Plus, tips on how to overcome self-doubt
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Good morning and happy Monday!

Last week we published responses from our annual gender issues survey. This week we’re taking a look at another survey, this one focusing on policies and benefits that are known to affect women’s participation and success in the workplace. What you'll read in the newsletter is only a short excerpt, so I would encourage you to look at the entire story on our website.

We’re also running the next installment in Suzanna de Baca’s series on how to lead fearlessly. This week, she talked with several women about how they overcome self-doubt.

Have a great week!

— Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

P.S. The Business Record is accepting nominations for our annual Women of Influence honor through May 6. Our sister publication, dsm Magazine, is also accepting nominations for its annual LGBTQ Legacy Leader awards through April 30.

Women have long begged for flexibility, paid family leave and equal pay from their workplaces. Post-2020, companies are starting to listen.
In latest Business Record survey results, see what 20 Iowa businesses and organizations are offering
Megan Milligan is the president and CEO of the Iowa Center for Economic Success. She was one of 70 people who took our survey. We asked her to elaborate on her responses for this story. Photo by Emily Kestel.
For decades, women have generally worked in environments designed by men, for men.  

Standard office temperatures are based on the metabolic resting rate of a 40-year-old man. Mandatory meetings are often scheduled at the same time as school dismissals. There are often no designated spaces for lactation. There isn’t federally guaranteed access to paid leave after having a baby.

Even the concept of the 40-hour workweek was designed for men with the assumption in mind that they had wives at home to manage domestic responsibilities and raise the children – not with the scenario of both parents working out of the home, as is common now.

For the first time, in 2019, women made up half of the American labor force. Then in 2020, millions of women dropped out of the workforce to the point where the women’s labor force participation rate was at a number not seen since the late ’80s.

As employers continue the quest to usher people back into the workforce and into the office, experts are sensing a turning tide in the way leaders think about what the modern workplace could and should look like.

After 2020, companies have dramatically shifted policy priorities, as illustrated in Lean In’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report. Some examples:

  • Before 2020, 67% of companies offered paid family leave. Now 84% do.
  • Before 2020, 45% of companies offered support for employee resource groups. Now 80% do.
  • Before 2020, 37% of companies offered mental health support. Now 97% do.
  • Before 2020, 29% of companies offered support for parents. Now 71% do.
  • Before 2020, 27% of companies offered flexible working hours. Now 88% do.

In our inaugural workplace benefits survey, the Business Record took a look at what some Iowa businesses and organizations are doing to support their employees at and outside of the workplace.

About the surveys

In a pair of surveys about gender issues and women in the workforce, the Business Record asked readers about workplace policies and practices that are known to affect women’s participation and success. The gender issues survey is a continuation of an annual effort to shine light on issues that women face in the state. The workplace benefits survey was new this year, and was meant to provide a space for business leaders to share their benefits, policies and practices.  

Between Feb. 21 and March 6, a total of 286 people took the gender issues survey while 70 people took the workplace benefits survey.

Just under 20 people included their names and organization in the workplace benefits survey. The organizations that were named were: Palmer Group, John Deere, Baker Group, Sarah Noll Wilson Inc., ITA Group, Des Moines University, Storey Kenworthy, Athene, the Beacon, Historic Valley Junction Foundation, Iowa Center for Economic Success, University of Northern Iowa, Happy Medium, World Food Prize Foundation, city of Urbandale, Hy-Vee, Fareway and Bankers Trust.

Some responses have been edited for clarity. Questions that appeared in our gender issues surveys are noted with an asterisk.

What must be done to help bring women back into the workplace and keep them there?*

Clear themes emerged from the 71 responses. Almost all of them mentioned flexibility, access to child care, fair and adequate pay, or paid family leave. Other respondents mentioned that a recognition for their work would help.

  • "We are in a time of incredible disruption and we have an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how we approach work and our world. Access to affordable or free child care would be transformative. Truly flexible work schedules where pay isn't tied to hours in the seat, but output produced."
  • "It is truly unfair to force employees who have been successful at working effectively from home to go back to an office full-time. After getting a taste of it and realizing all the personal benefits, I never want to go back to an office full-time."
  • "Pay them enough so they can afford to work. Help with child care if that’s an issue. Be flexible in work hours as needed to accommodate individual situations. Genuinely respect and reward them in various ways for their work. Recognize they likely are working to live, not living to work."

What perks or benefits do you look for in a workplace?*

Of the 64 responses, the most common answers were flexibility, health care benefits, child care support, a solid retirement plan, paid family leave and a respectful culture where their work is valued. When we asked Megan Milligan about the benefits and policies in place at the Iowa Center for Economic Success, she said, "We have really, really high expectations, but we give all the tools and resources the employee needs to get there. … We compassionately usher you through our very high expectations of you."

  • "Basic needs are taken care of in an extraordinary way. People are paid fully for the worth and value they bring. So many companies say that those in customer service are the most important roles and yet they were often some of the lowest paid. I'm interested in benefits that are designed to serve the humans they impact most and not just the bottom line. And as a business owner, I understand that sometimes what you want to offer may be different than what you can, but there is always room to get creative. An organization that I think is a role model in human-first benefits is Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa led by the phenomenal leader Beth Shelton. They are always creating new ways to support their staff that will be inclusive and meaningful. Just look at their program that allows parents to bring their baby in until they are 6 months or start crawling. When we talk about building inclusive cultures we have to be willing to challenge the ‘rules’ we've created around what work needs to look like and consider bold new possibilities."
  • "Paid family leave and sick days that can also be used when children or dependent adults or aging parents need support. Time off with pay to vote. Vacation and personal time. Paid assistance with further education relevant to the job. Access as needed to a mentor and the individual to whom they report."
  • "Comfortability and respect between coworkers. Management that respects their team. Appropriate raises and growth within the workplace. The ‘little extras’ that show appreciation the company has for the employees."
  • "A workplace that respects employees' non-work boundaries. A workplace that understands that people have lives outside of work that will sometimes intrude on their work hours. A workplace that not only provides a lot of paid holidays and paid vacation but expects you to take it. A workplace that cares about employees as people and not just as means of production."
  • "Freedom. Autonomy. Respect. Confidence in my skills and ability to make decisions, and a rigid stance against micromanaging."
Does your company offer paid parental leave?

Policies listed by respondents varied widely. Some mentioned policies where the birthing parent is partially paid for six weeks. Some respondents said their employers’ policies were tiered, where the longer you work at the company, the longer the leave you get. Other responses said it’s covered only through disability insurance or by using sick leave.

  • "Four weeks of time off paid at 80% for both parents, which can be supplemented with paid time off to reach 100% of pay. For birthing parents, an additional eight weeks is available." – Amanda Young on behalf of Bankers Trust
  • "Two weeks at 100% pay for both parents and nonbirthing parents." – Chad Carter on behalf of Fareway
  • "Twelve weeks at 100% pay for moms, dads and adoptive parents." – Happy Medium
  • "Six weeks at 100% pay for any parent in any way they become a parent. Children are allowed at the office full-time until they are walking. Any children are allowed in the office on occasion that child care or school is cancelled. Day care is grossly expensive. We’re a nonprofit, so while we pay fair wages, nobody’s getting wealthy at the Iowa Center. I don’t want to lose somebody because they do the math and they realize that paying for child care doesn’t make it worth it to keep working." – Iowa Center for Economic Success
  • "For birthing parents who are employees with at least one year of service, they are eligible for 13 weeks of paid leave at 100% of pay. For employees with less than one year of service, they are eligible for paid leave under our short-term disability policy at 60% of pay. Nonbirthing parents who have at least one year of service are eligible for two weeks of 100% pay." – Shelle Eggermont on behalf of Athene
  • "Two weeks paid full for birthing and nonbirthing parents, can use short-term disability coverage for an extended period of time for the birth and adoption of children." – Georgia Van Gundy on behalf of Hy-Vee
Does your company have pay transparency practices or policies?

In 1997, Congress first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ban employers from asking about salary history, require employers to prove why pay disparities exist and bolster legal protections for those who file sex-based wage discrimination lawsuits or class actions. It has passed every year in the House since 2010, but never in the Senate. That leaves private companies and organizations to set their own practices and policies. In organizations that fall under the umbrella of the state or municipal governments, compensation is public record.

Some examples of practices and policies around pay transparency included:

  • "Last year, we transitioned to pay equity and transparency by distributing a spreadsheet with everyone's compensation listed alongside industry standards. I had a one-on-one meeting with each staff person to address any questions or concerns. This has increased trust and equity within our organization. I used the average of several resources to determine the local industry standard then paid each employee just above the industry standard or a living wage ($15/hour), whichever was higher. The average entry or mid-level employee received a 43% pay increase in one year." – the Beacon
  • "We post portions of salary ranges externally, and employees can request a salary range for any open role." – Bankers Trust
  • "Pay is reviewed once a year or any time an opportunity organically comes up to discuss them." – Iowa Center for Economic Success
  • "We have a transparent step-and-grade system installed and about to be introduced to staff." – Barbara Stinson on behalf of World Food Prize Foundation  
Leading Fearlessly: Stamp out self-doubt
For many years, I worked on Wall Street in the financial industry. One day, I received an invitation to be interviewed on national television about a topic in my area of expertise. I was excited and confident until I got to the studio. As I took my spot under the bright lights, I was suddenly overcome with self-doubt. "What am I even doing here?" I remember thinking. In that terrifying moment before the cameras rolled, I had to remind myself quickly that while I was new to television, I was more than qualified to talk about that specific topic.

Whether you call it self-doubt, insecurity or imposter syndrome, even the most successful professionals experience a lack of confidence at times. In fact, approximately "one-third of young people suffer from imposter syndrome, and 70% of everyone else is likely to experience it at some point in their lives," says a January Harvard Business Review article called "You’re not an imposter. You’re actually pretty amazing."

While self-doubt, fear or feelings of inadequacy are normal human emotions that plague even the most successful professionals, letting those feelings derail us can interfere with us living our lives fully. Negative self-talk can also have a detrimental effect on our cognitive and motor performance, further keeping us from meeting our goals.

With countless external obstacles out there, the last thing we need is to sabotage ourselves. The good news is that there are many techniques one can learn to overcome – or at least manage – self-doubt. While therapy can help address chronic issues, there are also ways to manage the day-to-day self-talk that drags us down; acknowledging the feeling, questioning why you are experiencing the lack of confidence in that moment, examining facts, and turning to others for validation are all ways to move forward.

I asked some fearless women leaders: "What was a time in a professional situation you were able to overcome self-doubt, and are now glad you did?"

Kenia Calderón Cerón, vice president/bilingual business development director, GreenState Credit Union: I tend to be the youngest and only Latina leader in many spaces. Therefore, self-doubt is an insecurity that sneaks up on me when I least expect it. To bring myself back to reality, I remind myself that my youth, my ethnicity and authenticity is what makes me valuable. I repeat that over and over until I believe it.
LaTasha DeLoach, senior center director, city of Iowa City: Every day I have to wake up and #ChooseJoy! Joy is the choice I had to make to move beyond what others have limited my success in employment to be and to live my life without limits of societal pressures to stay small.
Jan Jensen, associate head coach, women’s basketball, University of Iowa: The United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties asked me and my spouse to lead a campaign. My first thoughts included, "I’m ‘only’ a vice president, not the CEO. Do I carry enough clout? We’ll be the first gay couple to lead a public campaign. Will discrimination hurt the cause or us?" I said yes anyway. The result? We led a record-setting campaign that raised $2.6 million.
Amy Thompson, artist and owner, Art SUX Gallery: For 14 years, I wanted to create a community for artists. Everything, including myself, seemed to stop me from moving forward. Despite others’ doubts, COVID, the subsequent fear of the cost of renovations and risking my family’s financial stability, Art SUX opened in July 2022. If I wouldn’t have listened to myself, given into the huge fear of the risk, none of this would have happened.
Left: Golden Openings President and owner Kimberly Baeth. Center: Linn County Public Health's Anne Harris Carter. Right: San Francisco Giants coach Alyssa Nakken.
In the headlines
Worth checking out
An Army specialist accused a superior of rape. She was discharged. Then, her family found her dead (Des Moines Register). Browse through Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list (Fortune). Why deaths by suicide often go uncounted in states’ maternal mortality studies (The Fuller Project). What would your ideal office look like? 22 readers told us (Washington Post). More companies take a stand on abortion (New York Times DealBook newsletter). Inflation is hurting women at the grocery store. Some are eating less in order to feed their families (The 19th).
Fearless Focus: Leadership
Join us for the first event in our new virtual series called Fearless Focus, where you’ll have the opportunity to learn from and connect with people from across the state who are passionate about leadership, confidence and risk-taking.

On Thursday, April 28, from noon to 1 p.m., we’ll be addressing representation of women in leadership. Registration is free!

Details: Representation matters – especially in leadership. The latest data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that in Iowa’s private sector, women held 30% of executive-level leadership positions and 40% of midlevel management positions. Furthermore, women of color made up just 3% of leaders at the executive level and 8% in midlevel management. In this conversation, we’ll talk about why these disparities exist and what can be done about it. We’ll hear from female leaders about how they got to where they are and what support systems have helped them the most. The discussion will also focus on how male allies can support and promote women in their organizations.

Panelists include:
  • Amy Kristof-Brown, dean, Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa.
  • Kelly Winfrey, director of graduate education and assistant professor, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Iowa State University.
  • Tiffany O'Donnell, CEO, Women Lead Change.
  • Dawn Martinez Oropeza, executive director, Al Exito.
  • Evette Creighton, senior manager, talent, inclusion and diversity, Transamerica.
'Overwhelmed. Overscheduled. Overburdened.'
Have you read the results from this year’s gender issues survey? See what Iowans are saying about the challenges, barriers and successes that women have experienced within the last year.
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