Gender equity survey results, Poetry Palooza, SHE
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APRIL 17, 2023
Good morning! Here’s what we’ve got on deck in this week’s newsletter:

All that and more below!

Have a great week.

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

P.S.: There's still time to submit questions for our Fearless Focus event. We'll be talking with Iowa Women's Hall of Fame honorees about leadership. If you have something you'd like us to ask next week, send me an email!

Five takeaways from this year’s survey on status of gender equity
Graphic by Kate Meyer.
There may never be a definitive answer to what gender equity truly looks like in practice.

Countless factors are at play when discussing women’s equality: equal pay, representation in leadership positions and political office, an ability to safely and affordably raise a child – or the ability to choose not to – freedom from gender-based violence, being seen as equal under the law. The list goes on.

What we do know is that women in Iowa have yet to experience equity with their male counterparts in many aspects of life.

Since 2016, the Business Record has published a survey dedicated to highlighting issues that women face in Iowa, both at work and at home. While not scientific, we believe the results illustrate current opinions and experiences of a variety of people across the state.

In this year’s survey, we asked respondents to rank how close they perceive women are to achieving full equality with men on a scale of 0 to 100. The average number was 53.

The following are takeaways of some of the biggest issues that respondents identified, including child care, pay equity, representation of women in leadership and political positions, and treatment at work.

  1. Unrealistic expectations continue to be placed on women. Historically, women have been the default primary caregivers of their family, while their partners – most often men – would be the ones bringing home the bacon. Nowadays, women are expected to "do it all," by having a successful career on top of running a functional and happy household. These pressures are deeply affecting women’s mental health and quality of life.
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to remove the constitutional right to an abortion is a threat to women’s advancement. Nearly 80% of survey respondents said that the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will have a negative effect on women’s advancement and role in society.
  3. Pay inequity is still a big issue for Iowa women. Many responses did not solely focus on the gender wage gap, but instead discussed the difference in pay for female-dominated roles and male-dominated roles.
  4. Parents should get three or more months of paid leave for a new child. Though the strategies of how to go about paid family leave differed, in response to a a question that asked how many weeks of paid family leave parents should be entitled to, the most common answer for both the birthing and nonbirthing parent was 12 weeks. Nearly 20% of the 84 respondents said the birthing parent should get 20 or more weeks.
  5. Access to affordable child care is a barrier to women’s advancement and success in the workplace. More than 80% of respondents said access to child care is a major issue in the state. While there’s no silver bullet solution to addressing the child care crisis, several respondents mentioned that help should come from both private employers and the government.
Poetry Palooza unleashes Iowa womens’ talents and voices
More than 1,000 Iowans from across the state gathered in Des Moines April 6-8 for three days of poetry readings and workshops at a new event called Poetry Palooza. I talked to Diane Glass, one of the organizers, about this event, how poetry and writing can help women develop confidence and find their own voices, and her own journey as an executive, writer and teacher.

Glass’ career started in journalism, including many years as vice president of marketing at the Des Moines Register. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, she co-founded Tending Your Inner Garden retreats and publications, and went on to publish a memoir called "This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience." The Poetry Palooza is just one example of how she continues to be a champion and advocate for women’s creative and spiritual development.

How did Poetry Palooza come about?
Poetry Palooza was a dream of several women in Des Moines who remembered the Des Moines National Poetry Festival that ended in 2004 due to lack of funding. It ran for 15 successful years. Our organization, Poetry &, started as a desire to take poetry out into the community, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Many people remember poetry from high school as being complicated, boring or hard to understand. Why the focus on poetry now?
People may recall the poetry of their youth with mixed emotions. Memorizing poems with structures and rhyme, not relatable to their own experience. Today’s poetry is free form, edgy, reflective of modern issues and personal dilemmas. Poetry is sometimes done as a performance. Slam poetry exudes emotion, expressing angst about either personal or world issues.

Poetry Palooza aims to encourage all people to recognize they are creators, whether through words, art, music or their everyday actions. We think writing is for others; we think I don’t have anything to say or I am not good enough. Even successful writers feel that way as they stare at a blank page. Will I still find my voice? The difference between writers and the rest of us is that they write anyway. I hope the Palooza inspired attendees to express themselves.

Who are some women poets that you love – from Iowa and beyond?
Many people love Mary Oliver but so many other wonderful women poets are out there to discover. I like Ada Limon, our current U.S. poet laureate. In Iowa, some of our phenomenal women poets include Deb Marquart, Akwi Nji, Kelli Lage, Jennifer L. Knox, Leah Huizar, Michaela Mullin, Staci Harper Bennett, Dawn Terpstra, Blueberry Morningsnow, Shannon Vesely, Kelsey Bigelow, Mary Swander, Shelly Reed Thieman, Pat Underwood, Marilyn Baszcynski, Donika Kelly, Lisa K. Roberts, Laura Johnson.

What role does poetry play in helping women develop their voices or confidence?
I encourage women to write to gain self-understanding and confidence. When I put words down on a paper, those words invite me to say more. To go deeper. To be brave. No one needs to read these early drafts. They are for you only, to discover what you yearn to say. Most of us gravitate to writing about childhood and how it shaped us. We unravel difficult emotions. We tackle our disappointments and our grievances. We express gratitude, our bewilderment. We explore our dreams. In doing so, we discover wisdom, insight, humor and compassion. Writing is not about getting even or making your case, it’s about offering to the world what you have learned by living on this planet.

How have you overcome fear or obstacles in your career?
My various career transitions came about by moving ahead despite fear. Curiosity befriended me. What would it be like to …? The desire for change and for adventure exceeds my fear of failure. Don’t worry about outcomes, I tell myself. You can’t control the future, but you can shape it to your liking. I have learned not to value so highly "being good at it." You can’t grow if you only do what you know how to do. A blank page and a pen represent an even playing field. Anyone can fill it. A blank page and a pen resemble our lives. What do we want that page to look like? What do we desire to leave behind?

What advice do you have for women trying to gain confidence as leaders?
Leadership arises out of service. First we serve, we create. Then we earn a place in the field we’ve chosen, a seat at the table. Leadership that is an end in itself rarely is sustainable. Many of the poets I’ve met while organizing Poetry Palooza have written since high school. I admire that. I am new to poetry and never envisioned being a leader. Whatever leadership I offer now is in creating an audience for these marvelous individuals. Iowa is rich in poetry and poets. I am passionate about widening their exposure.

For more information or to help with Poetry Palooza next year, feel free to contact Diane Glass at or Pat Boddy at

Left: Astronaut Peggy Whitson. Center: Business owner Trivia Rivas. Right: LGBTQ activist Sharon Malheiro.
In the headlines
Astronaut and Iowan Peggy Whitson is returning to outer space next month, where she’ll command private firm Axiom Space’s Axiom Mission 2. The voyage will make her the first woman to command a private space mission.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Iowa District Office has announced the winners of its 2023 Iowa Small Business Champion of the Year awards. Tricia Rivas, owner of Trixies Salon & Spa in Des Moines, is the Iowa SBA Women in Business Champion of the Year for 2023.

Longtime LGBTQ civil rights leader Sharon Malheiro has died at age 67. She co-founded the One Iowa organization and helped the state become the third in the country to legalize same-sex marriages. She was honored by our sister publication, dsm magazine, as an LGBTQ Legacy Leader in 2019.

Actress Laura Benanti shared on Instagram that she performed a concert for 2,000 people on a cruise ship while being in the middle of having a miscarriage. "I share all of this, not to garner sympathy or attention, but to remind the many people and families who have and will suffer in this way that there is no shame in this kind of loss," she said.

Women are more likely to get turned down when they ask for more money in a job interview, according to a recent Pew study. About 58% of men and 61% of women surveyed said they didn’t ask for higher pay when they were last hired, but for those who did, women were more likely than men – 38% to 31% – to say they were only given the initial offer. Women as a group take home about 83 cents for every $1 a white man earns.

A recent Harris Poll found that 42% of working mothers surveyed were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression in 2022, compared with 28% of the general population and 25% of their co-workers without kids.

Des Moines Girl and RipRoarEvents are teaming up to host the Des Moines Girl 5K race on May 6 at Jasper Winery. The event is part of the Des Moines Women’s Half Marathon racing weekend, which features a 5K, 10K, half marathon and team relay. The 5K event will feature a variety of activities including a "braid bar," yoga and an outdoor spin class, all of which will be led by Des Moines women-owned businesses.

Worth checking out
More workers take parental leave as states, employers expand eligibility (Wall Street Journal). Women account for two-thirds of US student loan debt. Here's how it affects them (USA Today). Even when women make more than their husbands, they are doing more child care and housework (The 19th).
10 stories of leadership, perseverance and authenticity
In anticipation of Ballet Des Moines’ production of "SHE," a triple bill exploring themes of identity, self-expression and belonging created by three leading female choreographers, the organization has partnered with Fearless to shine a spotlight on 10 Central Iowa women.

Exploring the topic of female leadership, the interview and portrait series sheds light not just on the successes of these incredible women, but the compromises, fears and ongoing pressures they have faced and continue to face in pursuing their passions.

"SHE" is part of Ballet Des Moines’ 22-23 Belonging season and runs April 27-30 at the Stoner Theater.
More information and tickets can be found at the Ballet Des Moines website.
Join us April 27 for a Fearless Focus event
The barriers that women face in ascending to formal leadership positions, or even just being a leader in their everyday lives, are plentiful. Everyone’s journey is different, however. In this conversation with Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame honorees, we’ll talk about their experiences in leadership, how they got to where they are and what support systems have helped them the most. Come ready to be inspired and learn tips you can apply to your own career or community involvement.

Featured panelists:
  • Dianne Bystrom, director emerita, Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University
  • Christine Hensley, retired Des Moines City Council member
  • Mary O'Keefe, retired chief marketing officer, Principal Financial Group; owner, A&E Balm Co.
  • Mary Swander, artistic director, Swander Woman Productions; executive director, AgArts
  • Dr. Deborah Turner, Board member, League of Women Voters

Join us for this free virtual Fearless Focus event on Thursday, April 27, at noon.

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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