Plus, 10 leadership lessons for 2022
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Good morning and happy Monday!

Now that the Legislature has gaveled into session, we take a look at women’s issues on the docket. Of course, every issue is a women’s issue and we all have different interests, but for the sake of brevity, we narrowed it down to seven issues: education, workforce, child care, abortion access, sexual assault and domestic violence, LGBTQ rights, and health care. While not comprehensive, we think it still provides a good primer on what to expect from the Statehouse this year.

We also have a column from Suzanna de Baca, Business Publications Corp. president and group publisher, on what lessons business leaders should live by this year.

Lastly, our news section is also quite long today. Women have made strides in areas of representation, leadership and work. My favorite story this week comes from the Olympic speed skating qualifying event, where friendship prevailed.

All that and more below. Have a great week!

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

What women’s issues will the Iowa Legislature address this year?
The Iowa Capitol Building is reflected in the neighboring Wallace State Office Building windows. Photo by Emily Kestel.
Now that the latter half of the 89th Iowa General Assembly has officially been called into session, let’s take a look at what’s on the docket in the realm of women’s and gender issues.

To preface, it’s worth mentioning that every issue is a women’s issue. Women are not monoliths, and interests and what’s at stake differ for everyone. But for these purposes, we’ve selected a few key issues that are considered by many to be issues that disproportionately affect women and gender-nonconforming individuals.

This year’s legislative session is the second and last year of the 89th General Assembly, which means it’s an election year. That means both parties will likely be pushing contentious policies in order to gain party support.

Tackling the workforce and labor shortage is something that leaders have indicated will be a priority, though approaches differ between parties.

Background: In November 2021, Iowa’s unemployment rate was 3.7% with a labor force participation rate of 66.8%. Pre-pandemic, those rates were 2.8% and more than 70%, respectively.

In their opening remarks to the legislative session last Monday, both Republican and Democratic leaders emphasized the need to address the state’s workforce issues.

"Workforce is going to be the biggest push this year," House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst told the Business Record ahead of the session. She added that workforce issues should be holistic and encompass other topics including education, affordable housing and child care.

"I do think that this workforce crisis is one that people are trying to address with a precision target when they need to see the big picture that workforce isn’t just one thing and it won’t be fixed with that one thing," Konfrst said.

In her Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed major changes to the state’s unemployment system, shortening the limit to collect unemployment benefits to 16 weeks, and requiring unemployed Iowans to accept offers from "suitable" jobs. That’s on top of new unemployment rules that require claimants to do more to get jobs in order to get weekly payments that took effect last week.

Republicans have indicated that lowering income taxes is a high priority, arguing that it makes Iowa more competitive. Reynolds proposed a 4% flat income tax for all Iowans, phased in over three years.

In the realm of vaccine and mask mandates for businesses, House Speaker Pat Grassley said on Jan. 10 that Iowa needs to "hold the line" against the Biden administration’s COVID mitigation policies, saying that they infringe on Iowans’ freedoms. Additionally, two Republican lawmakers released a proposal that would prohibit businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated or wear masks.

Konfrst said she hopes the Legislature will address paid family leave, though she admitted it’s very difficult to address at the state level. Currently, 10 states have enacted paid family and medical leave policies.

Many Iowa business leaders have warned that certain bills that have circulated through the Legislature in recent years may be damaging Iowa’s efforts to retain and recruit top talent. Examples of those bills include those that would require transgender people to use restrooms of their assigned sex at birth and those that would ban tenure at the state’s regent universities.

In a Business Record panel on Jan. 11, Iowa Business Council Executive Director Joe Murphy said bills that don’t make Iowa an inclusive place are unhelpful to recruiting and retaining Iowa’s workforce.

"We need to make Iowa a welcoming and inclusive place for all," Murphy said.

Education is a hot-button topic likely to receive a lot of attention this session.

Background: If nothing else, the pandemic has shined a spotlight on education. Children’s lives have been upended nationally in terms of mental health, behavior problems, and reading and math levels. K-12 schools are currently facing severe staffing shortages. Additionally, talks of greater parental control in K-12 education are currently dominating headlines.

As reported in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, education has been a flash point in Iowa politics, sparking debates on mask wearing, book banning and charter schooling. Republicans have said there’s a need to give parents more choices and control in their children’s education.

Senate Majority Whip Amy Sinclair said creating a "parents’ bill of rights" would be a top priority for Republicans this session. Senate President Jake Chapman has said that teachers who give "obscene" material to students should be criminally prosecuted, and that he was drafting legislation that would make it a felony to do so.

Reynolds in her Condition of the State address touted "full transparency" for parents to know what their children are learning about. Under her proposed bill, schools would be required to post a list of required readings and books available in their libraries.

Lawmakers from both parties have also indicated that they’re focused on teacher and staff retention. Reynolds last week announced a plan to pay teachers a $1,000 retention bonus for continuing to teach through the pandemic, but Konfrst said on Iowa PBS that it’s not enough.

"I think it’s great that the governor wants to give $1,000 to teachers who stayed in place. That’s wonderful," Konfrst said. "I’m not not sure that a $1,000 bonus is going to make them feel better or more welcome in the state when they’re already exhausted and weary from pandemic teaching and being demonized at the Capitol."
Also likely to come up this session is the "voucher bill," which allows for public money to be used for private schools. H.S.B. 243 calls for students attending one of 34 low-performing public schools to get a scholarship of more than $5,000 to attend another school — religious, private, charter or home-school – but did not pass last year.
10 leadership lessons for 2022
One of the most frequently used phrases I heard from business leaders and friends last year was something along the lines of: "When things get back to normal." While some days I also feel nostalgic for pre-pandemic routines, it is clear that there is no going back to the old ways of doing business. In 2022, change is the new normal.

It’s hard enough to accept that the coronavirus variants and general disruption will continue, but how does that affect your business strategy? How do you lead your organization through continued change? Drawing on themes that have emerged at our company’s panels and events, conversations with other business leaders, and research, I offer this list of business requisites as food for thought as you look to navigate the year ahead.

1. Change is the new normal. Regardless of the fact that many humans seem to dislike uncertainty and crave stasis, business interruption and disruption continued throughout 2021 and are likely to be the horizon for the foreseeable future in 2022. Between supply chain issues, staffing shortages, hybrid work arrangements, inflationary pressures and cultural shifts, business leaders will find that change is constant. My advice: Get comfortable with it.

2. Remote work is here to stay. Even over the last few months, many leaders were talking about the day their teams would come back to the office. But as my dad used to say: "That horse has left the barn." Depending on the job, employees will increasingly work when, how and where they want. Are you ready to help your cultures evolve to offer choice and flexibility in work arrangements?

3. Online meetings are a work in progress. Whether your team is remote, in the office or on the move, meetings are increasingly online. If your workplace is like ours, the satisfaction levels with video, audio and lighting quality on Zoom or Teams calls have varied – some days are smooth and other days we spend the first 10 minutes trying to get the technology to work. Expect to invest in or adapt to evolving technology. The days of "You’re on mute" or "We can’t see you" are not over. Take a deep breath.

4. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are front and center. If you don’t know what DEI or some version of that abbreviation is, it’s time to get with the program. Creating and advancing inclusive cultures and communities for every single person in your workforce (Every. Single. Person.) will be table stakes for any organization that wants to recruit or retain employees. Will you open your mind and embrace the opportunity DEI presents?

5. Create contingency plans for everything. In an age of constant disruption, smart businesses should have proactive playbooks with plans for every possible scenario. In addition to the pre-pandemic standard-fare disaster recovery topics such as weather and natural disasters, power outages, active shooters, workplace violence, and data breaches, remember to add or amp up your planning for new virus variants, cybersecurity attacks, public unrest and protests, investor activism, supply chain shutdown, and unbridled inflation (with a subchapter on derechos). Better to have a plan for something that seems far-fetched than to be caught off guard.

Left: Brittany Bowe. Center: Rachel Balkovec. Right: Timothy LeDuc.
In the headlines
  • Here’s a feel-good story that we could all use: After speedskater Erin Jackson, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, slipped in the 500-meter qualifying race, she missed the cut for making the Olympic team. That’s when her friend and teammate Brittany Bowe, who had already qualified for the team in other events, stepped in, giving Jackson her spot.
  • After years as a professional baseball coach, Rachel Balkovec has been hired as manager of the Low A Tampa Tarpons, a New York Yankees-affiliated team. Her promotion makes her the first woman to manage a team affiliated with Major League Baseball.
  • Cedar Rapids native Timothy LeDuc will be going to the Winter Olympics and will be the first openly nonbinary Winter Olympian to do so. "It's really exciting but I hope that the narrative does not center around me, and my journey, and my accomplishments, but that the narrative switches to queer people having the opportunity to be open, and be authentic to themselves, and everything that makes them unique — and still achieve in sport," LeDuc said. "So often queer people have to adjust themselves and sacrifice authenticity to achieve success."
  • Despite the non-televised Golden Globes ceremony this year, history was made when Mj Rodriguez took home the award for best television actress in a drama series, making her the first trans woman to win a Golden Globe.
  • Astronomers have worked for several years to reduce gender bias in the acceptance of research proposals for use of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. In 2014, one scientist found that proposals led by women had a lower acceptance rate than those led by men. With help from a consultant, he and his colleagues eventually developed a blind review process, and as a result, for the first time ever, the gender difference flipped.
  • The 12 women who will appear on the 2022 Women Impacting ISU calendar have been announced and will be recognized at the calendar unveiling ceremony on Jan. 25. See the honorees at the Business Record website.
  • Black American journalist, suffragist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells will have her likeness transformed into a Barbie doll as part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women series.
  • A recent study found that both male and female patients experienced better health outcomes with women surgeons. Furthermore, data showed women whose operations were performed by a male surgeon had a 32% higher risk of death post-surgery than those who were operated on by a woman.
  • For the first time since the start of the pandemic, growth in labor force participation among women ages 25 to 54 has eclipsed that of men. According to the latest jobs report, the share of women in their prime working years who are either employed or looking for work rose in December to 75.9%. For men ages 25 to 54, it’s down 1.2 percentage points from February 2020 after having dropped in December to 88%. The overall labor force participation rate held at 61.9%.
Worth checking out
First Black woman to referee Big Ten football also has full-time job in financial services (Cedar Rapids Gazette). Growing body of research points to reproductive health problems for female firefighters (Grist). Annual reviews can be fraught for women. Here are tips to help you prep (The Lily). How men burn out (New York Times Opinion). 4 NPR hosts quit in the last year, 3 were women of color. What’s going on and what should NPR leadership do? (NPR). Girl power gets sober (The Cut).
Catch up on child care headlines
Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the annual Condition of the State address, where she set her policy priorities. Many of them dealt with child care and were featured in the Child Care Task Force recommendations. Here’s what has happened at the Statehouse on the topic, as of Thursday afternoon:

Keeping up to date on what the Legislature is up to doesn't have to be hard. Here is a list of resources to have on hand.

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