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MAY 8, 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

‘The power of women is phenomenal’
Takeaways from our Fearless Focus conversation on leadership
From left: Dianne Bystrom, Christine Hensley, Mary O'Keefe, Mary Swander, Deborah Turner.
For our first Fearless Focus event of the year, the Business Record talked with five Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame honorees about their experiences in leadership, the successes they’ve had and the barriers they’ve faced.

Panelists were:
  • 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 president, League of Women Voters; retired gynecologic oncologist.

Below are a few takeaways and words of wisdom from the conversation. You can watch a full replay of the event on the Fearless website.

Embrace your power and influence

Turner: I think one of the biggest barriers to women is that we don’t embrace the power that we have. The power of women is phenomenal. We influence things every day. Every leader in this country at some point is influenced by women. … Power is not a bad thing. We should look at power as power to do things, not power over other people. It’s the power of getting things done, not the power of suppressing other people.

Bystrom: Men often seek office for political power, personal power. Women don’t like that term. We often talk about power as being change and being a change agent and having that power to change your community, because that resonates with women. There’s a long line of research that women are more consensus builders than men.

Hensley: I will be the first to admit, my first term on the City Council, I was overwhelmed. I made some mistakes, and I decided that when I ran for my second term, if I’m going to be successful in getting stuff done, I needed to figure out how to work with everybody. I went out of my way to establish relationships with everybody, even though we were on completely opposite sides of issues. I look back at that experience and realize how much I was able to accomplish by coming to that realization. I was all about developing consensus. Have a can-do attitude. Figure out how to get to the end game.

Support and uplift other women

Swander: Margaret Mead said it took three generations of women to create a Ph.D., to create a leader, a woman of accomplishment. The family background and support system is hugely important. Join together. Be cooperative. Help each other.

Turner: Sometimes we are our worst enemy. We have to get beyond wanting to be the "it" girl.

O’Keefe: As I was coming into my career, all of my mentors were men. It’s really important as women to reach out and sponsor and mentor women. That support system is really important.

Hensley: Don’t be afraid of reaching out to [people you admire] and ask if they can have coffee. I love to do that. People are very supportive here, and are really eager to provide guidance and assistance, even if they don’t know you.

Bystrom: One of the things I’ve always [done in addition to mentoring] is to nominate women for awards. Every year, I nominate a woman or two or three for a leadership award that’s available.

The status of women is the status of democracy: Overcoming barriers in the workplace
In 1900, only 6% of married women worked outside the home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Without the ability to earn money of their own or the right to vote, women like my grandmothers were reliant on men for their economic freedom as well as any decisions about their overall well-being. No wonder women in that era marched in the streets, petitioning for the ability to participate in the political process and workforce.

Thankfully, many men also advocated for women, recognizing that economic opportunity and representation are cornerstones on which our country was founded.

Vice President Kamala Harris has said that the status of women is the status of democracy. A new report on the state of women in the labor market in 2023 from the Center for American Progress echoes this sentiment, saying: "Work is essential to women’s economic security, social equality, and a robust and sustainable economy for all." While some women can perceive work as a burden, and indeed it may be in many cases, the ability to earn money is critical to not just our economic status, but our freedom.

Following the second Summit for Democracy in March, the White House released a briefing on the status of women in which it asserted the ability of women and girls to participate safely, freely and equally in political life and in society is a defining feature of democracy. A statement said, "Research shows that the status of women and the stability of nations are inextricably linked, and that societies that foster gender discrimination and allow oppressive gender norms to flourish are more likely to be unstable."

Today, three-quarters of women between the ages of 25 and 54 are employed. Participation of women in the labor force has reached new highs, but numerous barriers to our advancement persist. The Center for American Progress report reveals that women are still paid less than men, with the pay gap worsening with age. It also highlights occupational segregation as a barrier, saying that before the pandemic, nearly 60% of women were employed in "just three sectors that also were those hardest hit by the pandemic: education and health; leisure and hospitality; and retail and wholesale trade." Finally, the report indicates that caregiving disparities continue to hinder the advancement of women in the workplace.

It is critical that women continue to advocate for policy changes both at a federal and state level, as well as in the workplace, in order to reduce these barriers. Our future well-being depends on it.

I turned to several leaders and asked them: "What barriers to gender equity for women in the workplace do you see as the most critical to address?"

Michele Appelgate, director of marketing and communications, Iowa State University Ivy College of Business: Throughout my 35 years of professional experience, which includes newspaper reporting, public relations, crisis communication and higher education, one common barrier stands out: confidence. Many girls are taught to be polite. Be quiet. Don’t stand out. Don’t be pushy. Those lessons stick with you throughout your career. It’s a journey to learn new habits. If we didn’t grow up learning confidence, we must learn on our own. Find and connect with mentors and respected leaders who will support you.

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director, Iowa State Education Association: Representation matters. Women are underrepresented in the C-suite, boardroom, and in many professions. For decades women were limited in careers they could pursue, which is reflected in the distribution of women across the current workforce. We must be explicit in recruiting women of all races and backgrounds into an array of high-paying careers and emerging professions. Hiring and promotion processes should ensure women are afforded opportunities for advancement and growth. Employers can implement family-friendly workplace policies to empower women into leadership roles and mitigate the impact of the disproportionate amount of family and child care responsibilities borne by women.

Abby Delaney, senior vice president, marketing and communications officer, Bankers Trust: As a mother and someone in a demanding leadership role, the most critical barrier is access to affordable child care. Many families are paying significant portions of their income for care, which puts strain on their budgets. While I’ve been lucky to find and afford a reliable provider, many families I know can’t find spots in centers, deal with abrupt classroom closures, or are on endless waiting lists. We’ve all heard reports of the many day care closures over the last few years, which continues to be a top issue for working moms.

Renee Hardman, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources, Broadlawns Medical Center: While there has been progress towards gender equality, we must acknowledge that we have miles to go for women to experience the success of our male counterparts. It’s difficult to single out which disparity is most critical, as each of them requires us to acknowledge the impact that it has on women’s ability to progress at the rate of men. The notion that women still face unequal pay, disparities in promotions, and sexism represents significant gaps that must be closed. The C-suite of many organizations is lonely for women, and today women still face microaggressions and often feel isolated in spaces where they are alone. Regardless, I remain hopeful.

In the headlines
Women CEOs now definitively outnumber CEOs with the first name John among S&P 500 companies. Today there are 41 women leading S&P 500 companies — a new record — and 23 CEOs named John or Jon.

The PUMP Act, designed to extend workplace protections to an additional 9 million nursing parents, has gone into full effect. Now workers will be able to sue their employers if they are not compliant with the law, which requires businesses to provide a private space that’s not a bathroom and adequate break time for workers to express breast milk. Previously, protections only extended to hourly workers who qualified for overtime. Now, the majority of those covered has expanded to also include salaried workers, such as teachers and nurses, most of whom are women.

A bill that would license certified professional midwives has passed out of both chambers of the Iowa Legislature with bipartisan support. Advocates for midwife licensure said licensing CPMs would help drive down maternal mortality rates and create more maternal care options for parents who have healthy, low-risk pregnancies in an era where there’s a shortage of birthing units. Iowa is one of 13 states where CPMs are not licensed or regulated. CPMs specialize in births that occur in homes and stand-alone birthing centers and do not require a nursing credential or graduate degree in midwifery. Instead, CPMs are direct-entry, and complete a multiyear program through the North American Registry of Midwives. The amendment moves the board of midwifery licensure to an advisory committee under the board of nursing, requires a consult for anything deemed high-risk, and adds civil and criminal liability to the bill. "This bill has been decades in the making, thanks to a diverse coalition of individuals past and present. Once this bill is signed by the governor, more Iowa families will have access to the midwifery model of care which is associated with improved maternal health outcomes," said Megan Day, advocacy lead at Friends of Iowa Midwives in an emailed statement.

Nearly a third of female high school students said they considered suicide in 2021, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s data also shows that suicidal thinking was more common among teenagers who did not identify as heterosexual, or who had sexual partners of the same sex or both sexes. Note: If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis or contemplating suicide, call or text 988.

Worth checking out
Increasingly, women are running the world’s great museums (New York Times). The weight bias against women in the workforce is real – and it’s only getting worse (NPR). New research reveals the 30 critiques holding women back from leadership that most men will never hear (Fast Company).
The right to innovation
World Intellectual Property Day recognizes women’s advancement in IP
This year, the celebration of World Intellectual Property Day, recognized each year on April 26 by the World Intellectual Property Organization, was dedicated to the continued advancement of women’s innovation and creativity in the field.  

Gender disparities in intellectual property rights are as old as the field itself. Creative occupations held by men, such as writer, artist, engineer and musician, were the ones protected under the first IP laws. At the time, women weren’t in those fields and their creative works like knitting and quilting were not eligible for IP rights.

Decades of pioneering change, including women who didn’t receive credit for their inventions or contributions, have led to the opportunities women can pursue as inventors and IP lawyers.

Christine Lebron-Dykeman, partner and chair of the trademark practice group at McKee, Vorhees and Sease, and Heidi Nebel, partner and chair of the IP firm’s chemical and biotechnology practice group, have both witnessed some of that progress in their careers.

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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