Plus, meet the honorees of the Inspiring Women of Iowa awards
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Good morning and happy Monday! It’s been a busy, news-filled week, and this week’s edition of Fearless certainly reflects that.

Here’s what you’ll find in the newsletter:
  • If you took our women’s survey earlier this year, you may remember that we asked: "What must companies do to bring women back into the workforce?" In our lead story this week, we published responses.
  • The fifth annual Inspiring Women of Iowa awards were held earlier this month at a hybrid event. Read about the winners below.
  • Iowa Sen. Claire Celsi penned this week’s guest opinion piece. From her seat at the Statehouse, she talks about why the child care crisis exists in the state and what needs to be done to fix it.
  • Did you miss our Fearless Friday event last week? We’ve got the replay.
  • Our friends over at dsm magazine hosted their latest event in the Lifting the Veil series last week, where they talked about caring for your parents. We’ve got a replay of that, too.

Lastly: As a programming note, next week’s edition will be arriving in your inboxes on Tuesday, instead of Monday, due to Memorial Day.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or story ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out my way. I’m on Twitter, Instagram and my inbox is always open.

Have a great week!

– Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

Survey: Better flexibility, child care and family leave necessary for pandemic recovery
Fearless readers indicated that flexibility in work, in terms of where, when and how, is important to think about during the post-pandemic recovery. Image credit: Getty Images.
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’re only including 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  

At the start of 2020, women held the majority of American jobs for the first time in nearly a decade, thanks to job gains in service sectors. In Iowa, 832,100 women aged 16 and up held jobs in 2019, making up just under 50% of the state’s workforce.

Then March 2020 arrived. COVID-19 restrictions decimated hospitality, retail, government and care industries – all of which had majority or near-majority women making up the workforce. Many day care facilities and schools were forced to close their doors, leaving women to shoulder the responsibility of child care. Within a year, more than 2.3 million women nationally – 53,400 of them in Iowa – dropped out of the labor force.

Job losses have also disproportionately affected women of color. In February 2021, employment for Black and Hispanic women nationwide was 9.7% and 8.6% lower, respectively, than it was in February 2020, compared with 5% for white women.

Graphic by Lauren Burt.
In 2019, 832,100 women participated in the Iowa labor force. Of those women, more than 91% were white, 2.8% were Black and 5.6% were Hispanic. By the end of 2020, 53,400 women had dropped out of the Iowa labor force: 43,100 of them white, 3,700 Black and 7,900 Hispanic.
Graphic by Lauren Burt.
Women in the age groups of 16-19 and 45-54 saw the largest differences in Iowa workforce participation. In 2019, 42,700 women ages 16-19 were in the workforce; in 2020, it dropped 8,200, to 34,500. In the 45-54 age group, 163,500 women were in the workforce in 2019, dropping by 24,700, to 138,800, in 2020.

Now, as businesses and cities across the country and in Iowa are in the process of reopening, leaders in the private and public sectors have made one thing clear: The economy won’t fully recover unless women can fully participate.

Therein lies the million-dollar question: What needs to be done to ensure that the post-pandemic recovery is equitable for all, especially women?

We asked a similar question in our annual women’s survey earlier this year. About 130 people responded with different ideas, and we talked with Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, and Amanda Young, chief human resources officer at Bankers Trust, to help contextualize answers.

"Before [the pandemic], we had a workforce shortage and we had a child care shortage, and we truly believe they’re interrelated," Oliver Wiand said. "If we have a workforce shortage, we’re going to have to figure out how to get more women back in. And we can do that with family-friendly policies, quality, affordable child care, and work flexibility. It’s going to be essential if we want our businesses and our state to be able to recover and continue to grow."


More than 45% of our survey respondents mentioned that flexible work policies were a must.

  • "It is critical that companies offer flexibility in work schedules. This has a direct benefit to women, who tend to be the primary caretakers at home."
  • "As the pandemic lifts, enable as much flexibility as possible regarding where, when and how women work – as long as the work is getting done. Encourage businesses to form collaborations with other businesses to offer discounted day care to their employees."
  • "If you give women the flexibility to make their work match their life (vs. rearranging their life to manage their work,) you will not only have a better work product but a more loyal employee that feels empowered and appreciated."
  • "Women – and men – need flexibility. Companies need to value workers’ families as much as they value the bottom line. As a manager, I have found that if employees are content outside of work, they’re more productive and engaged at work."

Both Young and Oliver Wiand agree.

Young: "I think there has to be a concentration on flexible schedules and work arrangements and realizing that everybody has a different situation."

Oliver Wiand: "Flexibility not only gives the family different options, but it gives businesses and communities different options. You don’t have to do something just because that’s how it’s always been done."

Child care and family leave

Nearly 50% of survey responses discussed the need for better child care.

  • "Offering affordable child care is a necessity, along with quality family leave."
  • "Offer on-site child care or a child care subsidy."
  • "Extend maternity leave, provide paid leave when needing to take time off to care for dependents."
  • "No penalties for sick days due to child care issues."
  • "Allow more infants in the workplace."

"If we don’t get the child care situation fixed, women won’t be coming back to work," Oliver Wiand said matter-of-factly. "Child care is a core economic issue and an essential workforce support. Without it, there will be no economic recovery for Iowa’s families, businesses or communities."

Child care availability, affordability and quality has been a major issue in Iowa. Nearly a quarter of the state’s population lives in a child care desert, and on average, it costs more to send your kid to a child care facility than it does to pay tuition at any of Iowa’s regent universities.

The Iowa Women’s Foundation recently published a toolkit for Iowa businesses that details child care solutions, some of which include flexible spending accounts, subsidized child care, on-site child care and backup child care.

As for family leave, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t nationally mandate paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires workplaces with 50 or more people to offer 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to employees who have worked at that business for more than a year, and about 40% of workers aren’t covered. Furthermore, only 20% of private-sector workers had access to paid family leave through their employers in 2020.

Inspiring Women of Iowa awards presented
Finalists and honorees at the Inspiring Women of Iowa awards ceremony. Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa.
At an event held both virtually and in person at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, four Iowans were honored at the fifth annual Inspiring Women of Iowa ceremony May 14.

The event, which was organized by the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, honored women of courage, confidence and character, while also recognizing inspiring businesses for women and an inspiring advocate for women.

In her "Inspiration" speech, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa CEO Beth Shelton addressed the audience by saying there is still a need to call out inequality and ensure that barriers and discrimination don’t hold people back.

"We are here to celebrate you, and we are also here to advance equality, inclusion, justice and empowerment. … Being female is not the part of the ecosystem that is broken.  

"To the female engineer in the room, whom it is expected that you take the team notes because you’re the lone female: We see you. To the executive attending a conference who does not have access to a private space for nursing or pumping: We see you. To the caregivers who have sacrificed your own health and well-being: We see you. To the 3.4 million women who have left the workforce in the past year because of the raging pandemic: We see you."

The first award of the day went to companies honored with the Inspiring Business for Women designation.

To be eligible, companies and organizations must show support for women’s equality and advancement in the workplace, be it through policies like maternity/family leave and family-friendly practices, having women in leadership roles, organizing special women’s initiatives or ensuring equal pay and equal opportunities for women.

Companies honored were BH Cos., Breathe Physical Therapy & Wellness, DHI Group, Golden Openings, Kading Properties, NCMIC and Roth Cox Search Group.

Finalists for the Inspiring Advocate for Women Award were Jen Carruthers, owner/executive producer of 11 Eleven Productions; Erik Dominguez, owner and public speaking trainer at Speak Up Stories; Erica Douglas, founder of She Plays; and Lydia Wolken, rural sexual abuse advocate at ACCESS.

Dominguez won the award for his work in lifting others, "especially people of color and women, through knowledge, support, empathy and unwavering leadership."

"I want to acknowledge that I’m a man winning this award and that I haven’t always been an inspiring advocate for women and my bias, privilege and ego oftentimes prevented me from lifting women up," Dominguez said in his acceptance speech.

He also urged his fellow male counterparts to work on "safer spaces for everyone."

Finalists for the Courage Award were Chelsea Krause, software and control business lead for Iowa and Minnesota at Rockwell Automation and trainer at Burn Boot Camps in Ankeny and Clive; Sheryl Moore, president and CEO of Wink Inc.; Krista Tedrow, executive director of the South Central Iowa Workforce Board; and Karla Walsh, freelance writer.

Tedrow was given the award for "showing courage her entire life, residing in the foster care system until the age of 9, defying the odds and overcoming barriers."

In her speech, with her young daughter at the hip, Tedrow talked about how it can be hard to see yourself as courageous.

"I don’t know if I would necessarily consider myself the most courageous person, but I do know that I’ve drawn courage not only from God, but from people in moments I needed it the most," she said.

Finalists for the Confidence Award were Katherine Harrington, president and CEO of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce; Manisha Paudel, chief equity officer for the city of Des Moines; Amy Strutt, business initiatives consultant at Wells Fargo and city councilwoman in Dallas Center; and Olivia Samples, holistic doula at Kismet Doula Services and training coordinator at the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change.

Paudel was given the award for "focusing her efforts on creating a just, equitable society for all."

In her speech, Paudel gave a shoutout to her family, who had traveled to Des Moines from Nepal, and also made a point to uplift other honorees.

"The world cannot be equitable or just by just one person doing the work. It requires all of us," she said.

The final award of the day, the Character Award, was given to Tricia Rivas, owner of Trixies Salon and Spa, for "her salon’s record of giving back to the community" and for leaving others who interact with her "walking away feeling uplifted and empowered."

Rivas’ speech was filled with appreciation for her family and friends. "So many of you that are sitting in this room support me day in and day out," she said. "You love me and you call me out on my crap when I need it."

Other Character Award finalists were Nora Crosthwaite, founder and CEO of Stagerie and real estate agent at Home Sweet Des Moines; Erin Huiatt, owner of Des Moines Parent and president of FemCity Des Moines; and Molly Lopez, co-founder of Daniel L. Lopez Ministries, senior consultant at Baton Global and strategic adviser at Bloch & Reed Association Advisors.

A replay of the event can be found at the Inspiring Women of Iowa website.

Iowa’s long-brewing child care crisis
It’s no secret that despite progress in equalizing gender-based child care roles, women are still primarily responsible for locating and facilitating child care arrangements for their children. When those arrangements fell apart during the pandemic, women were more likely to stay home with kids who were suddenly remote learning or without a reliable child care center.

According to legislative leaders and the business community, child care was the No. 1 priority of the House and Senate and the governor. Unfortunately, most of the legislation either didn’t make it through the funnel deadline or was caught up in a budget battle.  

The recession caused by the COVID-19 crisis affected female employment levels much more seriously than male employment. The industries most affected by the pandemic also happen to be those that are more female-dominated – travel, hospitality and food service.

Iowa parents have long struggled to find affordable, quality child care. There are multiple structural problems persisting in our state that are making the problems worse.

  • Availability of child care workforce: Child care workers don’t stay in the field very long. Low wages and lack of benefits such as health care insurance entice many child care workers to take better jobs at higher wages. Iowa should fund more training and encourage providers to register – while creating more professional jobs in the field.
  • Quality of child care: Iowa has very lenient laws and there are many unregistered child care homes. Not being registered is highly associated with lack of training in CPR, not providing balanced meals and not providing age-appropriate activities. Parents looking for quality care in Iowa are sometimes forced to settle for inadequate care just so they can work.
  • Affordability: Child care of any kind is very expensive. Many parents cannot afford quality child care because they simply don’t earn enough money.
  • Iowa’s child care laws and policies are behind the curve, leaving many low-income women out of contention for child care subsidies. Iowa needs to fund child care for many more people, from the poverty line all the way up to 250% of poverty with no "cliff effect" (people losing all subsidies due to increasing income).
  • The pandemic was a double whammy for child care. It shrunk demand for child care and also shut down many child care providers who lost their paying customers. Despite the fact that businesses are reopening and adults are going back to work, many child care slots are not coming back at the same pace.

Business leaders recognized that there was a child care crisis before the pandemic and named it as the No. 1 priority of this legislative session. What is causing the lack of momentum? There are a number of factors.

Left: Former Dubuque police Capt. Abby Simon. Center: U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jewel Bronaugh. Right: Singer Demi Lovato.
In the headlines
Leading by Example: Andilla Arantika
"My story is less about me being fearless and more about my mother and sister. I’m always looking up to them."
-Adilla Arantika, business innovation manager, Asia, at Principal®

Adilla Arantika’s family has been her rock throughout her life. They’ve taught her life lessons, like doing the right thing, particularly when nobody is watching. They’ve given her inspiration, like when Adilla’s mother carried the family after Adilla’s father’s untimely death. Now as a leader at Principal, Adilla embodies these values on a daily basis, finding success at work and giving back to others from a similar background. READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
Women in health care are at a breaking point — and they’re leaving (The 19th). The pandemic created a child care crisis. Mothers bore the burden (New York Times). Only some parents can use campaign funds for child care when running for office. Here’s why (The 19th). Women won't achieve gender equality for their kids until they stop doing all the housework (NBC News Think). In Gaza, parenting under fire (Washington Post). How a new coalition of 200 businesses could transform working parenthood (Fortune). Iowa may soon see fewer births than deaths (Des Moines Register).
Did you miss our Fearless Friday event last week (or simply want to watch it again)? Catch a replay below.
Nontraditional student graduates right on time
Editor’s note: This was originally written as a LinkedIn post on May 8.

I graduate today with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. At age 27. Most responses to this are positively dismissive --  "oh, you’re so young," "you still have all the time in the world," "that’s not that old." I believe these comments are meant to be encouraging, and they certainly aren’t incorrect. But I don’t want my age to be dismissed. I want my age to be a conversation.

Going back to school at 25 was one of the greatest things I could have ever done. Starting again meant that I had a few years of school under my belt, but more importantly I had more years of life. I forgot how to use Excel, but I had learned how to advocate for my educational needs. In the beginning I couldn’t remember how to properly cite a source, but I gained the confidence to ask how. Some people came into college with these life skills. But that alone is such a testament to how the journey of learning, in any capacity, is never the same for any one individual.

Life is rarely linear -- let’s celebrate, encourage and cultivate that.

Melissa Hall is a recent graduate of Iowa State University.

Watch a replay of the latest Lifting the Veil event
Over the last year, many adult children have been caring for elderly parents from afar due to COVID-19 distancing guidelines. This separation, as well as heightened concern for the elderly parent’s health, has created mental health challenges for all family members. Watch a replay of the Lifting the Veil: Life Transformed – Caring for Your Parents event, where panelists talked about what you can do to take care of your own mental health if you are caring for your parents.
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