks Homes.

6th Avenue Corridor is a nonprofit group that is coordinating the commercial revitalization of Sixth Avenue in the River Bend and Cheatom Park neighborhoods.

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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