How can Iowa work toward gender equity in 2024 and beyond? Fearless audience shares thoughts

Published by Emily Barske Wood on

Compiled by Emily Barske Wood

One name came up a number of times in responses to this year’s Business Record survey on gender equity in Iowa: Caitlin Clark. 

Several respondents noted the University of Iowa basketball star’s achievements among the biggest advancements for women in the last year. It’s not surprising, as she’s garnered international attention with her unprecedented record-breaking college career. In early March, Clark broke the NCAA scoring record, which includes both men and women. Among many other businesses paying attention to her accomplishments, Nike launched an advertising campaign to acknowledge her contributions to the game, and in particular her ability to make long-range 3-pointers, with a tagline: “This was never a long shot.” 

But many survey respondents noted that achieving gender equity across the board does seem like a long shot. For instance, women and nonbinary respondents on average believe women are only 51% of the way toward experiencing full equality with men. Respondents mentioned this is due to inadequate workplace pay and benefits, health care imbalances and underrepresentation in leadership.

Yet, respondents also highlighted women like Clark and others who have shattered glass ceilings in the last year. Some also mentioned that women’s issues seem to be more widely discussed, a first step toward equity. 

The Business Record has published its annual survey on women’s and gender issues as part of our Fearless initiative for the last several years. While nonscientific, we believe the results of this questionnaire illustrate current opinions about Iowa women’s equity in and outside of work. 

Respondents were invited to answer multiple-choice and short-answer questions, and leave comments when they wished. They could pick which questions they responded to, and we did not require that they submit their name in hopes of getting more honest answers. We did, however, ask that respondents tell us their gender identity; we note where we’ve broken down answers based on respondents’ gender. 

We selected the comments, which have been edited for clarity, to represent a wide range of perspectives. 

In reading this coverage, we hope business leaders and individuals can identify new ways in which they can empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. 

Demographics breakdown

Note about numbers: We rounded all percentages to the nearest tenth of a percentage point. Because of this, the sum of percentages on some questions doesn’t equate to 100 exactly. 

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

“More small business owners are now women. More corporations seem to be promoting women. More women’s issues are being looked at more seriously.”

“The increase in women holding higher-level positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.”

“Brenna Bird elected as the attorney general for the state of Iowa; and of course Caitlin Clark (and Angel Reese) have been fantastic for women’s athletics.”

“I love seeing more women in leadership roles, specifically women of color.”

“The recognition that Caitlin Clark has gained has helped female sports across the board.”

“Women continue to make strides in traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as in leadership positions in corporations and organizations. Women’s enrollment and participation in higher education continues to increase globally, leading to greater opportunities for career advancement and economic empowerment.”

“Political influence since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.”

“Des Moines’ first female mayor. A great influx of women-owned small businesses. Greater Des Moines Partnership’s new female CEO.”

“In the past year, I have not seen advancements. Instead, I have seen continued erosion, especially by our government, of women’s rights. This can be seen in legislation moving forward that no longer requires equal representation by gender on state boards. Women’s voices and perspectives are being actively disregarded by state leadership.”

“University of Iowa naming Beth Goetz as athletic director.”

“Powerful female figures in sports and entertainment have risen to stardom and validated our right (and ability) to excel in these spaces. Examples include Caitlin Clark (Iowa women’s basketball) selling out stadiums all across the country, and Taylor Swift’s the Eras Tour, which is the highest-grossing tour in the history of the music industry. Politically, it has been refreshing to see at least one serious presidential candidate who is a female (Nikki Haley) in a sea of blustering men. In the financial sector, it is refreshing to see more women take on leadership roles.”

“Taylor Swift. Seems ridiculous, but she’s shining a light on the scrutiny women face – especially powerful women. The ‘Barbie’ movie. This movie depicted what it’s like to be a woman. Now, will anything change in our world because of it? We can hope, but probably not.”

“Gov. Kim Reynolds being more and more in the national spotlight. She’s been doing a great job as Iowa’s first female governor!”

“We have a woman mayor in Des Moines finally!”

“Continued business startup and expanding roles within some of the largest organizations in the area.”

“I don’t think it’s been a great year for women. Between reproductive rights, child care, pay equity, etc. I don’t know that women as a whole can claim a lot of wins in 2023.”

“Employers offering more flexibility to women with children or at-home responsibilities – allowing them to work from home or flex their hours due to these reasons that have always been there.”

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

This question includes only answers from women and nonbinary respondents. 

“Others underestimating the skill level in nontraditional roles for women or assuming women wouldn’t be interested in nontraditional careers. At the professional level, such things as leadership and CEO positions. At the nonprofessional level, things such as the ability to drive a truck or forklift.”

“Women being seen as less knowledgeable than men. Women often have a different slant in looking at things, and it is generally not respected. Women continue to not be seen as equal when in a boardroom or in a business meeting.”

“Parental leave, flexibility, pay inequality.”

“Lack of affordable child care. Inflexible work schedules/in-office requirements.”

“It can be a challenge asserting my voice and opinions when I feel constantly overpowered by my male co-workers’ voice and opinions. It can make me feel like my voice doesn’t matter.”

“‘Boys’ club’ is still alive and well in many organizations; imposter syndrome; balancing time off for child care/child sickness; not being heard in the workplace.”

“Continuing to have to balance family and work. I am a member of a senior leadership team at my work and the only one that has to balance caregiving of school-age children. My company is very supportive, but I see that male counterparts, although active parents, do not seem to have the same family expectations upon them. Many of their wives work part time or do not work outside the home.”

“The ability to be fully present and focused at work is interrupted when there is so much fear and uncertainty around Iowa’s future. It’s difficult to be successful at work when your mental energy is spent worrying about your ability to access health care or your child’s safety in school, among many other issues.”

“A woman must expend 150% of a male to earn credibility, while a man is granted credibility out of the gate.”

“Assumption that we were given the role because of our gender. Assumption that we are not qualified for our roles. (For example, my three daughters who are doctors are assumed to be nurses. My daughter who is a mechanical engineer is assumed to know nothing about the product she is producing – trucks.) Balancing family and work obligations, especially for child care. Men who speak over women in meetings. Evident pay disparities for positions that are considered ‘women’s work.’”

“Bully bosses who are female.”

“Constant sexual harassment and wage differences.”

“Flexibility in terms of hours and location of work; still being called things like ‘girls,’ ‘gals,’ etc., which feels like I’m taken less seriously; given ‘housekeeping’-type tasks that men don’t often do like note-taking, scheduling, setup, organization; paid less for the same work; being considered bossy … for saying and doing things that men can say and do without judgment; being questioned more when asking for a raise; it’s assumed I can work more or do different things because I’m child-free; being considered ‘emotional.’”

“So many women had to adjust their personal and work roles at the beginning and through the pandemic. I notice many women are less willing to go back to giving up nights and weekends for their work, which I fear will have an impact on women’s advancement opportunities. I know I’m less likely to volunteer for after-hours networking or an in-person conference out of town because I’m more protective of my off-work time. I also worry that our state will lose a lot of women in the workforce who choose to move out of state rather than continue to live in a state that disregards women’s health so blatantly.”

“To be taken seriously. Oftentimes, I am ignored while men talk over me. In the end, I do get to say what is needed and typically agreed upon but only after men who aren’t familiar with the topic waste time trying to identify a solution.”

Achieving gender equality is a task that consists of many challenges. We also recognize that equality can mean something different depending on whom we ask. Regardless, please rank how close you perceive women are to achieving full equality with men (100 being full equality).

Overall average: 56

Average of respondents who identify as women or nonbinary: 51

Average of respondents who identify as men: 73

If you are a woman or nonbinary, do you feel that you’ve been treated equally to your male co-workers?

“While I now work for myself, my old boss was blatantly misogynist. He was also racist. Thus, I worked for him for 16 years, and after four interviews, he never thought I was good enough for a full-time position. He also made horrid comments in front of me, and he took at least four years to learn my name. Meanwhile, he’d hang out for hours in male co-workers’ offices. Other men in management were condescending, talked over women, ignored our ideas, took credit or gave credit to other men for our ideas, etc.”

“Yes, in my current position, but not always in the past. I was once told that I was hired for a position because I was done having my kids and they wouldn’t have to worry about me being pregnant.”

“Male workers are often chosen for work-related trips with other men or other advancement.”

“I feel on the surface and personally they treat me the same. However, I feel like there are higher expectations for the women in my office than our male co-workers. The women in our office have shown time and time again that we’re willing and capable to go above and beyond, when a lot of the men in our office struggle with time management and organization. I think because of this, at times we can be taken advantage of.”

“Frequently required to manage the emotions of male colleagues, I’m assigned work that cares for others while my ideas are dismissed, and as a mother, my needs are not considered (pumping, flexibility, etc.).”

“I am often looked at based on my chosen field as not being as smart, driven, strong as my male counterparts.”

“I am white-presenting and cisgender. I am thankful to work in a team that actively works to advance equity for all. My organization is small, and this is probably the first time I would answer ‘yes’ to this question; however, I do not believe that my current experience is the norm for women or marginalized groups.”

“I make less money than my less-qualified and less-accomplished male counterparts.”

“While I do feel I have been treated well, there are still instances of inequality that make me answer ‘no.’ These things include: maternity leave, time off for child care and pay.”

“I have seen men actively disregard the input of a female colleague only to have the male come back in a meeting and propose exactly what the female colleague stated.”

“This is hard. I don’t want to be ‘equal.’ I just want to be treated fairly. I learned a long time ago that equal is not fair. I just want to be treated fairly for the assets I bring to an organization.”

“While I have fought to get to where I am, and my boss is currently the best I have had in my career in terms of gender equality, it is still not equal. Clients, employees, etc., still make things not equal. Without even knowing they are doing it often.”

“Constant belittlement, disregard of superior contribution, sexual harassment.”

“Men still continue to have champions or advocates at work that favor their gender.”

“I recently lost a lot of weight, and have noticed how differently I’m treated in professional settings. I doubt men would have the same experience. So while I’m successful and can’t point to any specific discrimination as a woman, I am aware that my appearance influences how people treat me.”

“I have been underpaid each time I took a step up in a job. Even when attempting to negotiate, I still have found that I get given more high-level responsibility over time with no additional pay. My peers don’t get asked for more but still get paid the same or better. The thing I need the most is flexibility and time off to care for my kids. My employer (and past employers) won’t negotiate on that item. Things my male friends want like pay, recognition – those seem easier to get considered.”

“Gender-biased words and descriptors. A man can be direct and confident, while a woman who communicates in the same manner is bossy and difficult.”

What is the most effective way for men to be allies to women?

Comments from respondents who identify as women and nonbinary:

“Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Realize that we all have personal and family issues that arise in our day-to-day lives that affect our work lives. Allow people to manage these issues without criticism or judgment. Women are frequently held to a different standard.”

“Acknowledge that the playing field is not always equal. Men can easily say that they would hire whomever is best for the job, but the facts are that they don’t always have the same path. Women, by nature of having to be out of work to have children and often being a strong caregiver, do have to exit the workplace for a while. Men do not have this. Men need to realize this and champion their women counterparts and direct reports.”

“It starts at home. Men cannot only be allies to women in the workplace. They need to be allies to their partners, sisters, daughters and female friends first. Then that allyship will naturally extend into the workplace. Are men sharing the child care workloads? Are men sharing in the household workload? Are men encouraging young girls to be brave and strong, or meek and polite?”

“Speak up. Use your privilege and power.”

“Listen, seek to understand and trust their judgment and decision-making ability at least until it is executed. If, for any reason, their ideas fail, then take a different path. Otherwise give them a chance.”

“Elevate their voices. Take a back-seat role that still gives effort but doesn’t take over or constantly doubt/question the course and honors their expertise.”

“Allyship is about creating space and opportunities for the oppressed to work against the system. It isn’t speaking on behalf of the oppressed. I think it’s amazing to have a male presence in women’s groups. But many wind up projecting their own expectations and blocking out space where women should be at the forefront. I see many men taking up time and space expressing how great they are at helping women advance, rather than creating opportunities for women to speak on advancement. The most effective way men can be allies to women is to be aware of this pitfall and actively work to create opportunities for women. (I want to share that I’ve met men who are brilliant allies; they’re just unfortunately in the minority.)”

“Listen, offer opportunities to grow professionally if you are a manager, document or call out achievements to upper management.”

“Actively mentor and support women for advancement in the firm. Do not assume that being a mother somehow disqualifies a person from advancement or that the women will not give 100% toward success in the position.”

“My closest male allies are not afraid to admit they don’t know something, are able to laugh at themselves and ask for opinions without judgment.”

“Men should hire more women, empower them with real responsibilities, budgets and other resources, and then let them build if they are builders. Men should also listen to women, check their own prejudice before raising a concern (ask themselves, ‘Would I say this if she were a man?’) and stop empire-building.”

“Salary transparency; calling out mansplaining.”

“Listen and respect women. Believe other ways of doing things can be beneficial. Most things in life are better if they aren’t seen as a competition but that we all do better when we all do better.”

“Men in business need to champion ways to correct the poor child care climate.”

“Give credit when due.”

Comments from respondents who identify as men:

“Ensure women have a stronger voice in political and policy decisions at all levels of government.”

“I think you need to think in terms of another comparable person, expected to be capable, as intelligent, understanding, appreciated and respected, just like anyone else.”

“Direct mentor support and more focus on sharing responsibilities outside of work.”

“Explain to them that the world doesn’t owe them anything and that you have to work for everything.”

“It’s very simple. Treat women as they should be treated and give them every opportunity they deserve. Treat them exactly as you would treat everyone else. Merit matters more than strictly gender.”

“Set the same expectations for men and women without making assumptions, and then discuss those expectations in the same manner, again without making assumptions as a result of their gender.”

“Ask questions, engage them, be genuine, but understand their intentions – not yours. For example, do they really want mentored or your unsolicited opinions? Every person and situation is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

What’s the one thing that has been most helpful to your professional success and advancement?

This question includes only answers from respondents who identify as women and nonbinary.

“I am incredibly privileged to have a partner who makes enough to support us both, so I’ve been able to start my own business and get out of a toxic work environment.”

“My husband has always been an equal partner. We have both shared responsibilities and taken care of the children. Ultimately, I stepped away, however, as his advancement opportunities were always higher as a male.”

“I have been very fortunate to have a prior boss from earlier in my career who has mentored and coached me even though we no longer work together. I owe my career to her. She helps me see opportunities and encourages me to try new opportunities.”

“I had a mentor from outside the organization who was willing to tell me what I was choosing to ignore. I then put plans and strategies in place to work through the power framework.”

“Prioritizing my work as much as my spouse prioritized his made a difference in my ability to advance.”

“Having a male manager who sees me as an equal has worked wonders on my well-being and success within the workplace. I previously had a manager who disliked having women in the workplace (I learned this through years of mistreatment and listening to him complain about my female co-workers). It’s a massive breath of fresh air to have a manager who sees me as a competent team member (regardless of gender) rather than just an ineffective woman with feelings.”

“Many times we settle or fall into a routine and develop a narrow focus – it is helpful to connect with someone in the industry that has a different background or experience to widen the perspective.”

“Not only do I have an incredible mentor, but they have recommended me to places where they know my value will be seen. And now as I have the opportunity to build up new leaders, I remember to do the same. I lift up those who deserve great opportunities. Leaders create even better leaders.”

“Whenever I had a boss who advocated for me, my career was more successful in terms of promotions, bonuses and compensation.”

“I have known my boss for a few years before I even began working at our company. He has always encouraged me to further my educational horizons, learn something new every day and challenge me to be able to solve problems for myself.”

“An HR team member told me about intermittent FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act], which I now use to take breaks for therapy appointments and flareups of anxiety and depression.”

“In my current role, I have direct reports. I never have wanted to have reports but my manager talked about how I already have direct reports in my old role, just not on paper. His way of looking at it and faith in me is why I picked this role.”

“I had a great boss who recommended me for career opportunities. Best support was my parents, who helped with child care.”

What actions need to be taken to achieve gender parity in leadership positions? 

Comments from respondents who identify as women or nonbinary:

“Greater spotlight on the issue. People think parity exists; it doesn’t.”

“Equal does not mean fair. I just want the BEST candidate for the job to be hired.”

“Great leaders are multipliers. Women in leadership positions should try their best to eliminate zero-sum thinking from their own calculations (zero-sum thinking perceives situations as zero-sum games, where one person’s gain would be another’s loss). A woman in a leadership role does not need to defend her turf; she needs to expand it by hiring and empowering the women around her. She needs to mentor, coach and lift up the women in her sphere to ensure an inclusive (expansive, even) playing field.”

“Affirmative action. Men will never do it on their own. Many women don’t understand why they need women in leadership.”

“Creating systems that allow equal access to opportunities to get to leadership positions.”

“Penalties to companies that don’t have representative leadership. If a company is publicly traded, investors should know its leadership makeup, and we need to hold companies accountable to gender and racial parity. Consumers are more conscious of supporting Black-owned businesses. We need to find ways to highlight which companies are leading in gender parity and which ones aren’t.”

“We need a wider variety of good-paying jobs. I took a responsibility cut/changed jobs so I could better be present with my child, but was previously doing well in a leadership role. For example, it is extremely rare to find a 3/4 time leadership position. It is hard to find a 3/4 time job above $20/hour or with benefits. Because so many of our organizations are structured in the same way, we are missing out on talents that don’t fit the model. We need to teach emotional literacy to our kids and within our current workforce.”

“Fair and honest conversations about who is best for the role, regardless of their gender.”

“Equal pay. … Four-day work week.”

“Our country needs to support women looking to start families. We get so behind due to lack of support. National maternity leave, etc.”

Comments from respondents who identify as men:

“Seek equality, not neutrality. Overall, there are still more men in higher corporate positions than women (for a variety of reasons). Of course, there are also some industries where the reverse is true. In each case, all individuals should be given equal opportunity, regardless of their gender or sexuality.”

“Promoting women who deserve it.”

“We just need to rip the Band-Aid and make the decision to do so.”

“For entitled men to quit feeling threatened and actively work to help women get to the top.”

“Can’t skip the child-rearing years – need to be present in the workforce because those are the years when you are best positioned to take on greater roles and responsibilities.”

“Tough question. The organizations where I’ve worked seem to almost favor women in leadership roles, so I think I look at it from another angle than some. I want the most qualified individual in the role without regard for gender. Whether it’s a leadership role or a line position, pay should be aligned with skill.”

“Not all people are born leaders; however, teachers and even college professors often find themselves in front of natural leaders that simply need an additional nudge or confidence boost. The earlier this connection can be made for women, the greater the confidence for when opportunities do arise.”

Which, if any, of these tasks related to finances are a challenge for you?

(Respondents could select all that applied.)

*Other responses identified as: living on Social Security, college funding, being financially independent, children-related expenses, inflation and budgeting with a partner.

Do conversations about social issues have a place in the workplace?

Comments from respondents who identify as women or nonbinary:

“Some offices can stomach that conversation. However, there are too many opinions to have a safe conversation without judgment.”

“Social issues are already in the workplace. They affect every aspect of how we work, what kind of work we do and who is doing the work. We just like to pretend those aren’t happening by being ‘Iowa Nice’ and avoiding difficult topics. Screw that. We don’t get to selectively participate in the socioeconomic side of social issues (capitalism) but not the rest of them.”

“In a perfect world without bias, I think we should strive to be able to have open and honest conversations on any topic without judgment. I do not feel we are 100% there today, but each year we make progress.”

“The day of keeping silent on social issues died with George Floyd. Speak truth, kindly and firmly.”

“The workplace benefits from a diverse workforce. To be able to improve the organization’s success, oppressed groups need to be supported. This is done through active learning, acknowledgment and conversations. It is harmful to ignore issues affecting more than half of your workforce (assuming – hopefully – half the workforce is women and that there are diverse men within that populus as well.)”

“Too many factors – the work environment, the role, the persons themselves, especially with today’s radical reactions to politics. If you do not exactly follow the party line, you are ostracized by both political parties!”

“When social issues in politics create a workforce issue, then yes, employers need to open their eyes and advocate for progressive issues. You can’t complain about not having enough workforce and in the same breath support politicians and policies that benefit corporations, harm individuals, and create toxic state cultures where people no longer feel free and safe.”

“Depends on the business.”

“As long as there are guardrails to keep conversations respectful.”

Comments from respondents who identify as men:

“Work is for production.”

“As long as we stick to facts, it’s important to share what is happening in the world so people expand their thoughts about the world.”

“We definitely don’t need any more Disney or Coca-Cola problems.”

“Where better? People need to understand the challenges of women so they can advocate for them.”

How big an issue do you perceive access to affordable child care in Iowa to be?


“When people I know tell me they’re working just to be able to afford child care, I’m astonished. I do not have children, and I cannot figure out how we live in a society that claims to value families but makes their day-to-day so stressful and expensive. Truly, I don’t know how to solve it, but I do know some businesses subsidize child care. I’d like to see more of that.”

“We have no child care options in my small town. It’s expensive; they take 25 days off each year, which means I have to take those days off to be with my kids.”

“Child care is astronomically expensive. My family pays nearly $2,000 a month for child care so my husband and I are able to work. We are lucky, and that amount is on the lower end of my friends in similar situations. Access to high-quality child care is a major issue for all families in Iowa and the U.S.”

“Women are generally the default caretakers for their children. It is generally their responsibility to manage child care. Because they generally make less than male partners, it’s their career on the chopping block when evaluating how to afford child care and whether they should stay home. The issue is systemic. It all circles back to having an understanding of how women experience the world inequitably and working against it.”

“Addressing the issue of affordable child care requires comprehensive solutions that address both supply and demand-side factors. Investing in child care infrastructure, expanding access to subsidies and financial assistance for low-income families, and supporting the child care workforce through training, professional development and livable wages are critical steps toward improving access to quality, affordable child care in Iowa and across the United States. Additionally, fostering partnerships among government, employers, community organizations and child care providers can help develop innovative solutions to meet the diverse needs of families and children in Iowa.”

“I believe the bigger issue is having jobs that pay a good wage. If all jobs provided a living wage, then two-parent families would be better able to have one parent stay at home if that is what they feel is best for their family. With higher wages, one-parent households would be better able to afford child care. Increasing the minimum wage would be the most helpful (in incremental amounts until it reaches a living wage of about $22/hour).”

“If more families would learn to live off of one income, this wouldn’t be an issue. We did it; yes, it cost my wife eight years in her career, but we would never change what we did. We would never want to turn our kids over to someone else to care and raise them. Benefit to us and our kids for my wife to stay home with them. Can’t convince me any other plan is better.”

“More employers should provide child care on site and be flexible with scheduling and remote work options. The government also needs to significantly overhaul its attack on public schools and instead encourage school systems to create and expand child care options.”

“It is a big issue, and COVID made it worse. Smaller communities don’t have enough options for reliable child care; the cost is very high, and the lack of staffing makes some centers have operational issues.”

What, if any, barriers need to be addressed when it comes to workplace inclusion of those who are pregnant, those whose partner is pregnant or those who are going through the adoption process?

Comments from respondents who identify as women or nonbinary:

“Even though it’s illegal to skip hiring someone who is pregnant, it still happens all the time. There needs to be in-depth reasoning why people aren’t hired. No more of this ‘they weren’t a good fit.’ Give people reasons, so they can improve, and if they can’t come up with reasons why they didn’t hire a pregnant person, then that looks sketchy, right? The entire hiring process needs an overhaul, honestly. We also need to address family leave, postpartum help, miscarriage and termination.”

“We need to expand family support. Allow more family leave and flexibility to assist people choosing to become parents. People are better employees and stay longer in companies if they feel supported by their employers.”

“There needs to be less punishment of either parent who takes time to be with their child during any part of pregnancy, birth, early childhood and beyond. Too often there is judgment of any time taken, whether for illness or any other reason. We should not live to work, but work to live – setting an example for the next generation.”

“I think I am old-school here. Is family bonding important? Yes. But it seems everyone has forgotten maternity leave is to heal from a major medical event. It is nice to have options for bonding time, but the family can budget and plan ahead for this without it costing the employer beyond the medical recovery.”

“Paid parental leave, lactation rooms, access to private refrigeration for breast milk, access to privacy for pumping that is clean, flexible work schedules, working from home options and leadership/management that are actually supportive.”

“Education for employers on minimum standards and best practices. All employees (even at tiny employers) need more than four weeks of paid leave. Twelve weeks paid leave should be seen as a minimum standard, not a generosity. All employees, especially those with new kids, need sick and vacation time. It is really common to have to spend that all down for maternity leave. That feels punitive for a unique life event that isn’t at all restful coming out of the leave period. Workplaces need to be supported by staffing (either temps or big enough workforce) to cover work when out on leave. For me, I kept getting called in while on maternity leave and in a leadership position. I was slammed with a ton of work upon return.”

Comments from respondents who identify as men:

“There are very few barriers today. Just a decade prior, it was all vacation for men/adopting parents.”

“Moving policies of large companies down to the mid-sized companies.”

“Provide flexibility in the schedule.”

How many weeks of paid family leave do you feel parents should be entitled to?

Birthing parent

Most popular answer: More than 20 weeks (17.9%)

Non-birthing parent

Most popular answer: 12 weeks (20.7%)

What does the ideal family leave policy look like?

“Until kiddos can feed themselves, every parent gets at least one day a week to use for family. Be it working from home, having a day off, a four-day work week, whatever form it shows up in. Parents need to know they can contact work and say, ‘My sitter didn’t show’ or ‘My kid is sick,’ and they have no reason to be punished or feel guilty for prioritizing their families.”

“One that truly allows time off to address family issues. Twelve weeks of FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) is not enough time to be ready to return to work. That said, there also needs to be resources in companies to allow for these absences. So many times I’ve seen that other team members take on the work in addition to their own. This is fine for the short term, but not ideal for longer leaves.”

“Taking a quick look at the studies and science, minimum 25 weeks is recommended for a birthing parent’s health and ability to perform effectively when returning to the workplace. Minimum 50 weeks for an infant’s developmental needs with a parent. Notably, at 26 weeks, infants start to respond to emotions and form attachment patterns to caregivers, which is a powerful predictor of future social and emotional outcomes. Support for the birthing parent and infant from the non-birthing parent is extremely important as well – paid family leave should be extended to that parent at equal amounts. I don’t believe it’s practical to have a paid year off work. I believe a gradual return should be adopted across the span of a year for both parents.”

“New parents should be afforded the option to elect for Social Security payments while on leave, knowing it would impact their Social Security payments in retirement. If not Social Security, then they should be able to apply and qualify for unemployment benefits during their leave.”

“It would be wonderful to see birthing parents have six months of paid leave. Pregnancy and childbirth change the body in many ways, and it takes a great deal of time to truly recover. Also, babies’ sleep schedules are difficult, and parents don’t get adequate sleep to function well.

Non-birthing parents should be entitled to paid leave to help the birthing parent and the baby.

Federally funded leave would be the best solution to eliminate minimum employment tenure clauses for paid leave.”

“I think the mom should get at least two weeks and the dad one week. When we had our kids, my wife technically had a week, even though we decided she would stay home, and I got two days off. It was perfectly fine. If my employees need more time, have difficulties, I give them the time they need.”

“As someone who doesn’t have kids, I do think that sabbaticals should be available for non-parents too. I understand that maternity leave is not a ‘break/vacation.’ However, though a father on paternity leave is using the opportunity to help care for his wife/family, he himself is not recovering from a medical procedure and therefore the case could be made that a non-parental sabbatical would be fair.”

“Flexible to what the parents determine is best for them and their children – perhaps the ability to come back part time to ease back into work. Not being forced to use sick time or [paid time off] as part of leave because there will still be illness after birth and they still deserve time off.”

“It gives flexibility to employees with caregiver needs regardless of whether they are parents. People should have to save up some sick and paid time off to plan for their leave, and be responsible with their benefits. These questions presume that having children is a social and political priority. We should be challenging that assumption, too. I’d like to see more time off for adoptive parents and encourage that over large families.”

How big an issue do you perceive pay inequity in Iowa to be?

Comments from respondents who identify as women or nonbinary:

“Addressing pay inequity in Iowa requires concerted efforts from policymakers, employers, advocacy organizations and communities to promote fair and equitable compensation practices. Some strategies to address pay disparities include: 

  • Enacting and enforcing legislation to strengthen equal pay protections and prohibit discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity and other protected characteristics. Implementing transparent and equitable hiring, promotion and compensation practices that prioritize fairness, meritocracy and diversity.
  • Providing training and education for employers and employees on topics such as pay equity, unconscious bias and salary negotiation skills.
  • Encouraging employers to conduct regular pay audits, review salary structures and establish mechanisms for addressing pay disparities proactively.
  • Supporting initiatives to promote women’s leadership and representation in decision-making roles, including corporate boards, executive leadership teams and public office.”

“I’ve experienced it myself twice. My co-founder strong-armed his way into a 100% salary increase after the pandemic (making him the highest-paid staffer and the majority shareholder of the business), another startup I worked for offered me a base that was 40% less than the man who had done the job before me, and in my current role, the women make less than half the salaries of the men in our office. The woman next to me is 42 years old, is in a director-level position, and makes just $65,000/year, while the man sitting next to her makes $150,000 as a part-time employee.”

“When all factors are taken into consideration, pay inequity is almost wiped out. I work in compensation and most pay inequity is due to what types of jobs the women and men are attracted to, so increasing the pay in some of the jobs that females tend to gravitate to would help.”

“Uncertain – pay inequity research that truly accounts for variables such as education, experience, time in workforce, etc., is difficult to come by and I don’t recall seeing pay inequity research specific to Iowa recently. My background is in economics; the research in pay equity is highly variable and unfortunately may be biased by the interest group behind the research.”

“Workplaces in Iowa aren’t required to post the salary. If this were shared, women and others wouldn’t apply for a job knowing it would pay less than they want. The predetermined salary would also enable people to ensure they’re in line with their peers.”

Comments from respondents who identify as men:

“Depends on where you’re looking. In our largest corporations and institutions, I’ve got to think it’s pretty good, with one glaring exception: University of Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder’s compensation versus that of men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery. In smaller businesses, and perhaps in smaller towns, I’ve got to assume there’s still some inequity present.”

“If you think you’re underpaid, move on.”

“As a manager involved with hiring, I know it is harder to convince human resources to pay women more when men already have the higher salary and are typically asking for more than the women.”

Should businesses and organizations implement salary transparency policies to help address pay inequity?

Look for more coverage on gender equity at and in our free weekly Fearless e-newsletter. The goal of Fearless is to empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life.