Plus, "I have not always been an advocate for women."
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Good morning and happy Monday! We’re continuing to trickle out responses from our annual women’s and gender survey. This week we’re looking at gender parity in leadership positions. We’re also running a column by Erik Dominguez, who was the recipient of this year’s Inspiring Women of Iowa Advocate award.

You may be wondering, "Emily, why the heck are you running a column by a man in a newsletter about women’s issues?" Short answer: When we include men’s perspectives, we do so in a way as to not diminish women’s voices, but to show the role men play in creating an equitable world for women. If you’d like to learn more about our policy,
I’d encourage you to check out the FAQ section of our website.  

One last thing: for an upcoming issue of Fearless, we’re sharing stories of successes and failures, be it in your professional life or personal life. If you have a story you’d like to share, please reach out my way! My email is

Have a great week!

Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

Survey: Companies must make gender parity in management positions a priority
Caption for the photo would go here if needed. Photo credit here.
Editor’s note: This article is a continuation of the Business Record’s 2021 women’s and gender survey results. We recognize that there are many opinions and ideas around this topic, but for the purpose of this story, we’ve only included ideas detailed in the survey responses. If you have your own ideas that you don’t see mentioned here and would like to submit a contributed piece, please reach out to

In our very first edition of Fearless last year, we examined the proportion of women in leadership positions in Iowa. 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% at the midlevel manager level.

That’s similar to national data. In 2020, women made up only 21% of C-suite positions and 38% of manager-level positions. For women of color, that rate was 3% and 12%, respectively.

The latest analysis of Fortune 100 and 500 companies found that corporate boardrooms continue to be predominately white and male. In 2020, women held just over 25% of seats on Fortune 500 company boards. To break that down further, 21% were held by white women, 1% were Hispanic women, 3.1% were Black women and 1.5% were Asian and Pacific Islander.

In our annual women’s survey earlier this year, we asked, "What actions need to be taken to achieve gender parity in leadership positions?"

We sent the 85 responses to Tiffany O’Donnell, CEO of Women Lead Change, and Monic Behnken, director of the leadership studies program at Iowa State University, and asked them to help provide context.

Left: Monic Behnken. Right: Tiffany O'Donnell.
Survey responses ran the gamut, but one thing was clear: Companies need to be intentional about making gender parity in management positions a priority.

"Make diversity, equity, inclusion and access a priority."

"Equity needs to be a purposeful part of talent searches."

"Create and enact purposeful policies and strategies from the hiring process to the review process. Just as importantly, recognize that change takes time and you simply need to start somewhere. People want transparency and the opportunity to participate in the conversation."

"Require a certain number of seats on a board to be designated for women."

"Aim for 51% females in the room every time a decision is made. There is no way to change the system to be more inclusive if we don't purposefully include more previously marginalized voices."

"If companies say they want more women in leadership, it has to be said from the top and they need to set goals," O’Donnell said.

When it comes to setting goals, Behnken said it’s important to get down to the why.

"When you’re asking yourself what the benefit of gender parity is, you have to be clear on what it is you actually want to be the result of that."

One way for companies to demonstrate that they’re serious about enacting change would be to simply acknowledge that there’s a disparity to begin with.

"Certainly some kind of forceful, concrete expression of, ‘We recognize that historically women have been excluded from these positions and we would like to do our part to reverse that,’ would be helpful," Behken said.

Once the goal has been set, holding yourself accountable is the next step.

"If gender parity is something that is valued by an organization, it needs to be expressed in writing and it needs to be a part of that brand," Behnken said.

Some survey responses encouraged companies to be open and transparent with their data.

"Report data to the general public so we know who is leading organizations."

"Tie CEO/executive pay and performance evaluation to successful achievement of DEI initiatives and gender parity in executive roles."

One of Behknen’s favorite responses was this: "Transparent salary policies. Internal audits within companies. Implicit bias trainings. Rewrite policies that are non-equitable or vague."

"This gets to the idea that it’s the barriers that are the problem, not the women. If you’re trying to make changes, you want to make changes that are policy-based and will last beyond whoever is in charge," Behnken said.

Keep in mind, though, that gender parity just for gender parity’s sake doesn’t help anyone.

"Do women really want to be picked for leadership positions, even partially because they're female? I don't. I want to know that I'm in my leadership position 100% because I had the skills and abilities to earn it."

"Gender should not be the first identifier of the person."

"I always say, nobody wants to be hired because of their gender," O’Donnell said.

"Gender parity for gender parity’s sake, I’m not sure who that’s helping other than optics," Behnken said. "Any time you enter the work of equity, you have to make sure you’re not doing it from a deficit-based mindset. Rather, you should do it from a strengths-based perspective."

Companies should also be focused on getting women back into the workforce.  

Perhaps more pressing than pushing for gender equity in leadership positions is the issue of simply getting women back into the workforce. The latest jobs report shows that there are still 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce than there were before the pandemic.

In the 2020 Women in the Workplace report by Lean In and McKinsey, one in three mothers considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19. Additionally, senior-level women are 1.5 times more likely to think about downshifting their role or leaving the workforce.

This is consequential for businesses for a plethora of reasons, the report stated. Company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top. Senior-level women are also more likely than senior-level men to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs and to champion racial and gender diversity, and they are more likely to mentor and sponsor other women.

O’Donnell believes that it’s imperative to be intentional about advancing women leaders.

"There’s potential for us to stall out," she said. "We’re going to have to communicate more than ever about what we want to do, where we want to go and what our goals are."

Beyond that, O’Donnell said, companies should continue to offer flexible work options if they want to encourage women to succeed.

I have not always been an advocate for women. Then I began listening.
On May 14, when I was recognized with the Inspiring Advocate for Women Award at the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa's Inspiring Women of Iowa event, I walked up to the stage with a thought I couldn’t ignore: I have not always been an advocate for women.

The realization that I have not always supported women first became apparent a few years ago when I recognized a common denominator in the pattern of a broken marriage and subsequently broken relationships: me. I woke up to the fact that I was responsible for creating havoc in my personal and professional life. That's when I began to get serious about my emotional awareness and growth.

Through therapy, coaching and emotional intelligence training, I realized that I was creating unsafe spaces for women and men alike. I blamed others for my shortcomings and used my privilege as a man to advance my agenda, ignorant to (or ignoring) the needs of the people around me.

So, I learned to do something different: I listened.

I listened to the intent behind what someone was saying. I stopped thinking about what I was going to say while the other person was speaking, selfishly trying to make the conversation about me. That opened up space for deep, vulnerable conversations. Conversations about battling depression, a new pregnancy, work overwhelm, an impending divorce and an upcoming vacation with family. Conversations that allowed me to see how I can genuinely support that person.

It was a turning point in not just my personal life but my professional one. As a speaking coach, I had always been effective in getting others to perform their message well. And this level of listening allowed me to guide them to confidently, powerfully and joyfully speak their story as their authentic selves.

As a man honored as an advocate of women, I feel a responsibility to call other men forward. We get to do the work and keep doing the work. We get to stop blaming others. We get to stop drinking and numbing. We get to stop hiding behind being male as an excuse for spilling our anger, pain, and fears all over the women (and men) around us.

And we get to enjoy the joy that comes from that deep emotional work. We get to be the advocates of our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. We get to be inspired by women, follow their lead, and support the change they are creating.

When I walked up to receive this award, I couldn't ignore that my nominators recognized something in me. They recognized the deep, messy, uncomfortable and often painful work it  took to become self-aware of my shortcomings, cultivate empathy and be an advocate in every conversation with every woman and man.

It turns out they were listening, too.

Erik Dominguez is the founder of Speak Up Stories, where he serves as a speaking coach. He is the 2021 recipient of the Inspiring Women of Iowa Advocate Award.

Left: Texas high school graduate Paxton Smith. Center: Duchess Meghan Markle. Right: Gov. Kim Reynolds.
In the headlines
  • Paxton Smith, the valedictorian at her Dallas, Texas high school, had planned to deliver her commencement about the news media. But when she got onstage she instead used the platform to address the new law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.
  • Meghan Markle and Prince Harry welcomed their daughter, Lilibet "Lili" Diana Mountbatten-Windsor June 4. The couple announced they will both take parental leave from their organization, Archewell.
  • Iowa schools, public universities and governmental agencies will not be allowed to teach certain concepts in their curriculum or diversity trainings under a law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Among the prohibited topics are the concepts that Iowa or the United States are "fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist," or that any individual is inherently or unconsciously racist or sexist due to that person’s race or gender.
  • Women Lead Change announced its 2021 class of the Elevate Leadership Program last Wednesday. The six month program runs from June to December and is designed to support current and emerging women leaders in gaining leadership insight, skills and experiences. The class of 27 women represent 18 companies throughout eastern Iowa. A list of the full class of participants can be found on Women Lead Change’s website.
  • Today in gender biases you didn’t know existed: Many drug trials on mice and rats are conducted only on males of the species. Researchers have claimed that the short reproductive cycles of female rodents could throw off the reliability of their findings, but according to a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, by skipping over females, researchers may be missing important information about how hormonal shifts could interact with our medicines.
  • The latest numbers from the May jobs report show that 56% of the 559,000 net jobs added went to women. For women overall, the unemployment rate in May was 5.6%. The rate continues to be highest for Black women at 8.2% and Latinas at 7.4% and lowest for White women at 4.8%. There are still 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce than there were at the start of the pandemic.
‘Protecting Hands, Wise Counselor’: Romonda D. Belcher
Romonda D. Belcher doesn’t know how she stumbled across her dream to become a judge — only that the calling came early. The path to becoming an attorney, much less a judge, is long, but Belcher never lost sight of the judiciary as her end goal. Belcher attributes her persistence to her faith.

"Being a judge is what I do, not who I am," she says. "Who I am on the inside — my values, how I treat people, my character, my compassion — makes me the judge I am. I don’t just put on a robe and put on certain qualities. Who I am is who I am." READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
Meet Forbes’ inaugural class of 50 women over 50 (Forbes). How the first sports bra got its stabilizing start (Smithsonian Magazine). The extraordinary life of Malala (Vogue). The women of UCLA brought joy back to gymnastics (Glamour). Are vets and pharmacists showing how to make careers work for moms? (New York Times Opinion). Barriers for Black women set US economy back by $500 billion, report finds (The 19th). How the world learns about bosses behaving badly (New York Times).
Join us June 25 at 8 a.m. for our monthly Fearless Friday event, where we’ll discuss the topic of advocacy and community involvement. Register for the free, virtual event on our website.
On Leadership: Communicating work changes in an ever-changing environment
As the pandemic ebbs, back to work plans are on everyone’s minds as leaders grapple with whether their teams should return to the office full time, stay remote or adopt hybrid approaches. While crafting our own plan at Business Publications Corp. (BPC), I’ve relentlessly quizzed friends and business leaders about what their organizations are doing and I’ve been surprised at how emotionally charged the answers have been. Read more.
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