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JUNE 24, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Happy Monday. Before we get into this week’s newsletter, we wanted to give you a heads-up on an expected court decision.

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court will likely release its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds, which could determine whether a state law prohibiting most abortions is allowed to take effect. Fearless will continue to report on the decision and what it means for Iowa women and Iowa businesses.

We are always open to story ideas, suggestions and feedback from you. That includes feedback about how we cover complex topics.

Generally, our Fearless stories fall into these categories: advocacy and community involvement, business ownership, career pathways and advancement, child care, confidence, financial empowerment, government and policy, health care, leadership, mentoring and professional development, overcoming discrimination and adversity, risk-taking and startups.

Do you have an idea for a news story or a guest column? Is there something we could be doing better? Please email us: Nicole Grundmeier is a Business Record staff writer and can be reached at Emily Barske Wood is the special projects editor for the Business Record and can be reached at We’d love to hear from you.

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

  • A guest column by Lisa Grefe about women and investing – own your financial future.
  • A profile story about Alexa McCarthy, the executive director of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation.
  • In the headlines: Iowans on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program can now buy groceries online.
  • In case you missed it: Dress for Success Des Moines announced Rachelle Keck as the speaker for its annual luncheon.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Guest column: Women and investing: Changing the conversation around money and owning your financial future
Lisa Grefe. Submitted photo.
When it comes to money stereotypes, women often find themselves on the receiving end of remarks like “women aren’t good with money” or “they don’t understand investing.” Such stereotypes stand in the way of financial empowerment for women. As a woman in the financial industry, I have a responsibility to share an unspoken truth. I believe when women have more money, better things happen in our communities. We need to change the conversation around women and money, so they can own their financial future.

The need for change is evident. Women continue to grapple with the glaring gender pay gap and earn significantly less than their male counterparts for the same work. According to 2023 data from the AAUW, women working a full-time job in the U.S. earned 84 cents to the $1 that white, non-Hispanic men earned. That equates to a pay gap of 22% in Iowa. It is even worse for women of color, including Latinas and Black women.

I know firsthand the obstacles women endure, as I took a yearlong career break due to a major health challenge in my 30s. This meant lost wages and retirement savings and, unfortunately, a step back in my career until I recovered. When women are faced with unique challenges such as career breaks for caregiving responsibilities or health issues, it further exacerbates their financial vulnerability.

Most people have heard of the gender pay gap; however, the lesser-known gap is the gender wealth gap, which addresses how much people own, keep and have. This includes the value of assets, such as cash, real estate and investments, minus debts. The harsh reality is that women own less. In fact, we overall own a mere 32 cents on the dollar. Wealth provides leverage to compound, multiply and grow. Wealth can be passed down generationally and can provide access and opportunity.

Challenges related to building wealth were apparent in this year’s Business Record gender equity 2024 survey. Respondents who identified as women or nonbinary noted that two of the top challenges were investing money (44.2%) and planning for retirement (40%). A big difference was noted in the answer “none of the above” – 68% of male respondents selected that they didn’t have any of the financial challenges listed.

To truly empower women in handling their finances, we must first acknowledge and address these systemic barriers. It starts with education and awareness. By equipping women with the tools to understand budgeting, investing and retirement planning, we can empower them to make informed financial decisions that align with their goals and aspirations.

At First Community Trust, I work with clients to develop tailored financial plans, in addition to assisting them with retirement planning, retirement income strategies and investment planning, as well as generational wealth transfer. Being front and center in this industry, I am quite passionate about getting women to invest. Women outlive men by nearly six years, which means planning for additional income throughout our lifetime is critical.

When I begin to create an investment plan, common questions I hear as an adviser are: “How do I start investing?” “Where do I start?” “When is the best time to start?” “Am I going to be OK in retirement?” “What should I invest in?” and “It can feel overwhelming.” If you are experiencing this analysis paralysis, here are a few next steps to consider:

What can you do today?
  • It’s better to start than to know everything. Do you get a match with your 401(k) at work? Start there.
  • Think of yourself as an investor and overcome your fear. Historically speaking, investing in the S&P 500 since its inception in 1928 has had an average annualized return of 9.9% through Dec. 31, 2023. A reminder that returns aren’t guaranteed, so you need to be comfortable with some risk.
  • Invest in a diversified portfolio based on your timeline (age, retirement). Start from where you are.
  • If you have an investment portfolio already, nice job! It might be time to review again and plan for the unexpected. Is your portfolio still aligned with your goals and values?  
  • If you have a partner, have a date night focused on a values-and-money conversation.
  • Reach out to a trusted financial partner to get help.

What if you don’t have enough money to invest?
  • If you have credit card bills to pay off, other debt or need to build emergency savings, it may be important to focus on that first.
  • Negotiate a raise. Change careers. Find a manager, mentor or sponsor who will lift you up in your career and financially.
  • If you have the privilege to make choices, you could start your own business and control your career path.

As the 2024 Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa Inspiring Advocate for Women recipient, I am dedicated to helping not only women, but also girls, find an appreciation and interest in developing their financial wellness. While there is much more work to do, I am happy to serve as a resource for those wanting to take the next steps in investing. In my role as a wealth adviser and trust officer with First Community Trust, I get the opportunity to work with Central Iowans to help them invest for their future and plan for retirement. I am proud to support women in our state as they begin to remove personal barriers preventing them from owning their financial futures.

By empowering women with the knowledge, resources and support to handle their finances effectively, we can create positive change in our local communities. It’s time to change the conversation and empower every woman to own her financial future. I hope you will join me in this mission.

Lisa Grefe is a wealth adviser and trust officer for First Community Trust. She helps individuals with retirement planning, retirement income strategies and investment planning, as well as generational wealth transfer. She currently serves members of Premier Credit Union and is the head girls soccer coach for Des Moines North High School.

Get to know Alexa McCarthy, executive director of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation
Alexa McCarthy. Photo by John Retzlaff.
Art shouldn’t be intimidating. But for many people, it is.

Alexa McCarthy, the new executive director of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation, said a goal of hers is to make art accessible to everyone.

People often feel that they “need to know something” when they walk into a big gallery in places like New York.

“That’s one of the things that I love about public art, is there is a little bit of happenstance when you come across an artwork,” McCarthy said.

The Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation works with the city of Des Moines and other groups to place art in high-traffic places.

“I always tell people when they say to me, ‘I don’t know anything about art’ … you don’t have to,” she said. “See what speaks to you. And that can be on a number of levels; it could be the color, it could be the light, it could be the composition itself, it could simply be where the artwork is placed. You don’t need to have this in-depth knowledge in order to appreciate it.”

McCarthy, who started in September, said one of the foundation’s current prominent projects will shape the look of the new entrance and terminal project at Des Moines International Airport.

She spoke with the Business Record recently about her background and her goals with the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation.

During your educational and professional careers, you’ve been in Maine, you’ve been in New York, you’ve been in the U.K. Have you experienced any culture shock here in Iowa?

Iowa’s a place that’s really close to my heart because my dad is from here originally. He was born and raised in Marshalltown. My grandma lived in Des Moines and then West Des Moines. It’s a community that is close to my heart, and it’s one that I really know well and love, so not so much [culture shock]. It’s nice to come back to family friends.

How long have you been on the job? What does a typical day look like for you right now?

I started Sept. 1. A day is usually meeting filled; I like to have a lot of interaction with members of the community. So, potential community partners or existing community partners, having conversations with artists, and meetings with community stakeholders about different projects that we’re working on. Something that’s really important to me is educational outreach. I’ve been working on giving some short presentations. I’ve started at East and Lincoln High School about free art opportunities in the community because Des Moines is really rich in that. We have the Art Center, we have Pappajohn Sculpture Park, we have large-scale public art installations from the foundation, we have a rich portfolio of murals that have a whole range of history. There’s a lot to experience for free in terms of world-class art and public art in this town, which is unique.

If somebody says “public art in Des Moines,” one of the things that comes to my mind is the Claes Oldenburg umbrella. I bring that up because I wonder, how do you and your colleagues measure success – is it when a work becomes iconic like that, or is it when something’s having the effect you want? How do you measure success?

For me, I think making sure that the installation is the right installation for that space has a large role to play in the impact of the installation for the community. And so that’s something that is always very important to me. You see that in terms of people interacting with those pieces of art and also when you see people coming to town and seeking out those pieces of art specifically, or even publications or exhibitions of that artist’s work, wanting to incorporate that installation into that, so you start to see it being published. Artists like Claes Oldenburg, Kerry James Marshall, these are hugely resonant, influential artists on an international scale in the public art realm. So making sure that the art works, and to speak to these artists’ intentions, but also, as I mentioned, really fit within the community; there are many factors that go into it: location, artist’s concept. How those all come together is usually measured in community interest and how that work of art becomes synonymous with a place. So you start to see that a lot. Then you realize, “OK then, we’ve done a good job with that exhibition, with that installation.”

What are you looking forward to most, whether that be a specific installation or a goal, in 2024 and 2025?

We’re working with the airport to realize the public art installations for the airport. As we move later into 2024 and into 2025, we’ll begin to get a sense of what those installations will look like and begin to work with the artists to realize them, and they’ll be in place when the terminal opens in 2026. So that’s very exciting. And then also, continuing to work with community partners to realize installations throughout the city and furthering our educational engagements.

What are your favorite elements so far of the local art scene?

I think there is a vibrant community of artists who are engaged in a range of different types of art. We’ve got sculpture, we’ve got painting, we’ve got photography, and really a lot of great different opportunities in the community to connect through murals, through exhibitions at local galleries, also through art center exhibitions, to kind of champion that local work. I think there is a lot of interest in terms of organizations, both the Public Art Foundation and Operation Downtown, which is one of our partners, to infuse the city with art that’s openly accessible and exciting and vibrant. A lot of that art, we’re lucky that it actually comes from members of the community.

Getty Images.
In the headlines
While women outnumber men on campus, their later earnings remain stuck: The number of college-educated women in the workforce has overtaken the number of college-educated men. While this would seem to have significant implications for society and the economy — since college graduates make more money over their lifetimes than people who haven’t finished college — other obstacles have stubbornly prevented women from closing leadership and earnings gaps, according to this in-depth story by NPR.

Iowa’s first 100% woman-owned brewery stops production but its 2 taprooms stay open: A beloved Iowa brewery is ending its brewing operations after a 15-year run in Central Iowa, according to this story in the Des Moines Register. Megan McKay, the owner of Peace Tree Brewing Co. based in Knoxville, announced that she will cease brewing operations.

Iowans on the WIC program can now buy groceries online: Families in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska that take part in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program can now use their cards to shop online at most Hy-Vee stores as part of a pilot program. Kate Franken, a Midwest WIC director, says that shopping with young children can be challenging, and that without an online option, fewer healthy foods are accessible, according to this story from Iowa Public Radio.

Department of Education announces ‘5 Credentials to Child Care Careers’ pilot programs: The Iowa Department of Education announced five Iowa school districts have been selected to pilot a new program leveraging school-community partnerships to expand access to child care while supporting high school students earning a national child development credential. In support of the pilot, the school districts were awarded a total of over $140,000 in the first rounds of competitive grants through the Credentials to Child Care Careers grant program. Grants to the first cohort will be distributed in July for district implementation during the 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years. Districts can use their grant awards to cover allowable costs, such as student exam fees, textbooks, course materials, student stipends, licensed child care partner stipends and other approved expenses that help remove barriers to participation.

Worth checking out
Nationwide women’s strike to take place on the anniversary of Dobbs decision (Iowa Public Radio). Research: How remote work affects women at different stages of their careers (Harvard Business Review). I had a difficult childhood. It made me an amazing employee. (New York Times). The disturbing truth about hair relaxers: They’ve been linked to reproductive disorders and cancers. Why are they still being marketed so aggressively to Black women? (New York Times). Supporting new moms in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s also a smart business decision. Here’s why. (Entrepreneur). The T-shirt’s message is simple: ‘Everyone watches women’s sports.’ (New York Times).
Dress for Success Des Moines announces Rachelle Keck as speaker for annual luncheon
Dress for Success Des Moines announced that its annual Success Luncheon will feature speaker Rachelle Keck, president of Grand View University.

The 2024 luncheon theme, “Stepping into Success,” celebrates the work of the Career Center, which aims to address obstacles women face while securing employment.

The Success Luncheon will feature Keck, success stories from Dress for Success clients and networking opportunities.

The luncheon is Sept. 17 at Prairie Meadows in Altoona. More information and tickets are available at
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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