Plus, do women do hard things better?
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Good morning and happy Monday! Here’s a sample of what’s featured in this week’s newsletter:

All that and more below! Have a great week.

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Businesses have a role to play in addressing Iowa’s child care crisis. Sheri Penney can help.
Meet the employer engagement director at the Iowa Women’s Foundation
Sheri Penney. Submitted photo.
The child care crisis has been simmering for decades across the state and country. In 2020, it boiled over when Iowa lost a third of its child care slots.

Seeing that child care was crucial to helping the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic, Gov. Kim Reynolds assembled her Child Care Task Force in 2021 to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the crisis.

The 18-member group’s first recommendation was to create a position for someone who would help businesses, employers and communities understand their role in addressing the child care crisis, through a partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Women’s Foundation.

Sheri Penney was hired for the position and began working in June.

Tell me about your background and what drew you to your role.

I knew I've always wanted to work with children in some capacity. My husband and I moved to north Iowa after college and there weren't any teaching positions available. So I got into working for the parks and rec department in Mason City, and ran the before-and-after-school program. I just loved that. I loved the business side and also being able to work with kids. From there, I've just always in some capacity worked with children, whether it was substitute teaching in the Osage Community School District or being an area manager for the Head Start program. I also had a little bit of a role in higher education as the registrar for the Art of Education University. At that time, COVID hit and I was trying to work from home with three children. I was that statistic of leaving the workforce. I stayed home for a bit, then decided I needed to kind of get back into the workforce. That's when I went to North Iowa Community Action as an area manager. But the economic development director in Mitchell County had left, so there was a big hole that our community was trying to fill. My name was thrown out there [for the Mitchell County position], but I’d never even considered it. I decided to take on the challenge and found that I loved it. I loved making those connections and meeting with industry leaders in our community and in our county. The one thing I kept hearing time and time again was "We need houses and we need child care." So we started exploring innovative ways that we could partner with coalitions to do something with day care in our community. At that same time, I saw the opening for the Iowa Women's Foundation, and thought, "This is the best of both worlds. I get to keep that economic development knowledge that I have and also all the child care experience and speak to both."

Describe what you’ll be doing in this role and how people can utilize your expertise.

I am going to be the feet on the ground in communities all across Iowa, working with businesses in the community to help them understand how child care is an economic issue that impacts their workforce attraction and retention. Business leaders can reach out to us via email, or they can request our surveys and toolkits directly from the Iowa Women's Foundation website. I’d then follow up with an email that says, "Please let us know we can come to your community. If you'd like to have a more detailed conversation, we'd love to help you. It is completely free."

What do you hope to see in your area of work in the next five or 10 years?

I want businesses to see that by investing in child care, they will help eliminate the economic barrier for working parents.

In your opinion, what role do businesses play in addressing Iowa's child care crisis?

I think that businesses are the key to our child care crisis. I really do. Iowa loses an estimated $153 million annually in tax revenue due to child care issues. The employee turnover costs in Iowa is estimated at $781 million a year. And that's because we have parents that are late to work or have to leave early because of child care issues. Businesses don’t necessarily need to go into every community that they're in and build brand-new child care centers, not at all. It can be as simple as a flexible work schedule or offsetting some of that cost by offering some subsidies. We know that child care is expensive and that the average parent in a two-parent family pays about 11% of their salary toward child care; the national average is 7%. Even offering a subsidy of $100 a week towards child care if you have them in a center or an in-home provider. All of those kinds of things. The return on the investment for the business is really high. They're going to have less employee turnover. They're going to have employees that are able to work full shifts, not have to leave early and not miss as many days of work. And especially when you look at the businesses, by the time that they invest in the marketing to hire someone, get them trained, it's a lot of money going into the attraction and retention. So by keeping them and having something for their child care really eliminates the need for parents to be looking for other jobs. We find that most parents say that having some sort of child care benefit is huge. And in fact, some parents will even take a lower salary if there's some sort of offset of a child care benefit. One thing we just heard in a community was a day care center director saying she gets calls weekly now from people that are calling because they have a job interview scheduled in that community, and they're calling her first to see if there's child care available. If there's no child care available, they're not going to take the interview because they're not going to come and live in your community if they can’t have someone watch their kids while they go to work.

What's it like being the first person in this position, blazing your own trail?

I tell my friends and family this is so exciting. I feel really inspired that I have this opportunity, and that's one reason that I actually did leave the Mitchell County position, because I saw the impact that child care was having on our tiny little county of 10,000. I can only do so much at the county level. I look at this as my opportunity to be that voice across the state. I would really like to see Iowa do some innovative, amazing things and really lead the nation in innovative child care ideas and getting public-private partnerships. I'd really like to have that positive focus on the state of Iowa and what we're doing to meet the needs for working parents and working moms.

Leading Fearlessly: Do women do hard things better?
Research shows female employees often possess specific leadership attributes needed in tough times
From left: Michelle Book, Miriam Lewis, Dawn Martinez Oropeza, Sanjita Pradhan, Maddie Rocha Smith, Bobbi Segura.
Women do hard things better.

I did a double take when I saw that statement in a Harvard Business Review article called "When women leaders leave, the losses multiply." While I avoid unfounded generalizations, I am fascinated by valid research that explores leadership styles and behaviors. So I was intrigued when the article referred to a study that found women may be better suited for leading in tough times because we tend to possess two key attributes: compassion and wisdom.

Led by the Potential Project, the research study set out to learn how leaders do the hard things that come with top jobs while still remaining good human beings. They looked specifically at compassion and wisdom, which are important individually but when combined have an exponentially higher impact on important metrics like employee engagement and satisfaction. When they parsed the data by gender, the differences were stark: 55% of women in their study were ranked as being wise and compassionate, compared with only 27% of men.

We all know by now that the pandemic’s effect on women in the workforce has been severe and will take years to reverse. As of February this year, there were nearly 2 million fewer women in the U.S. workforce, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis.

The loss of women in the workforce has delivered a blow to gender parity, women’s career advancement and representation in leadership. What’s more, fewer women in the workforce means fewer leaders who can offer this specific kind of leadership: the ability to do hard things in a human way. Therefore, recruitment and retention of women – and the development of compassion and wisdom in all leaders – will be critical for organizations as they navigate a rapidly changing and disrupted business environment.  

With this in mind, I asked local leaders, "Why is it so important to demonstrate compassion and wisdom, and how can we all get better at developing these critical traits?"

Michelle Book, executive director, Food Bank of Iowa: Women gain wisdom and compassion through a broad range of life experiences in their role as primary caregiver for children, parents and the community. When challenges arise, extraordinary leaders devote precious time to listen to their people, gather ideas, acknowledge fears and address concerns so the team can move forward together. This takes wisdom and compassion, which female leaders possess.

Miriam Lewis, chief inclusion officer, Principal Financial Group: Compassion is caring, and wisdom is knowing. While we may have one of them without the other, we are most effective when they coexist in our interactions. Compassion, coupled with wisdom, permeates deeper human connections. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said it best: "People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care."

Dawn Martinez Oropeza, executive director, Al Éxito: If the global pandemic taught us anything, it is the importance of being compassionate with one another, especially in the workplace. Al Éxito shifted operations to make sure that the people we serve and work with were taken care of, safe and thriving. Being focused on people first helped the organization thrive and remain relevant. It was the wise choice.

Sanjita Pradhan, senior consultant, Cook Ross: The world is complex, our lives are complex, and unfortunately, we don't operate in a vacuum. Although we spend one-third of our lives at work, what happens outside of our work affects our ability to focus at work, be productive, innovative and contribute fully to the mission of our organization. Leading with compassion allows us to humanize the workplace, build connections with our employees, provide the support they need, foster inclusion and belonging, and unlock their human potential.

Maddie Rocha Smith, communications and events manager, One Iowa: For a workplace to be successful, you need a wise leader to see that the most innovative teams have leaders who are compassionate enough to allow folks to take risks and openly express their creativity without fear of judgment. We're all better off working in an environment where we can be our true selves.

Bobbi Segura, regional manager, Women Lead Change: Studies show that emotionally intelligent leaders foster cohesive and innovative teams. Incorporation of the best attributes of those around you, including compassion and wisdom, goes a long way toward building confidence in a team and a trusted leadership presence. This unique combination of traits, along with biological differences in how women make decisions and communicate, leads to successful female leaders.

Left: The late actress and singer Nichelle Nichols. Center: Singer Beyonce. Right: Basketball player Brittney Griner.
In the headlines
  • Actress and singer Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role in "Star Trek," died last week at age 89. Nichols was one of the first Black women featured in a major television series, and her role as Lt. Nyota Uhura on "Star Trek" was groundbreaking.  
  • Beyonce will modify the lyrics of her new song "Heated," following criticism from disability rights advocates who say the word "spaz," which is featured in the lyrics, is derogatory. Pop singer Lizzo removed the same lyric from a song in June following similar backlash.
  • A Russian court last week found American basketball star Brittney Griner guilty of an attempt to smuggle illegal narcotics into Russia and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. Terri Jackson, the executive director of the WNBA players' union, called Griner’s conviction and sentencing "disappointing" and "unjust."
  • A domestic violence advocate and survivor will lead training for businesses, organizations, faith-based groups and others to help them work more effectively with Black women and spot the signs of domestic violence. The free training is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Public Health.
  • Kansans last week voted to protect abortion rights, rejecting a ballot measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure entirely. It was the first test of voter sentiment on the issue after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that overturned the constitutional right to abortion.
  • Women run fewer than 5% of the companies on the latest Fortune Global 500 list. Women currently lead 24 of the 500 companies that appear on the list, which ranks the largest companies by revenue worldwide. In 2014, that number was 17.
  • The head of the foundation that supports that Iowa Future Farmers of America is being sued by a former employee for sexual harassment. Emily Niemeyer is a former administrative assistant for the foundation and claims executive director Joshua Remington made sexually harassing comments to her.
  • Four current and former Louisville police officers involved in the deadly raid on Breonna Taylor’s home were arrested and charged last week with civil rights violations and other counts, Attorney General Merrick Garland said. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was shot and killed in her apartment in March 2020. Her death, along with those of other Black people at the hands of law enforcement and others – including George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery – sparked a summer of protests calling for police reform.
  • There were fewer Iowa abortions in 2021 than in 2020, marking the first time in three years that the annual number of abortions has decreased. There were 3,761 abortions in Iowa in 2021, according to preliminary data. That's down about 7% compared with 2020, when 4,058 abortions were performed in the state.
  • President Joe Biden last week issued an executive order to protect the ability to travel out of state to access abortion. The order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to "consider action to advance access" to reproductive health services, including through Medicaid for patients who travel out of state.
Worth checking out
It’s getting harder to be a woman in America (Bloomberg). Iowa OB-GYN education future unclear as abortion training standards change (Iowa Capital Dispatch). What it’s like to watch the women’s Tour de France, according to the only American to win it (NPR). How four Black women artists disrupted the homogenous history of the Met (The Cut). Increasing women police recruits to 30% could help change departments' culture (NPR). Abortion rights are a critical workplace issue (Lean In).
Paying it forward: Norkaitis daughter keeps parents' legacy of giving alive with donation to MercyOne NICU
Bill and Josephine Norkaitis spent their lives helping others.

Whether that was Josephine handing out bread from the bakery where she worked in Rockford, Ill., to those who were less fortunate or the couple giving out meals to the hungry from the McDonald’s restaurants he ran. Or the family of an employee who had cancer and couldn’t work. For them, Bill paid the employee’s wages for a year and then paid his wife all of her husband’s profit sharing after he died. The couple never hesitated to use their good fortune to help others.

Now, their daughter, Florence Burch, is working to keep their legacy of giving alive with a $1 million donation to the MercyOne Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit, the largest single private donation in the hospital’s history.

Advice from the 13-year-old soon-to-be medical school student
Alena Analeigh Wicker is a 13-year-old from Texas, and has already been accepted into medical school. She expects to start in 2024, after graduating from two undergraduate programs in biological science at Arizona State University and Oakwood University. She hopes to become a viral immunologist.

Her advice for other kids who want to dream big? Ignore those who tell you "no," she said.

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