Plus, best business practices for Black History Month
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Good morning and happy Monday!

If you’re a longtime Fearless reader (or if you’ve been around long enough to remember our predecessor newsletter, Lift IOWA) you may recall that every spring we publish a survey on the status of gender equality in the state. Well, it’s that time of year again! Now through March 2, we’re collecting your thoughts, opinions and experiences about women’s and gender issues.

We’re also introducing a new survey into the fold this year focused on workplace benefits that are known to positively affect women’s participation and success.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts with us – the more participation, the better.

Also, don't forget we will be in the Quad Cities Friday afternoon for a casual meet-and-greet (more info at the bottom of the newsletter). Tell your friends, family and others. Anyone is welcome!

Have a great week!

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

We want your thoughts on the status of gender equality in Iowa
Illustration credit: Getty Images.
Progress on gender equality can often seem as though it’s moving at a snail’s pace. Significant gains have been made in recent years, but setbacks often accompany them. Case in point: Iowa is led by a female governor and the country is in part headed by a female vice president, but women continue to hold fewer than a third of seats in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. Women steadily occupy more and more positions at the highest levels of leadership each year, but women also have yet to return to pre-pandemic labor force participation levels.

At first glance, 2022 may not seem like a banner year for celebrating milestones in women’s equality. But this year marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which protects against sex-based discrimination at schools receiving federal funding, and is also the five-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, which empowered individuals to speak up about sexual misconduct they experienced.  

For seven years, the Business Record has published an annual survey dedicated to shining a light on women’s and gender issues. The results and trends differ every year (see previous coverage from 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016), but one thing remains the same: Women are still not on equal footing with their male counterparts in many aspects of life.

We encourage you to share your thoughts with us in this year’s survey. While nonscientific, we believe the results illustrate current opinions and experiences that women have across the state in and outside of work.

We recognize that women are not monoliths, and all of us have different opinions, which is why we strive to receive a wide variety of responses that reflect the diversity of thought in the state. We’d love it if you would send the survey to other people within your communities and networks, too.

Additionally, we’re launching a new survey this year about workplace benefits that are known to positively benefit women. If you are a decision-maker or work in HR at your company or organization, we’d love for you to share your thoughts with us in that one, too.

The surveys will remain open through Wednesday, March 2, at 11:59 p.m. Results and select comments will appear in future Business Record and Fearless coverage. There are multiple-choice questions and short-answer questions where you can leave comments when you feel it's appropriate. Please include your name and title if you wish your comments to be considered for publication.

Thank you for participating in this survey, and thank you for the role you play in empowering Iowa women.

- Emily Barske, Business Record editor, and Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

On Leadership: What not to do during Black History Month
When I mentioned to a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) professional that I was planning to write a column on Black History Month, she commented that if we are only approaching DEI work in regards to a specific month, "We aren’t embedding the work and it really won’t change our world's outcomes." I couldn't agree more. But that doesn’t mean we should miss the opportunity to intentionally honor the history and contributions of Black Americans during a special time each year.

For business leaders, Black History Month provides a powerful opportunity to connect with your employees and advance conversations around racial equity. Yet many business leaders are not sure of the best way to approach it.

I asked local DEI leaders to weigh in on some best practices to engage your team during Black History Month – and every month.

Study history. "Studying history is one of the best ways to understand systemic issues in the U.S," says Claudia Schabel, president and CEO of Schabel Solutions, who encourages leaders to embrace self-education, adding: "Conduct your research using only credible sources of information." As you learn, share that information with your team.

Be authentic and intentional. To be effective, how you recognize Black History Month should fit into your company’s strategy and your leadership style. Sanjita Pradhan, president and chief consultant at Sanjita Pradhan Consulting, advises, "Depending on your position of power and privilege, pick activities that work for you and align them to your comprehensive DEI plan."

Involve everyone. Black History Month is for everyone, not just your Black employees, so use the time to build awareness and foster meaningful dialogue. If you do tap Black individuals for training on this topic, remunerate them appropriately for that work.

Promote Black achievements. Sharon Perry Fantini, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Iowa State University, encourages leaders to lift up the contributions and accomplishments of the Black community, saying, "Consider starting a book club around Black literature, host a cultural celebration, or engage in ways that promote Black achievements."

Challenge yourself. Do not let your possible discomfort with conversations about race get in the way of highlighting important issues during black History Month and all year long. Says Marvin DeJear, senior vice president of talent development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, "Don’t get out of your comfort zone, expand it."

Commit to real change. "Understand that Department of Labor rules and human resources policies can only protect Black employees so much," says Reyma McCoy Hyten, CEO of Reyma McCoy Hyten SPB LLC. She asserts that committing to real systemic and cultural change is the simple solution to ensuring that the workplace can attain – and maintain – true inclusivity.
Left: Speedskater Erin Jackson. Center: Freddie Mac executive Heidi Mason. Right: Model Sofia Jirau.
In the headlines
  • U.S. speedskater Erin Jackson made history as the first Black woman to medal in speedskating at the Olympics when she took home gold in the 500 meters last week. You may also remember that Jackson slipped and fell during the U.S. Olympic Trials, putting her spot on the team in jeopardy – until her teammate and friend Brittany Bowe gave up her spot to ensure Jackson would go to the Olympics.
  • The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., better known as Freddie Mac, announced it has appointed Heidi Mason as executive vice president and general counsel. Freddie Mac is based in McLean, Va., but Mason said she will keep her permanent residence in Des Moines.
  • Victoria’s Secret signed Puerto Rican model Sofia Jirau as its newest model for its Love Cloud Collection, making Jirau the first model with Down syndrome to join the brand.
  • When Iowa native Kate Hoch realized that Afghan refugees didn’t have many toys – much less toys they could relate to – she decided to make culturally specific dolls for them, sewing the dolls’ traditional hijabs and khimars. Now living in Cape Cod, she still sends all of them back to Iowa, where her help is more needed.
  • The U.S.'s Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor became the first women ever to medal gold and silver, respectively at the inaugural Olympic monobob event.
  • The U.S. Senate approved bipartisan legislation banning the practice of using clauses in employment contracts that force survivors of sexual assault and harassment to pursue their cases in arbitration, which shields accused perpetrators. The bill gives individuals a choice between going to court or going to arbitration to resolve allegations in cases related to sexual harassment or assault.
  • An American patient with leukemia has become the first woman and the third person to date to be cured of HIV after receiving a stem cell transplant. The case is part of a study led by Dr. Yvonne Bryson of UCLA and Dr. Deborah Persuad of Johns Hopkins University.
  • A bill that would prohibit transgender girls from playing girls' sports at Iowa schools is moving quickly through the Legislature, having passed through House and Senate committees. Gov. Kim Reynolds pushed for the bill in the waning weeks of the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers did not pass a bill before adjourning, but Republican leaders said they intended to bring the issue back in 2022.
  • The Iowa Women’s Foundation is now accepting applications for its 2023 Core Grants through April 29. The organization is awarding six $25,000 grants to organizations tackling barriers to women’s economic self-sufficiency, which are identified as child care, education and training, employment, housing, mentors, and transportation.
  • Twelve Iowa women wealth advisers were featured recently among Forbes’ sixth annual Top Women Wealth Advisors on the Best-in-State list for Iowa. Deniz Franke, franchise owner of Franke Miller Group, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services in West Des Moines, received the No. 1 ranking for the Iowa list.
  • Iowa’s birthrate in 2021 picked up a bit, after dropping substantially in 2020. Preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health shows births in the state climbed more than 2% last year, to 36,793.
Worth checking out
Where do the Olympic Games stand in terms of gender equality? (The 19th). They quit their lives during the Great Resignation. Here’s how that’s going (Cosmopolitan). Home births became more popular during the pandemic. But many insurers still don’t cover them (Time). Series: Women of the Movement (ABC). Women (still) aren’t taken seriously by doctors – and it’s killing us (Salon). Meet 4 Black Iowa students fighting for racial justice in their schools, communities (Des Moines Register). How the pandemic is changing our bodies (Buzzfeed). Iowa milk bank seeks more donations amid U.S. shortage (Axios Des Moines). The benefits of having a female CFO (Fortune).
We're taking Fearless on the road!
Connection is one of Fearless' core values. We know there are many great people across the state who are working to empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life, which is why we're taking Fearless on the road this year, stopping in a few Iowa communities to meet you. While we already prioritize telling stories from all over Iowa, we want to do even more. We want to meet with you, learn about what matters most to you and find ways that Fearless can better serve you.
First stop: the Quad Cities
When: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 25
Where: Oh So Sweet by Tiphanie, at 314 Main St. in Davenport
What: Come say hi to Fearless Editor Emily Kestel and Business Record Editor Emily Barske while supporting a women-owned business! We'd love to meet you and learn about what you care about.

My fearless moment | Sarah Trone Garriott
What does it mean to take a risk? What’s a time you took a personal risk?
I took a personal risk by sharing a prayer written by a Muslim constituent in the Iowa Senate. I am aware of the animosity that many feel toward Islam due to harmful myths and lack of awareness. I could have played it safe and asked for a prayer from dozens of Christian colleagues. But I don't want to miss an opportunity to give voice to people who aren't often heard in those spaces. I got hate mail and mean comments on social media. It reminded me how important it is that the religious freedom of all Iowans is protected. 

This story is part of an ongoing series where we share stories of everyday fearlessness. We always welcome and encourage you to share your own story with us. Meanwhile, check out already-published stories on our website.
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