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OCTOBER 30, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Our big annual Fearless celebration is Wednesday. Will I see you there? I would love to meet you – or catch up! Limited tickets are still available.

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

  • An introduction to the six Iowa women that Fearless featured in this year’s annual publication ahead of our celebration. They range in age from 16 to 74. They hail from Ames, Blue Grass, Des Moines, Iowa City, Marshalltown and Sioux City. We hope you see yourself reflected in their faces and their stories. And, we hope you are inspired by their resilience.
  • What should you do if someone discloses a sexual assault or sexual abuse to you? Fearless interviewed two Iowa women, Sara Hulen and Shannon Knudsen, whose jobs involve making sure that medical professionals throughout the state are aware of training and other resources to help them be effective responders when patients come to them after being sexually assaulted.
  • A brief about Naomi Sea Young Wittstruck, who was named chief equity and talent officer for the United Way of Central Iowa.
  • In the headlines: ‘For her’ mantra to define Iowa women’s wrestling’s first season as a program.
  • A break from the news: Read three tips for successful leadership from Dr. Trish Newland, president and CEO, UnityPoint Clinic.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

‘You can’t go through life avoiding the things that you fear’: Meet 6 fearless Iowa women
Three years ago, the Business Record launched the Fearless initiative with a goal to empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life through our articles, stories and community events.

At its core, Fearless aims to amplify the perspectives, stories and insights of Iowa women and gender-nonconforming individuals.

To celebrate the Fearless initiative’s birthday, we publish an annual collection of profiles of fearless Iowa women in the print edition of the Business Record and on the Fearless website. We do this because we believe it’s our duty not just to report on what somebody does, but also to share about who they are.

If there is a theme to this year’s stories, it is perhaps resilience. Those who spoke with Fearless writer Nicole Grundmeier and me had powerful stories to tell about overcoming various obstacles and pushing through adversity.

You’ll find that each of them has a different perspective about what it means to be fearless and how fearlessness manifests itself. Special thanks to our designer Kate Meyer, whose illustrations bring their stories to life, and our photographers. We hope you enjoy reading these stories.

Fearless is going back to school as a nontraditional student to enter a male-dominated field. Read Christen Bain's story.

Fearless is finding a new purpose in life after surviving a shark attack. Read Heidi Ernst's story.

Fearless is starting a tech nonprofit for veterans at 14 years old. Read Abigail Johnson's story.

Fearless is leading your business and community through love, empathy and compassion. Read Marlén Mendoza's story.

Fearless is making a dramatic career change and becoming the Iowa State gymnastics head coach. Read Ashley Miles Greig's story.

Fearless is building a community organization to end division and promote unity. Read Monique Scarlett's story.
How to help someone who has survived sexual violence: Start by believing
After leading the army of women who brought down Larry Nassar, Rachael Denhollander published several books, including her 2019 memoir, “What Is a Girl Worth?” and a children’s book, “How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?"
(Editor’s note: Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse former U.S. national team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse, is the Chrysalis Foundation’s 2023 “Inspired” keynote speaker. As part of Fearless’ coverage of Denhollander’s Nov. 13 visit to Central Iowa, I interviewed two Iowa women whose jobs involve making sure that medical professionals throughout the state are aware of training and other resources to help them be effective responders when patients come to them after being sexually assaulted. I wrote an initial story about Denhollander but I had more notes that I couldn’t discard. Here is more of what I learned from the interviews. – Nicole Grundmeier)

When someone discloses sexual abuse or rape to a friend, to a family member, to a co-worker, to anyone, what that listener says and does next can greatly affect the survivor – and what happens next.

In her 2019 memoir, “What Is a Girl Worth?” Rachael Denhollander describes washing dishes while her mother gently asks her questions. Her mother had noticed sudden behavioral changes in Denhollander, such as an intense fear of having men stand closely behind her.

Larry Nassar, the former doctor who treated many U.S. national team gymnasts, had recently escalated his abuse. Denhollander wrote in her book:

“I focused on the handful of silverware I was scrubbing and told her how Larry had groped my breast. She kept her voice calm as more bubbles met their demise under the running water.

“‘That makes me very, very angry. I am so sorry.’ Her voice was filled with grief, anger and regret.

“She believed me. I knew she would. She knew what it was like to not be believed.”

Believing a survivor of sexual assault is the first and most important thing a person can do, said Sara Hulen, a sexual assault forensic response coordinator in the Iowa attorney general’s office, and Shannon Knudsen, a sexual assault nurse examiner coordinator in Central Iowa.

“What I really love about Rachael’s account of what happened is her mother seems to be a blessing in so many ways – the way she talked to Rachael and validated Rachael, let Rachael take the lead on her own healing and her life. I think that speaks volumes for her mother,” Hulen said.

Hulen and Knudsen said that, in their work, they often see generational abuse and trauma.

“I’ve seen parents who have been sexually assaulted, and then they come in with their child [who has been] sexually assaulted, and sometimes you have the parents who remark, ‘This couldn’t have happened, because this is what happened when it happened to me.’ So they don’t recognize that maybe their child’s reaction, because it was different from their own – doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” Hulen said.

What should Iowans do if someone discloses sexual abuse?

“Always, first and foremost, definitely believe them,” Hulen said.

“Being able to say, ‘I’m really sorry that happened to you,’” Knudsen said. “If they have knowledge of resources, great. But, ‘I’m really sorry that happened to you. How can I help? What do you need from me, as far as support? I believe you.’ I think those are great things versus, “Oh my God, well, we gotta go to the cops! We gotta go.’ That’s not what we need right then. They may not know what they need.”

There are a variety of reasons sexual assault survivors might not immediately tell anyone, be it their closest loved ones or authorities, about what happened to them, according to a resource from the Jackson Health System.

Hulen said it is OK for a person to tell a survivor that they might not know what the next steps are but that they will help.

“I think it’s important to not tell people what they need to do. And if you don’t know the options, that’s OK. Say, ‘Hey, thank you for telling me that. We can figure this out together.’ But not telling a person what they need to do,” Hulen said.

Knudsen said to be sure to not place any blame on the person who has disclosed the assault or abuse.

“Our victims do a fine job of blaming themselves. You know, they don’t need, ‘Well why were you there? Why did you go out with that person?’” Knudsen said.

Hulen said to avoid stereotypes like “Oh, he would never do that. I can’t believe you would say that about him. Just all those common victim-blaming techniques that are out there that just need to go bye-bye.”

Tickets to Denhollander’s “Inspired” lecture, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 13 in West Des Moines, are available here.

Wittstruck joins United Way as chief equity, talent officer
Naomi Sea Young Wittstruck has been named chief equity and talent officer for the United Way of Central Iowa.

Wittstruck will join the United Way on Oct. 30. In her new role, she will guide the organization’s internal and external equity initiatives.

Mary Sellers, United Way of Central Iowa president, said the work is a priority for the organization and the community, “and we are confident Naomi Sea Young’s combination of experience and leadership is exactly what our organization needs.”

Wittstruck previously served as director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Des Moines Area Community College, where she worked to build systemwide DEI initiatives throughout every campus of the college to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive learning environment. Prior to that, she served in statewide and regional leadership positions with the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, leading the team’s advocacy, outreach, education and training  for leaders on DEI and justice initiatives.

According to a news release, Wittstruck has also been a national trainer, facilitator, and organizer for the U.S. headquarters of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), organizing high school students, college students and young adult activists from across the country for various national justice initiatives in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C.

“I am excited to help support and advance the dedicated efforts of United Way of Central Iowa and our community in building awareness, understanding and commitment to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” Wittstruck said. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of this impactful team of leaders.”

Felicity Taylor, left, of Spillville, Iowa, said she thought she would never have a chance to wrestle for the Hawkeyes. She sees herself as a role model for the next generation. Brian Ray/University of Iowa Athletics
In the headlines
‘For her’ mantra to define Iowa women’s wrestling’s first season as a program: On Nov. 4, when members of the Iowa women’s wrestling team step onto the mat for the first time in their Hawkeye singlets, it’ll all be about one mantra. “For her.” What does that mean? For Felicity Taylor, an Iowa native who never thought she would have a chance to compete for the Hawkeyes, it means to be the role model for the next generation, according to HawkCentral. Bella Mir, a Las Vegas native, never knew a community could have such a high level of investment and interest in women’s wrestling. Because of that, she heads into the year competing not for herself, but for a multitude of people.

As child care crisis looms, Biden asks Congress for urgent help: The Biden administration asked Congress for $16 billion in child care funding on Wednesday, part of its push to keep the expiration of pandemic-era aid from upending essential services for millions of families, according to the Washington Post. The child care funds, which would be distributed to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, would provide a year of stabilization funding for more than 225,000 child care providers throughout the country. Many received similar allotments during the pandemic, when Congress set aside a record $24 billion to help keep child care facilities open. The last of those funds expired at the end of September, leaving many providers struggling to stay open. As many as 1 in 3 child care centers could soon close, leaving some 3.2 million children without care, according to estimates from the Century Foundation. Some child care providers say they’ve already had to lay off workers or raise fees to make up for the loss in federal funding, and many expect the situation to become even more dire in coming months.

Women across Iceland, including the prime minister, go on strike for equal pay and no more violence: Schools, shops, banks and Iceland’s famous swimming pools shut down on Tuesday as women in the volcanic island nation — including the prime minister — went on strike to push for an end to unequal pay and gender-based violence, according to the Associated Press. Icelanders awoke to all-male news teams announcing shutdowns across the country, with public transport delayed, hospitals understaffed and hotel rooms uncleaned. Trade unions, the strike’s main organizers, called on women and nonbinary people to refuse paid and unpaid work, including chores. About 90% of the country’s workers belong to a union. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir said she would stay home as part of the strike — “kvennaverkfall” in Icelandic — and expected other women in her Cabinet would do the same.

Restricted rights put Afghan women and girls in a ‘deadly situation’ during quakes, UN official says: Women and girls are in a “not only difficult ... but deadly” situation following recent earthquakes in Afghanistan because of the humanitarian and civil rights crises in the country since the Taliban seized power, according to the Associated Press. An update from U.N. Women highlighted some of the problems women are facing in areas of Herat province, where a series of violent earthquakes and aftershocks this month killed thousands of people, more than 90% of them women and children, and destroyed nearly every home. Cultural norms make it impossible for women to share a tent with neighbors or other families, the U.N. agency said in its update. Many women also have difficulty obtaining humanitarian aid if they don’t have a male relative who can access it on their behalf, and there is an absence of female workers to aid distribution points.

Worth checking out
Dying early: A tale of two sisters, two countries and their health systems (Washington Post). Ida B. Wells, Althea Gibson will be on new quarters in 2025 (Essence). Mayim Bialik reflects on ‘SNL’ parody mocking her ‘undeniably Jewish’ nose (Variety). The hospital ran out of her child’s cancer drug. Now she’s fighting to end shortages (NPR). India’s daughters: To take control, she had to run (New York Times). How the CIA’s top-ranking woman beat the agency’s men at their own game (Washington Post).
Fearless Annual Event
Nov. 1, 2023 | Des Moines Marriott Downtown
10 to 10:30 a.m., Networking | 10:30 a.m. to noon, program
Register at

We invite you to join us and others equally passionate about empowering Iowa women as we celebrate three years of the Business Record’s Fearless initiative. Women, gender-nonconforming individuals and male allies are all encouraged to be fearless with us.

To celebrate Fearless, a lineup of inspiring women will share their stories of fearlessness and courage. Attendees will be seated at a table with female leaders, including some of our past Women of Influence honorees, who will lead powerful discussions to share perspectives and insights on succeeding in work and life. Attendees will build additional connections with leaders and other participants as they rotate to different tables throughout the event.

As part of our Fearless core values, this event will create an atmosphere where everyone has a seat and voice at the table. This dynamic interaction will give you not only a chance to learn from others’ experiences and engage in topics facing women in the workplace, but you’ll also have the opportunity to develop and deepen your relationships with women across the state.
3 tips on effective leadership
The Business Record hosted our annual 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event. Here’s a little inspiration from one of the women who offered her insight at the event and in our publication: Dr. Trish Newland, president and CEO, UnityPoint Clinic. Here are a few of the ideas she wrote in this year’s publication.

Prioritize your health
When you feel good, physically and mentally, it’s easier to lead at your best. As a physician, I know emotions, fatigue and stress can manifest into physical symptoms. If it gets to that point, it’s time to listen to your body. Stopping to focus on your breathing sounds simplistic but it’s effective – so is getting some fresh air for a bit. Make getting regular exercise, eating healthy, getting good sleep and making time to do things you enjoy as much of a priority as your inbox.

Embrace learners with open arms
Health care requires hands-on education, and it’s invaluable to have the opportunity to work with a learner. Mentoring or training a nursing or medical student is a great way for our physicians and care teams to pass on their wisdom and make an impact. When I do my rounds at our clinics, I’m intentional about meeting our learners. I’m grateful they chose health care, especially after the past few years, and want them to know they’re welcomed at UnityPoint Health.

Huddle with your team
We have daily huddles as part of our management system. It’s a way for us to quickly escalate challenges or issues brought up by team members to top-level leaders. The result is a team member whose voice is heard and the ability to get ahead of potential issues by implementing swift, thoughtful solutions. That’s empowering. This two-way communication helps us show up as our best for our teams and patients. We also start each huddle with a great patient story, something we all appreciate, as a daily reminder of why the work we’re doing is so meaningful.

See all her ideas
Watch her remarks

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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