Women share successes, barriers in annual gender issues survey
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Good morning and happy Monday!

This week we’re running the first big installment of our annual gender issues survey results – thanks to everyone who participated! Looking through the responses and finding common themes is something I’ve come to look forward to every year. Iowa women certainly aren’t monoliths, but I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us believe that there’s still work to be done on the gender equity front. I encourage you to dedicate some time this week to looking through the responses. You won’t agree with everything, but that’s the point.

While we only conduct this survey once a year, my inbox is always open if you have thoughts, opinions or story ideas about the issues we highlight within it – including pay equity, child care, mental health and leadership.

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.

‘Overwhelmed. Overscheduled. Overburdened.’
Annual Fearless survey: 80% of Iowa women say they’re burned out and top issues include child care, pay equity, harassment
One common theme in this year's gender issues survey was that women are struggling to juggle their responsibilities and obligations at work and at home. Illustration by Lauren Burt.
Since 2016, 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. The survey is not scientific and different people respond every year, but one thing has remained the same: Iowa women have yet to experience equity with their male counterparts in many aspects of life. The following responses and analysis aim to provide a wide-angle view on some of the biggest issues that respondents identified, including burnout, pay, child care, representation of women in leadership and political positions, and treatment at work.

More topics, such as family leave policies, the #MeToo movement, conversations about social issues and the role of male allies will be covered in depth in future Business Record and Fearless stories.

Note: Due to rounding, some percentages may not add up to exactly 100. Written responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor  

What are the biggest challenges, obstacles or barriers that you and other women face at work?

Women continue to face the same barriers at work that they have for the last several decades, including sexism, harassment and lack of representation. Women continue to make less money than their male counterparts and have yet to see equal representation in many C-suite or board positions. Women also continue to live in fear of their emotional and physical safety. One example worth mentioning: Within the last year, unprovoked attacks on Asian women have skyrocketed. One thing you’ll discover as you read these responses is that what affects women at home also affects them at work.

  • "It is absolutely exhausting that in 2022 we are still facing and talking about so many of the same challenges that have existed for decades — equal pay, access to opportunities, flexible work, navigating biases, and physical and emotional safety. And let's be clear, while these are common barriers for all women, women of color are disproportionately impacted across the board."
  • "Equal pay. Opportunities for advancement. Having a voice/seat at the decision-making table."
  • "Middle-aged women continue to be passed over and underestimated."
  • "Women remain underrepresented in leadership, especially political leadership. Even though we have record-breaking numbers of women in elected roles, the staff positions remain significantly dominated by men."
  • "Literally, everything. I feel like I am constantly explaining why my kids (or I, God forbid) have doctor's appointments, sickness, or school-related absences. This is a fact of life. Employers need to get on board to see that we are all trying to do our best with limited resources. It is INCREDIBLY frustrating that as moms, we take the brunt of everything and oftentimes, end up sacrificing our own health and well-being for job opportunities."
  • "There are many but here are the two biggest: 1. Women's work is overall valued less than men's. 2. The mental load of being the primary caregiver at home and increasing challenges in the workplace at a time when most child care options are hard to find."
  • "I'm not in the workplace, only watching and listening to those who are. Leadership is expressing genuine fear about availability of the workforce. The upward pressure on wages, costs associated with COVID and the supply chain disruption are all serious challenges. These affect women so much because they are most often the front line – paid the least, yet the most necessary."
  • "Women of color not only have to navigate a work world that was designed by and for men but also one that was designed by and for white people. Sexual harassment and assault continue to plague the workplace, especially when power dynamics put a woman in a more vulnerable position. Often, women have to decide whether to set boundaries or experience career advancement."
  • "Remote and hybrid work introduces flexibility, but may limit future promotion opportunities."

What are the biggest challenges, obstacles or barriers that you and other women face outside of work?

The juggling act of being fully present at work and at home was a common theme this year for those with children. One person summed it up like this: "The internal and external struggle that one cannot be both successful in work and also being a parent."

  • "I would be remiss if I didn't speak to the high levels of violence men commit towards women. If you haven't experienced it personally, most women know someone who has been affected by violence and are aware that could happen to them. An author who speaks on women's rights has posted this question every year for the past 4-5 years on Twitter: "Women: Imagine that for one day men were removed. Just one day, they would return the next day without harm or impact to them, what would you do?" Do you know what the number one response has been by tens of thousands of women every year? "I want to be able to go for a run or walk at night while listening to my headphones." That's it – to just exist without threat to our safety."
  • "Child care. Iowans should be outraged with lawmakers, policymakers and employers who fail to see that valuing women employees means also helping to provide adequate and safe child care at all ages. The pandemic revealed that there is little momentum or desire to address this by the men who fill most of these positions, many who want to protect unborn children but then do not address the care needed for them when they are outside a uterus."
  • "Insufficient child care and high-priced child care. The amount of domestic work on top of a career. Lack of mental health resources. Unfair and inequitable health care systems. Domestic violence."
  • "New legislation regulating abortion is going to significantly set women back professionally, financially and potentially even physically."
  • "Trying to do it all. Women have been some of my biggest supporters and a lot of women haven't been. We still have an opportunity even more to come together and respect and support the decisions each other has made as fellow women. Working outside of the home, staying home, or leading a company — it's all just personal choice."
  • "Trying to juggle a variety of work and non-work obligations, including child care, household labor, trying to maintain relationships, volunteer work, and still trying to find time for hobbies and relaxation. All while fielding calls and texts for work-related questions in what's supposed to be non-work time."

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

As expected, responses to this question were wide-ranging. Many were sports-related, which is fitting, given that 2021 and 2022 were Olympic years. Women also saw historic gains in both the private and public sectors in terms of representation in high-level positions. To name a few within the last year: Jane Fraser became the first woman to lead one of Wall Street’s four major banks, Mary Barra became the first woman to lead the Business Roundtable, the number of women running Fortune 500 companies hit a record high at 41 and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman to lead the World Trade Organization. (Want to see more historic gains and milestones of women within the last year? Check out an archived Fearless newsletter.) Another theme that I saw in responses was that there continues to be a greater sense of awareness and action by employers in response to issues that women face, including access to affordable child care and paid family leave.

  • "We’re slowly starting to see more female leaders in higher-level roles in large organizations."
  • "Equal pay for women’s soccer. Pay transparency laws."
  • "Outstanding success of women athletes in the Olympics."
  • "Nominating a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court."
  • "Highly visible and placed positions in the federal government. Greater visibility of women in local public policy and social issues."
  • "The accomplishments and leadership we have from multiple companies, across the state and at the government level as well. Our Governor is well-spoken and whether you agree with her or not she is a woman and has stayed poised, respectful and strong in navigating the past couple years."
  • "Of the students who received their master’s degree in business administration in 2019-2020 at Iowa State, 50% of them were women. This is in the same ballpark of the nationwide number of 48.5%."
  • "The most visible state positions (Governor, Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Workforce Development, etc.) are women. We have a woman senator and three women members of the House. Women are being chosen to lead across the state."
  • "Many organizations are ensuring that women are included in conversations and opportunities where they were previously overlooked."
  • "Women have always had a voice. But in the past year, I've noticed women using their voices collectively to demand change. It's not just individuals sharing their stories and speaking their truth ― it's masses of women working together to amplify the message so it's impossible to ignore."

The 2021 Women in the Workplace report by Lean In and McKinsey found that women are significantly more burned out than ever before. Have you personally experienced burnout within the last year?
The word "burnout" has been tossed around a lot the last few years. Researchers generally define burnout as a syndrome manifested through three primary aspects: exhaustion, cynicism and a sense of ineffectiveness. Note: When you adjust to look only at responses from women who answered this question, the rate of respondents who answered "yes" increases to 80%. That being said, men aren’t immune from burnout, either. A recent New York Times piece indicated that the way men primarily experience burnout is through cynicism, which may look like depersonalization or emotional distancing. Women tend to experience burnout more through the aspect of exhaustion. That checks out in many of the responses. Several mentioned taking a step back – or stepping away entirely – from their commitments in order to address burnout.

  • "Overwhelmed. Overscheduled. Overburdened. Overworried. Not sleeping well. Muscles always tense. Unable to relax."
  • "For me it's the nonstop part of being a working mother. There is not a moment, it seems, when I am not needed by children or work."
  • "As a single mom working full time, burnout doesn't even begin to describe it. I am exhausted end-to-end by the pandemic, workplace demands in a time where people can and should be more flexible, and ongoing turmoil with school operations."
  • "I am tired, yes, but I’m energized by the amazing work that I see going on around me. I also stepped into a new leadership position, so I’m more energized than exhausted, even though I’m running hard."
  • "I cut back on long hours a few years ago after determining that my health, family, and friendships deserved more time than my career."
  • "I left my job of 14 years because I couldn’t handle the juggling act anymore. Now I’m doing something that is much more flexible, which is what I need at this stage in my life."
  • "My biggest burnout was and still is the lack of equality and respect. My workload continues to increase, but my pay and the level of respect I receive do not increase. No one else is qualified to do my job, or has the ability to do my job, but I am not respected at all. I am the only female in my warehouse. I am constantly [subjected] to sexual conversations, and overall belittlement of my ability to do my job. If I report it, my supervisor makes a couple comments to fellow employees telling them to stop or risk getting written up, which generally makes things worse. Nothing ever happens and the behavior continues. I am ready to just quit my job, but I cannot afford to be unemployed."
  • "Stress, depression, anxiety and the lack of mental clarity are all new issues for me in the last two years. I’m not managing it well right now, but I plan to remove a large volunteer segment from my life to open up more time and headspace for work and family."
  • "Burnout for me looks like, ‘Why am I still doing this when no one seems to care or notice?’"
  • "COVID burned out everyone. I want to be responsible for my children's education. The attitude of schools and their unwillingness to be in person for a long period of time burned out every mom in the world."
  • "I try to be perfect at the office and a perfect mother, which typically leaves me feeling like I am not perfect at either. This also leaves no time to focus on myself and recharge."
Meet 8 women in this year’s Forty Under 40 class
Twenty-four of the 40 young professionals in this year's class of the Business Record's Forty Under 40 are women. We’ve spent the last few weeks introducing you to them – this is the final installment. To read their full profile, click on their name.

What is it that drives you? I take pride in being able to call Des Moines, and the surrounding metro, my home. A West Des Moines native, I grew up intending to move to a "big city" following graduation. Fast-forward to 2017, I found myself back in Des Moines after realizing what a great place it is for young professionals. I want to continue to put Central Iowa on the map as the place to live, work and play through not only ICON, but also through other placemaking projects.

What’s your biggest passion, and why? I am passionate about fundraising, and I am passionate about helping kids. I love the opportunity to connect people with opportunities to invest in something that is meaningful to them, and I have a heart for children who are sick, at risk or living with special health care needs.

Eden Pearson, senior director, state government relations, Nationwide

What is it that drives you?
My family experienced a life-changing event when I was young due to cancer. That opened my eyes to the reality that so many people in our community are one crisis away from needing significant support. I was one of the lucky ones, having family, friends and community to support me, but I know the reality is that so many kids and families who experience hard times have nowhere to turn.

What is it that drives you? In 2008, I worked to successfully pass Iowa’s Smokefree Air Act and learned the importance of policy change. Through that substantial public health initiative, I realized that I could help make meaningful enhancements to better Iowa. It was that experience that set me on the path I am on today.

What is it that drives you? When you’re passionate about specific causes in your life, the ability to lead will organically come through. I have lived on my own since a very young age and this experience plus many others fueled a passion and motivation in me to give back and to help others, and my family.

What is it that drives you? In my 20s, I was a caregiver to a loved one who lost a courageous battle with cancer. The connections he and I made with his care teams, and our experiences with both the incredible and complex aspects of our health care system are what drive me in my work to this day.

What is it that drives you? After college, I realized I could complain about issues in our world and hope things would change or I could actively be part of the solution. Each day I seek the latter. As Mary Oliver stated, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

What is it that drives you? My son, JaiShon. We moved to Iowa when he was 9 months, and he's now 14. Life doesn't look anything like I thought it would when I hopped in a U-Haul from New Mexico in 2008 – it is so much better. JaiShon is my motivation, not only to provide for him but to show him the infinite opportunities ahead of him.

Left: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Center: Retired NPS ranger Betty Reid Soskin. Right: The Beacon Executive Director Melissa Vine.
In the headlines
Worth checking out
How the 2022 Women’s Final Four became the most-covered in tournament history (Power Plays). Early puberty cases in girls have surged during COVID, doctors say (The Fuller Project). ‘We belong in these spaces’: Jackson’s successors reflect on her nomination (New York Times). How Serena Williams saved her own life (Elle).  
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.
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