Plus, a replay from our Fearless Friday event on leadership
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Good morning and happy Monday! We’ve got a loaded newsletter today, so I’ll jump right into it.

Here’s what you’ll find in today’s edition:

Have a great week!

– Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

Fearless audience survey update
Thank you to everyone who took our annual women and gender issues survey! We had just under 200 people provide feedback specifically on the Fearless initiative and newsletter. In the spirit of transparency, I want to give a brief overview of the feedback we received and how we’ll use it moving forward.

One of our major goals with Fearless is to be inclusive, both within our content and in the connections we make with our audience. The survey results reinforce something we’ve known from the start: We have work to do when it comes to diversifying our audience. This is something that the team at the Business Record is actively working on every day.

You can play a role in this, too. If you enjoy Fearless, please forward the newsletter to a friend! You can also help us reach more people by sharing stories on social media or inviting friends and family members to attend our free Fearless Friday virtual events. Anyone and everyone is welcome.

Now to the survey.

On a scale of 1 to 10, more than 75% of survey respondents rated Fearless at a 7 or above for how well we’re doing in covering women’s issues.

Here are some of the themes that emerged:

  • When consuming content about issues that women face, readers said they look for honesty, vulnerability and hard data.
  • Respondents stated that they like to read stories about how women in positions of influence have used their power for good, and also enjoy hearing from women who have overcome challenges.
  • You enjoy reading pieces that give solutions to the issues presented.
  • You want us to introduce you to people who haven’t previously been highlighted in Business Record publications.
  • Survey respondents would like to see more content aimed at older women, but also want us to include more millennial voices.
  • Readers would like to experience a brief break from the heaviness of life by reading more uplifting stories.

Fearless is still young — we’re only 4 months old! — so you can certainly expect to see some tweaking here and there as we continue to grow. But our goal remains the same: to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life.

We will continue living out our mission by creating opportunities for connection and conversation through publishing guest opinion pieces, hosting interactive virtual events and amplifying stories because we know that the best ideas come from sharing experiences with each other. If you have a story or thought to share with the Fearless community, please reach out to me anytime.

We will continue presenting women’s issues as everyone’s issues through an intersectional and inclusive lens. 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.

We will continue producing our journalism through a solutions-oriented lens. We won’t present issues without providing perspectives on what can be done about them. Additionally, we won’t sugarcoat things. We understand that issues are complex and multifaceted, and we illustrate that through data and interviews.

We understand that you may not agree with everything we publish, and that is OK. Being uncomfortable is necessary for personal growth and understanding. We welcome diverse perspectives and healthy, civil disagreements as long as they are in line with our core values.

Analysis on the portion of the survey that focused on the status of women’s issues in the state can be found in print, here in the newsletter and on our website. This piece is more of a surface-level, broad overview of the major issues that survey respondents identified. In the coming weeks, though, we’ll be trickling out additional articles on individual survey topics, including child care, microaggressions, social issues in the workplace and family leave policies.

Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedules to interact with Fearless every week. My email is always open, so feel free to say hi, leave me a note, provide feedback or pitch a story at

For six years, the Business Record has published a survey dedicated to shining a light on issues that women face in Iowa, both at work and at home. While the survey is not scientific and different people respond every year, one thing has remained the same: Women are still not on equal footing with their male counterparts in many aspects of life, including pay, representation, treatment and responsibilities. While progress has been demonstrated in recent years through the #MeToo movement and the increase of diverse representation in political office, the pandemic has exacerbated these issues.

This analysis aims to provide a wide-angle view on some of the biggest issues that survey respondents identified. A selection of responses is included with open-ended questions. More topics, such as family leave policies, discrimination and the role of male allies, will be covered in-depth in future editions of the Fearless newsletter.

What do you consider to be some of the biggest advancements of women in the last year?

Analysis: If anything, 2020 was a historical year of extremes. On one end, women saw historic job losses. More than 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February 2020, causing the labor participation rate to decline to levels not seen since the 1980s. On the other end, women experienced historic firsts. Iowa’s congressional delegation became majority female for the first time. Delaware’s Sarah McBride became the nation’s first openly transgender state senator. Kim Ng became the first woman to be the general manager of a major league baseball team. Sydney Barber was named the first Black woman to serve as the U.S. Naval Academy brigade commander. And perhaps most significant was the election of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency. But advancements don’t always come in the form of firsts; sometimes they come in the form of awareness. While the pandemic and the economic fallout certainly affected women and people of color at higher rates, causing the exact opposite of advancement, it also shed light on already-existing issues.

"Seeing more females elected to public office was a win for women and our entire nation. But from an overall standpoint, this last year has been a setback for women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, 80% of the workers who have left the labor force are women. This is a substantial setback as women are leaving the workforce due to a lack of a support system and taking on more child care, household and online teaching responsibilities. Additionally, the industries most impacted by COVID, such as health care, hospitality, service, education and others, are female-dominated occupations, which further impacts women leaving the workforce."

"For decades women gracefully balanced professional lives with motherhood. In the last year, men and especially fathers who have been working from home have seen firsthand that it is not a graceful act. I think more than ever the intensity of being a working parent has been illuminated. Now that the other half has felt the pain, I think we are seeing massive changes in corporate policies that finally address the complexity of family and work."

"People are listening to Black women more, reading their books and taking them seriously. Though there is still a long way to go."

"I think we are making steps in the right direction to lift voices of women and start to address these longtime systemic issues by just bringing light to the fact that they exist. Movements like #MeToo have caused women to start to band together and realize that the way they have been treated wasn't JUST them. We're at the tip of the iceberg but starting to dig a little deeper into resolutions."

"We celebrated the first woman vice president and first woman to referee the Super Bowl, which represent great examples of advancement. But on a more local level, the pandemic has highlighted the fact that women are incredibly resourceful, which is an advancement in and of itself. Women have become quite accustomed to juggling the demands of career and family while battling gender norms. But of late, women have assumed additional responsibilities while in many cases receiving little support themselves: home schooling, responsibility for the mental health challenges created by the pandemic for themselves and those they love, caring for the physical and mental health of family and friends, and in many cases, caring for the health of small businesses in their communities. Over the last year, women have shown, whether driven by desire or circumstance, incredible adaptability and resilience."

In the past five years, have women made significant progress in obtaining a better balance of gender parity in politics?

Analysis: On the national stage, increases in female representation in politics have been attributed to backlash from the Anita Hill hearings in the 1990s and the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. Currently, women make up 26.5% of seats in the U.S. Congress. At the state level, women make up 28.7% of seats in the Iowa Legislature, down from a record high of 29.3% in 2019 and 2020. In a previous story, Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, said: "[Twenty-nine percent is] enough to be able to influence the agenda. But having said that … I would be happy if we could see that women were as represented amongst our elected officials as they are in the adult population. … Women are 52% of the voting-age population, so I think it would be great if we approached 52% amongst our elected officials."

How big an issue do you perceive access to affordable child care in Iowa to be?

Analysis: Access to affordable, quality child care was an issue before the pandemic hit. Nearly 25% of Iowa’s population lives in a child care desert, and on average it costs more for a child under 5 to attend full-time child care at a Department of Human Services-licensed center than it costs for in-state tuition at any of Iowa’s regent universities. To make matters worse, a report by the Center for American Progress last April estimated that 51% of the child care supply in Iowa could be lost as a result of the pandemic. Gov. Kim Reynolds, lawmakers and business leaders listed child care as a top priority in the 2021 legislative session.

Do you feel that you’ve been treated equally to your male co-workers?

Analysis: This question was also asked in the 2017 survey. That year, 65% of respondents said no.

"I'm asked to do additional work that is outside of my job description on a regular basis like making and fetching coffee for board meetings, filling in at reception and having to reach out to disgruntled citizens because the men don’t want to deal with it. Additionally, I have to deal with being called sweetie, not being taken seriously, and being constantly talked over and interrupted."

"I'm frequently treated much differently for being a tough woman than a man with the same behaviors or attitudes."

"I have had great managers at times who treated me fairly. However, I feel that ended when I became a mom."

"I was fortunate that at the time I came into the workforce, there was a real push to have women in leadership. And then I worked my butt off to continue to prove that I could be a leader. I was given some great opportunities by enlightened men."

Left: Make-A-Wish Iowa CEO Sara Kurovski. Center: Dr. Rachel Levine. Right: Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden CEO Kim Perez.
In the headlines
Bringing her full self to work: Munirah Khairuddin
As a young girl in Malaysia, Munirah Khairuddin wanted to see the world. And so she did, but during her journey, Munirah discovered that the person she’d become was the most important destination. Read more about how Munirah Khairuddin learned to bring her full self to work and why she traveled the globe only to return home again, READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
What is disabled motherhood like? (A Cup of Jo). Why women are still falling off the glass cliff (The New Way We Work podcast). These intimate photos show how moms coped with the long pandemic year (Buzzfeed News). Women’s March Madness is growing in popularity — and is undervalued (Wall Street Journal). How 3 women in Biden’s cabinet are going to boost the post-COVID recovery (Fortune). What demoralization does to teachers (Culture Study). Take more vacations and stop Friday Zoom calls, Citigroup boss tells employees (Fortune). Venus Williams: ‘Sexism isn’t a women’s issue any more than racism is a Black issue’ (Vogue UK). One Iowan's experience with an ectopic pregnancy (Married a Michelsen). Pregnant workers have fought for years for accommodations at work. They may finally get them (The 19th).
Did you miss the Fearless Friday event last week? Here's the replay:
A reflection after one year in the pandemic
Editor's note: The last two weeks I've asked for submissions about your pandemic experiences. It's never too late to share your thoughts! If you'd like to add your 2 cents, please email me at
I’ve felt really appreciative this last year. My heart has broken for those who had to deal with loss and make tough choices about school, day care, work, family, etc.

For me, I really enjoyed the "slowdown." It’s been great having an excuse to say NO. I also took the time to disconnect from all social media not related to career networking. Because I unplugged, it gave me an opportunity to spend focused time on work, and on family. Although my husband took on the primary home schooling responsibilities, I got to have lunch with my kids almost daily for close to five months. It’s time I will never get again with them (they are 6 and 8).

From a financial standpoint, we’ve also been incredibly fortunate. With the exception of two weeks of furlough for my husband, we have both remained employed full time and had the flexibility to work from home and in the office when necessary.  

For me, disconnecting from the junk allowed me to do my research and get involved in social issues, without the opinion of others swaying me. Because of this time, I’ve become more well versed in the understanding of Black Lives Matter, politics, health care, poverty and local nonprofits. I have been able to seek to understand at a higher level and support important causes without the distraction of the outside world.

2020 was also a great opportunity to spend time in nature with my family. With no sports or travel, the four of us spent our weekends geocaching, hiking and biking around our beautiful state. We are still very cautious with our COVID protocols and are looking forward to our last vaccinations being April 7.

Social justice is sparking litigation
I analyze human dramas that unfold across our 99 counties. I sue businesses, schools and individuals that discriminate on purpose, or on accident, for a living. My craft teases bias out of people and patterns of decisions.

An emerging trend I’ve identified as a litigator is a social justice spark in our communities leading to more cases. I profit from our collective weaknesses, but business leaders should do what they can to channel that spark into corporate social responsibility.

Looking past the current legislative climate, I see an Iowa more willing to self-reflect and accept accountability for the biases we all have. As much as they like to claim, it’s not a Democrat or liberal phenomenon. It’s a human phenomenon. The spark was ignited by national politics, but I see a sustained, low-burning flame of courage and a desire for a better future for our kids. That metaphorical heat is encouraging folks to speak up on behalf of others with respect to microaggressions, implicit bias, and the "isms" related to race, gender, etc. at school, at work and in public. Iowa will improve when business leaders, parents, neighbors, teachers, students, strangers and kids decide one by one to unlearn harmful narratives and stereotypes we all inherited.

Iowan Robert Roozeboom Dykstra wrote "Bright Radical Star," a book about our state’s historical accomplishments and capacity to be ahead of the social justice curve. I have faith and anticipate the low-burning flame will motivate enough of us to continue rejecting and healing from our inherited biases (an ill much more pervasive than COVID), which threaten to dampen our collective progress.

Sometimes I feel alone in sustaining this low-burning flame but am always humbled to see fellow Iowans doing the hard work of self-reflection and personal accountability to advance toward our bright radical future.

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