Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa CEO Beth Shelton is putting families first
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This story is part of the Des Moines Register’s People to Watch in 2020 series. The stories highlight Iowans we expect great things from in the coming year.
Beth Shelton has been through her share of challenges in life.
Maybe that's why she's made it her mission to support the people she leads.
The chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa was born without a hand. But 99 times out of 100, that's not an obstacle, she said. If anything, it's made her more empathetic.
In her nearly four years at the helm, Shelton has implemented benefit policies that have increased employee retention, workplace satisfaction and engagement. She credits that to supporting her employees.
A survey of Shelton's employees across four offices in Iowa in 2019 showed that 94% of employees say they are able to have a work-life balance. In 2015, before Shelton overhauled the organization's benefits, satisfaction was about 19%. After she took charge, it rose to 89%.
"The long term impact of supporting people is really tremendous," she said.
Fighting for equality
As CEO, Shelton oversees about 10,000 girl scouts and 3,500 volunteers. She also leads a full-time staff of 52 employees, 49 of whom are women.
In the fall of 2018, eight women on her staff were pregnant. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, parents or guardians can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa offers employees 12 weeks of paid leave.
Shelton decided that wasn't enough.
When an employee came to her and broached the idea of bringing her child to the workplace after the baby was born, Shelton held her tongue.
"In my head, I was like, a hard no. There’s no way that would work," she said. "I've got three kids. If you’ve ever met a human child, this is crazy."
Then she did some research on equality and the wage gap and found that women face the highest barriers in the workplace because of motherhood. She then talked to her staff and figured out what they would have to do if they were to welcome infants into the workplace.
"Who's going to put some skin in the game if not the Girl Scouts?" she said.
After having the idea vetted by the organization's employment liability agency, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa welcomed their first child into the office in December 2018.
The program, which Shelton calls Infants at Work, allows parents to bring their babies into the workplace until they are six months old or learn how to crawl.
She said 100% of eligible parents have participated in the program.
Reworking the workplace
Shelton's mission to provide competitive benefits for her employees began in 2016 with a benefit close to her heart.
In 2015, Shelton miscarried at four months. It was her and her husband's first child together. For days after, she struggled at work.
"I think that was a really pivotal moment for me," she said. "I remember thinking that if I'm ever a leader of people, I will be sure to acknowledge that hard things happen, and how do I show up for them?"
When she took the reins at Girl Scouts, she almost immediately created paid bereavement leave for women who experience a miscarriage. According to the Mayo Clinic, between 10% and 20% of women who are pregnant experience a miscarriage.
"That’s a benefit that’s been utilized by several staff members, and it’s our way of saying, 'Life is hard, we’re so sorry, and we’ve got your back'," she said.
In July 2019, her company also started giving four weeks of paid caregiver leave for employees to provide short-term mental or physical care to a loved one.
Shelton said the benefits are a way to show employees that the organization cares for them. And it's paid off.
Since implementing the new benefits, Shelton said the organization has seen record retention, growth and engagement. In 2015, before she started, there was an attrition rate of about 38% among full-time employees, she said. This year, it's about 8%.
"All of our benefits reflect a culture of how do we listen to people, and how do we see the needs we have, and how do we address them?" she said.
Leading by example
Growing up, Shelton was not involved in Girl Scouts. All she really knew about the organization was that it offered cool opportunities for girls and sold cookies.
Now, outside of the workplace, Shelton is on the front lines with her own troop, No. 563, in the Saydel community just north of Des Moines.
Her two daughters from her first marriage, 14-year-old Grace and 11-year-old Millie, are part of their mother's troop. Shelton said she wanted her daughters to be involved, but there was not a troop in their school.
"I did what a lot of parents do and said, 'Who’s going to lead this thing?'" she said. "You kind of look around and say, 'OK, it’s me. I'm going to be the troop leader.'"
She began the troop in 2016 with eight girls. This year, the troop had to be split into two, with about 50 girls each from kindergarten to ninth grade.
Her troop co-leader, Shelley Jarrett, said she has settled into the role effortlessly.
Jarrett, a preschool associate for Des Moines Public Schools, joined Shelton's group in 2017 with her 11-year-old daughter. She said Shelton inspires the girls by being herself.
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"She’s really goal-driven, but also has that tender side of her where she’s vulnerable to allow the growth to be seen in her, so that the girls can see that growth," she said.
Shelton said leading the troop has been one of the instrumental things she has done and has given her a "unique perspective" on the Girl Scouts' mission.
"Our volunteers are our customers," she said. "We want to make sure that we’re addressing their needs and removing their hurdles."
Shelton said she will continue to focus on improving the volunteer experience and add more full-time employees. That includes two full-time troop leaders to cover the amount of girls wanting to join, and a full-time science, technology, engineering and math employee who will implement STEM into Girl Scout programming.
Janet Phipps, former chair and current member of the board for Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, said Shelton is always looking ahead.
"The things that she has done and implemented as far as this work-life balance in that organization has made other employers big and little, small and large, think about their own now," she said. "Whether it’s right for them we don’t know, but if you can provoke the thought for others that goes a long way."
About 'People to Watch'
The Des Moines Register's "15 People to Watch in 2020" are movers and shakers, givers and doers. They were chosen by Des Moines Register news staff from scores of reader nominations. Their stories will run in the Register through Jan. 5.
Get to know Beth Shelton
- BORN: Des Moines
- RESIDENCE: Des Moines
- EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in religion from Simpson College, 2001; Master of Business Administration from Drake University, 2007
- OCCUPATION: Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa
- PREVIOUS POSITIONS: Director of the American Heart Association in Iowa, 2012 to 2015; Senior marketing specialist at Marsh, 2011 to 2012; Assistant Director of Admissions at Simpson College, 2002-2011
- FAMILY: Husband Mark Shelton, 2-year-old son Dane Shelton, 14-year-old Grace Peck and 11-year-old Millie Peck
- WEBSITE: bethshelton.com
Sarah LeBlanc covers Warren County for the Register. Reach her at 515-284-8161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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