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JANUARY 8, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

If your hearts are as heavy as ours in the aftermath of the shooting at Perry High School last week, here is a list of what you can do to help. May we all work together to create a state where Iowa children can enjoy peace and safety.

We have a news-packed Fearless for you today as the Iowa Legislature gavels in. We will continue to bring you coverage of bills and policy that could affect your life, both personally and professionally. What issues are you particularly interested in reading coverage of? Let us know:

In this week’s Fearless e-newsletter, you will find:

  • A news story previewing the upcoming session of the Iowa Legislature, which convenes today. Which issues will affect Iowa women and girls?
  • A call for writers and thought leaders: Fearless is looking for guest contributors. Do you enjoy writing? We would love to hear from you.
  • A news brief about 100+ Women Who Care DSM, which has raised more than $750,000 for local charities since 2010.
  • In the headlines: Grinnell writer Monique McLay Shore published a book about Edith Renfrow Smith, now age 109, the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College.
  • In case you missed it: The Business Record has named Erin Kuhl, chief financial officer and chief of staff at Krause Group, as the 2024 Deloitte CFO of the Year.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

5 topics for Iowa women, allies to watch as the 2024 Iowa Legislature convenes
Photo by Duane Tinkey.
A typical annual session of the Iowa Legislature sees hundreds upon hundreds of ideas proposed in bills. Before lawmakers begin their work for 2024 this morning, Fearless is taking a look at a few of the topics most relevant to Iowa women and girls that could come up.

Republicans control the agenda; they enjoy large majorities in both houses of the Legislature and have controlled the governor’s office since 2011. Here is a quick breakdown of what to expect:

Child care
Closing the gaps in the availability and affordability of child care for Iowa families has been a priority of the executive and legislative branches for years. Last year, the Legislature expanded eligibility for state child care assistance, and the state has championed pilot programs throughout Iowa and handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants in recent years.

But the work is far from done, reports the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Tom Barton.

Iowa needs hundreds of thousands more child care slots, according to the Iowa Women’s Foundation. But instead of moving to meet that need, the number of child care providers has shrunk. Republican and Democratic leaders agree that innovative approaches are needed, but neither party has shared detailed proposals in advance of this year’s session. Some lawmakers have championed public-private partnerships to close the gap.

[RELATED: Lawmakers discuss child care challenges, solutions during Iowa Women’s Foundation’s Solutions Summit]

Gender-balance law
The panel ordered by the Legislature last year to review Iowa’s hundreds of official boards and commissions with appointed members made numerous recommendations, among them to repeal a decades-old law requiring that those boards and commissions have near-equal numbers of men and women. Fearless wrote about the panel’s recommendations in-depth last fall.

Republican leaders have said they intend to enact the panel’s recommendations, including the removal of the gender-balance law, according to the Des Moines Register. The recommendations say that the move would allow the “most qualified” candidate to fill vacancies and avert occasional headaches with recruiting candidates in accordance with the law.

Advocates have said that the law is effective and produces better work.

“When we look at the 38 states or so that don’t have any recommendation or mandate, what we see is that men are overwhelmingly overrepresented on state level boards and commissions,” said Karen Kedrowski, a professor of political science and director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University. The exceptions usually fit stereotypes: women making up half or the majority of boards dealing with the arts or preservation, she said.

Birth control
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has for years publicly backed making hormonal contraceptives available to adults without a prescription. But various proposals to change Iowa law have fizzled. In 2023, the Senate overwhelmingly passed Senate File 326, which would have allowed pharmacists to dispense contraceptives to women who are at least 18 years old.

The bill stalled in the House, but it remains alive to be considered again this year.

Special education audit: Area Education Agencies
Reynolds told the N’west Iowa Review that a “comprehensive review” is planned of the work of Iowa Area Education Agencies, which assist students with individual education plans and support educators’ learning. Some Democrats have said they’re worried such an audit will lead lawmakers to gut the support system for students with disabilities, though Reynolds and others dismissed those concerns.

When the mothers of children with disabilities cannot find safe, high-quality child care and safe, high-quality education options for their children, they are pushed out of the workforce. Access to intervention programs and special education disproportionately affects women, because they’re typically the caregiver who stays home to care for children with significant needs.

It’s unlikely we’ll hear anything from the Legislature about this during the regular session, which is scheduled to end April 16. Legislators last July passed a law that banned most abortions in Iowa. But after Planned Parenthood sued, a judge said the state could not enforce the law because it was too strict.

That ruling followed a series of judgments by the Iowa Supreme Court in recent years that have not yet settled the extent to which the Iowa Constitution does or does not protect a right to have an abortion.

That question about the Iowa Constitution is back before the Iowa Supreme Court, but lawyers are still preparing their cases, and it’s probable the court won’t rule until June. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, said Republicans don’t plan to act until that limbo is resolved, according to the Des Moines Register.
Calling writers and thought leaders: Fearless is looking for guest contributors
Connection is one of our Fearless core values. We strive to connect our audience with new thoughts and perspectives in our weekly e-newsletter. Guest contributors are key to this.

Those who contribute opinion and commentary pieces ensure Fearless is inclusive by giving voice to a variety of issues throughout the year. We prefer to work with writers from ideation to final draft rather than publishing pieces that are already completed, but we are always open to considering something you’ve worked on.

Our team works closely with the writers to draft pieces with unique angles to prompt our audience to think more deeply about a topic. The best writing often includes vulnerable stories that help readers understand the importance of an issue, whether or not they’ve had relatable experiences. In an effort to be solutions-oriented, we often ask writers to include a call to action or specific examples of what readers might do after consuming their piece.

To kick off 2023, we published a collection of advice, words of wisdom and hopes for Iowa women. Last spring, Rachel Manuel Bruns wrote about reducing C-section rates to improve maternal health. Then, Anna Nalean told Fearless readers about when she quit her job to travel the world solo, and Katie Kreis wrote about eight women’s lessons from working for family businesses. This past summer, Krista Tedrow wrote about magic prevailing after childhood abuse and workaholism, and Kim Grzywacz wrote about combating imposter syndrome. Recently, Seeta Lee wrote about revamping New Year’s resolutions – especially those about your body.

What perspectives do you feel need to be shared? Are you interested in submitting a piece for Fearless? Send me an email with topic ideas and, if possible, past writing samples at

We are especially interested in columns relating to our key focus areas: advocacy, business ownership, career pathways and advancement, child care, confidence, financial empowerment, policy, health care, leadership, mentoring, overcoming discrimination and risk-taking. However, we are open to considering any and all ideas.

We prefer columns about topics that could benefit many Iowa women and girls, rather than columns about niche topics. We also try to avoid marketing speak, corporate jargon, self-promotion and politics, although we recognize that some topics are inseparable from political discussions. Your words should be authentic, personal and raw.

We look forward to sharing your perspectives with our audience.

100+ Women Who Care DSM raises more than $750,000 for local charities since 2010
The Des Moines-based women’s philanthropic group 100+ Women Who Care DSM reached a milestone of $750,000 raised since the group was founded in 2010.

Members contribute $100 quarterly, supplemented by matching grants, resulting in an annual total of $60,000. Donations benefit different nonprofits selected by the members of the giving circle, with a special focus on charities that serve children.

The latest donation round in November raised $15,500 for the Raise the Bar Initiative, benefiting teen girls through weight training.

The Des Moines chapter of 100+ Women Who Care will welcome new members at its next meeting Feb. 6. Learn more here.
Edith Renfrow Smith, left, 109, is the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College. Grinnell resident Monique McLay Shore, right, recently wrote and published a book about Renfrow Smith's life. Photo courtesy of Monique McLay Shore.
In the headlines
New children’s book tells the story of the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College: The oldest living alumna of Grinnell High School and Grinnell College is the subject of a book slated for release this month. “No One is Better Than You: Edith Renfrow Smith and the Power of a Mother’s Words,” written and self-published by Monique McLay Shore, of Grinnell, tells the story of Edith Renfrow Smith, now 109. Renfrow Smith was born in Grinnell in 1914. She graduated from Grinnell College in 1937, the first Black woman to do so, and is the namesake of Renfrow Hall, a four-story, off-campus, apartment-style residence hall under construction at the corner of Broad Street and Sixth Avenue. Shore has been involved in research into the Renfrow family the last eight years. It started with her work for the Drake Community Library in Grinnell and grew into a personal passion. Shore began working on the book in January 2022, according to this news story in the Southeast Iowa Union.

2024 might be do-or-die for corporate diversity efforts. Here’s why: As lawsuits rise and opponents like Elon Musk declare that "DEI must die," companies are pulling back from some initiatives, according to this business story in the Washington Post. This time last year, big companies had begun backing away from efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their ranks, otherwise known as DEI. Experts feared energy around the work, which swelled after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, was waning. Since then, things have gotten even more complicated. In June, the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in higher education, igniting opposition to DEI. Dozens of bills targeting DEI initiatives at public colleges are pending across the country, and there’s been a spike in litigation alleging that the methods private companies use to address inequality amounts to discrimination. Growing pushback has some companies reframing their policies, and others axing programs as they look to avoid legal trouble. Experts say the debate around DEI is likely to intensify as the legal battle plays out in court and political tensions rise heading into the presidential election.

This ISU graduate’s cosmetic company lifts up Black women, pushes ‘evolution’ in beauty industry: Tell a Black girl that you love her today. That’s the message that greets visitors when they go to the website of cosmetic company Simply Sámone, founded by Jassma’ray Johnson, a 22-year-old who graduated from Iowa State University earlier this year. Resilient. Fierce. Deserving. These are the adjectives Johnson uses on her company’s website to describe Black women. But this is not what Johnson heard about herself growing up. “That’s what really inspires me,” she said, according to this business story in the Des Moines Register. Johnson sells lip glosses, but that’s just the start of her company. The next big project for Simply Sámone is to expand to body oils and lip liners. In the future, she'll offer foundation and eye products.

How Angela Mickens is helping improve the health of Black women across the Des Moines metro: Angela Mickens was always aware of the effect she had on her patients of color. Every time she walked into a patient room or a surgical suite, the patient would lock in on her in a sea of white faces and visibly sag with relief. As a Black woman, Mickens knows all too well of the fear and uncertainty that Black and brown individuals can face when navigating the health care system. In her more than 25 years of working in hospital operating rooms, she made a point to be a comforting presence for patients of color and to give them a voice in a situation where many felt they had no control. After years of seeing that uncertainty firsthand, the 52-year-old Des Moines native has channeled her passion for helping those patients to efforts outside the operating room, becoming a prominent advocate for improved health outcomes for women of color in the metro, according to this news story in the Des Moines Register.

Worth checking out
Pregnancy resource centers spark funding row between Biden administration, anti-abortion groups (Wall Street Journal). Performative allyship has done more harm than good for women in tech. Here’s why. (Fortune). ISU stem-cell research by Raquel Espin Palazon could enable new treatment for those with blood diseases (Iowa Capital Dispatch). Women poker players teach professionals how to play the game to get savvy about their careers (Wall Street Journal). National Association of Realtors is facing antitrust lawsuits and sexual harassment allegations, and real estate agents are now looking for alternatives (New York Times). With puberty starting earlier than ever, doctors urge greater awareness and care (NBC News).
Erin Kuhl named 2024 Deloitte CFO of the Year
The Business Record has named Erin Kuhl, chief financial officer and chief of staff at Krause Group, as the 2024 Deloitte CFO of the Year.

The award serves to honor an individual for outstanding performance in their role as a corporate financial steward.

Shannon Cofield, president at MercyOne Des Moines Foundation; Renee Hardman, president and founder of Hardman Consulting LLC; and Tessie Johnson, office managing partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, nominated Kuhl for the award.

“What I appreciate most about Erin is her comprehensive and strategic financial acumen, her thoughtfulness to details and her genuine interest in adding value to whomever she serves,” Hardman wrote in a letter nominating Kuhl. “Sometimes we get caught up thinking CFOs are all about the numbers; while important, Erin realizes that it is really all about the people. Without people and resources, there is no organization.”

Kuhl has worked with Krause Group since 2019, first serving as chief financial officer of Kum & Go from 2019-2021 before becoming chief financial officer of Krause Group in 2020 and chief of staff in 2023. Before joining Krause group, Kuhl worked in various roles for Athene between 2010-2019, including vice president controller and treasurer, director of financial reporting, manager of accounting policy and transaction support, and project accounting consultant. She also worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP from 2004-2010.

Kuhl’s community involvement includes serving as a board member of the finance committee and executive committee for Oakridge Neighborhood since 2020; a board member of the executive committee for MercyOne Foundation since 2019; and in various roles with United Way of Central Iowa since 2017. She has also previously been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, Winefest Des Moines and DSM Financial Executives Women. She was also a member of the 2020 Business Record Forty Under 40 class.
Kuhl will receive the 2024 Deloitte CFO of the Year award during the Business Record’s annual Economic Forecast on Jan. 24 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny. Tickets to the event are available here.
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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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