Plus, an update on the state of millennial health
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View as webpage, click here.
Good morning and happy Monday! We’re in the midst of the one-year mark of when the world seemed to shift, so I’m trying something new this week. Everyone experienced — and is still experiencing — the pandemic and economic fallout differently, so I’m curious to hear from you about what this past year has been like. Please reply to this email (or send me an email at with your experience. I’ll publish responses in a future newsletter.  

Here’s what you’ll find in today’s newsletter:

One last thing: I’m also collecting stories about times that people experienced discrimination and/or overcame adversity for a future piece. If you have an experience that you would like to share, be it with sexism, ageism, heterosexism, racism, ableism, classism, etc., please email me. Discrimination and adversity in the workplace and in life are still rampant, and we can’t fully address the issues without giving voice and space to lived experiences.

Have a great week!

— Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

Six Iowa LGBTQ+ leaders on the importance of intersectional leadership
Screen grabs from Zoom calls with LGBTQ+ leaders. Clockwise, from top left: Erika Hendel, Jen Carruthers, Buffy Jamison, Becky Ritland, Diana Prince, Courtney Reyes.
All of the major LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations and nonprofits in the Des Moines metro are being led by women or nonbinary people, many of them having programming with a statewide reach. In two separate group interviews, I met with six LGBTQ+ leaders and talked about why this is significant, the importance of intersectionality and visibility in leadership positions, and how they lead their organizations.

  • Jen Carruthers (she/her), president of Capital City Pride.
  • Erika Hendel (she/they), co-chair of the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition and board member of the Des Moines Pride Center. They also work as a veterinarian.
  • Buffy Jamison (they/them), co-chair and co-founder of the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition. They also sit on the boards of the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change and the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living.
  • Diana Prince (she/her), president of the Des Moines Pride Center. She also manages two Bank of the West branches.
  • Courtney Reyes (she/her), executive director of One Iowa.
  • Becky Ritland (she/her), executive director of Iowa Safe Schools.

While these interviews were conducted in group settings on Zoom, the views of one person do not necessarily reflect the views of the others. These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

All of the major LGBTQ+ nonprofits and organizations here in the Des Moines metro are being led by women or nonbinary folks for the first time. Why is this significant?

Jen: It’s significant because it’s never happened. What it really comes down to is diverse perspectives. I hate the phrase "the table," but we are still very much in a culture and society where the table is where the decisions are made. And when you don’t have the perspectives of women or women in the queer community or a person of color in the queer community, the events or initiatives that we put on tend to look like how the leadership looks. I would love the table to go away at some point, but that’s not a reality right now. I feel like we’re breathing fresh air into these organizations that haven’t had it before. With Capital City Pride specifically, we went from an almost all white male cisgender board to the most diverse board we’ve seen in 43 years. That’s not because we tokenize anyone, it’s because people are starting to see the change in leadership and so naturally want to become more involved.

Courtney: I love the idea that there won’t be so much gatekeeping to get into the room. But we are a long ways off from that. But that’s why we keep interrupting the cycles. When you think about why it’s important to have leaders that aren’t white cis men, I think back to one of my first meetings as executive director and I showed up to the meeting and every single person was a white cis gay man. I don’t want to ever seem like I’m bashing men, but I do think that queer women and femme and nonbinary folks bring a different perspective because we’ve had different life experiences. A lot of value comes from having different perspectives at the table. There’s something empowering about there being other femme people leading an organization.

Becky: It symbolizes that we’re really starting to move on from the marriage equality narrative. Marriage equality for a long time has been front and center of the LGBTQ movement, especially here in Iowa. And it’s amazing, many individuals have benefitted from that. But the marriage narrative has also left a lot of folks behind, specifically youth and trans and nonbinary folks. … So to see that the queer organizations here in the state of Iowa are seeing a shift in leadership, I think that it’s also bringing a shift in the narrative that there is still a ton of work to do. We still have a lot of folks who don’t feel safe and don’t feel that they’re being equally represented or having their voices heard.

Erika: I think one thing that is reflective and similar to what Becky was saying is about intersectionality and diversity. Visibility is really important. I’m Asian American. I’ve lived in Iowa for 4½ years, but it was a difficult transition coming from some of the other diverse places that I’ve lived. I found the most sense of community with the diversity that I experience in the queer organizations in the city. I think the lived experience that the leadership has is unique. Intersectionality is important for the well-being of our community.

Why is visibility and intersectionality in leadership positions important?

Courtney: We all bring different things from our life experiences. I’m newly out, but I think that’s one of my intersections that helps me challenge things because I’m like, "I’m new here. Let me ask some questions." That’s actually one of the reasons I took this executive director job, because I did not see many parents in leadership positions, specifically mothers. I had one person who I saw that in, and that’s Jenny Smith ― she’s one of my mentors. She had a successful business and a family, and I thought that was really important, to be able to make sure other people could see it. And Sonia Reyes, one of my other mentors, is a mom and a Latina. When I became the executive director, everyone was like, "Oh, my gosh, it’s so great to have a person of color running One Iowa." Never in my life had I identified as a person of color. My grandfather came from Mexico, I’m half Mexican, but I’m very white-passing. That was something that I hadn’t put a lot of thought into, and then everyone put that label on me. It felt really strange and I didn’t like it because I didn’t ever want to take anything away from other people of color. Then I had a conversation with Sonia and she said, "You have no idea how many times you’ve been discriminated against, didn’t get an opportunity or a meeting because your last name is Reyes. You don’t know how many brown kids, brown queer girls, see that you are leading this statewide organization and how much of an impact you can have on them even if they never meet you." I took that pretty seriously. This is why we have to have an intersection of folks leading organizations. It’s so good to be able to see yourself in a leader.

Jen: What I’ve been trying to change the narrative on is the term "ally." I’m sick of that term because it’s passive. I’m trying to get to a point of "accomplices," where people are actively participating to change the narrative and using their position of privilege to do so. I think this goes into representation discussion because it’s changing the narrative of presence versus representation. There can be a presence of intersectionality in our community, but until there’s actual full, active representation in these different leadership positions, the narrative doesn’t change. [Queer women] have always had a presence, but there’s never been an opportunity. That’s the big difference. And I think women are really starting to seize the opportunity.

Courtney: To piggyback off of that, I think it’s one thing to have women in positions of power, but for those women, specifically white cis women, I think it’s on us to continue to give up our power and privilege to make room for folks who have less power than us right now.

Diana: Visibility is important because the world is changing. One of the bank branches that I manage is in West Des Moines. At first, people are surprised that a Black person is managing a bank out here. But then they’re excited that in the state of Iowa, there is representation. And that there’s representation not just in entertainment. Black people can manage businesses and organizations and do it successfully.

Becky: At Iowa Safe Schools, we work primarily with students ages 11 to 24. In studies, what we find is that when a queer student can see themselves in a leadership role or they can identify some part of themselves with a leader in their community or in a career that they’re interested in pursuing, they do better in school, they’re absent less often, they experience bullying and harassment at lower rates, and their mental and physical health is better attended to. So from the student perspective, representation is important because it shows individuals that you can truly pursue whatever you want to pursue. Historically, students have thought that in order for them to be out and in a position of leadership or work in a STEM or finance field, that they need to go to the coasts where it’s more progressive. So as we’re seeing more diverse leadership coming into power here, as women, as queer individuals, as nonbinary and trans folks, we’re taking the leadership baton and saying that we’re going to run with this. [By doing that we’re also] encouraging students to stay in Iowa and help them recognize that there’s a place for them here.

Buffy: It’s important to understand that all oppression is connected and multiple structures and systems of oppression work together to harm. If we’re not keeping that in mind, we’re going to leave members of our community behind, and those members are usually the ones who are most marginalized. We have to get to the root of the problem instead of just applying Band-Aids.

Erika: I think one thing that’s really important within intersectionality is that there’s also a lot of collective and intergenerational trauma. For me personally, mentorship has been something that’s been particularly profound in the last couple of years. I have a Ph.D., I have a veterinary degree. I’ve spent my life in STEM and no one that I was receiving mentorship from looked like me or understood my lived experience. So that’s why intersectionality and leadership is important, because those are people who are also mentors and are influential in whether or not the next generation is uplifted or pushed down. A lot of times, when intersectional and marginalized individuals finally get up into leadership positions, they’ve done so off of emotional and physical fumes. And sometimes, when you’re in those positions and if it’s isolating, it can be incredibly difficult to continue. Mentorship, support and creating empathetic spaces for people who have experienced multiple levels of trauma is important. This type of leadership where the leader is strong all the time … it’s not that easy. That’s not the same way that leadership works for marginalized people. So that’s one thing that I worry about as far as intersectionality in leadership goes. How do we keep those diverse individuals that are taking leadership positions and training the next generation? … How do we create a system of support?

Buffy: In our society, the way we are taught about what heroism is, what it means to be a real leader, it usually comes with some level of sacrifice, right? We have to really interrogate these parts of our society and really think about why it’s this way. So when it comes to leadership, people just need to step up more. So many people think you have to be XYZ to be a leader, but you don’t.

Trends for health conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth in millennials seen as ‘alarming’
Panelists on the millennial health webinar hosted by Count the Kicks and Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Millennial women are experiencing some of the highest increases in health conditions that could lead to higher risks of pregnancy and childbirth complications, an analysis by Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield shows.

Millennial women, who are between the ages of 25 and 40 this year, currently make up 85% of all pregnancies.

In a webinar hosted by Count the Kicks on March 9, Mark Talluto, vice president of strategy and analytics for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, gave a brief overview of the maternal health section of the 2019 Health of America report, which examined data from 1.8 million pregnancies among women who were insured through Blue Cross Blue Shield. The data was collected before the pandemic.

The report, which compared Gen Xers and millennials when they were between the ages of 34 and 36 in 2014 and 2017, examined 10 conditions: major depression, substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, hypertension, hyperactivity, psychotic conditions, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, tobacco use disorder and Type 2 diabetes.

Eight out of 10 conditions examined saw double-digit increases in prevalence among millennials within a four-year span. Conditions with the highest increases were hyperactivity, Type II diabetes and major depression.

Talluto recognized that the increases may be in part due to better diagnosis processes and breaking down stigmas, but described the trends as "alarming."

"Clearly we have significant areas we need to improve on," he said.

The report also found the following:

  • Rates of people experiencing pregnancy complications grew from 2014 data of 168.4 per 1,000 to 196 per 1,000 in 2017, or a 16.4% increase. Childbirth complications increased by 14.2%, from 14.8 per 1,000 to 16.9 per 1,000.
  • Rates of pregnancy and childbirth complications including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, cardiomyopathy, embolism and sepsis increased by double digits between 2014 and 2018.
  • Diagnosis of postpartum depression increased by 28.5% between 2014 and 2018 in people aged 18 to 44.
  • Of the survey respondents, 26% reported not being screened or didn’t know if they were screened for postpartum depression and 14% did not not receive prenatal care within the first trimester of their pregnancy.
  • Those who experience complications during pregnancy are twice as likely to have childbirth complications.
  • Anxiety is the leading preexisting behavioral health condition identified in those diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Left: Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri. Photo credit: Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register. Center: Journalist Katie Couric. Right: Polk County Treasurer Mary Wells.
In the headlines
  • In a case seen by many as an attack on the freedom of the press, Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri was acquitted Wednesday in a trial stemming from her arrest covering the George Floyd protests in May 2020.
  • Journalist Katie Couric has made history as the first woman to host "Jeopardy!" after taking over a two-week period as guest host on the show March 8. She is the third guest host of "Jeopardy!" since legendary host Alex Trebek’s death, following former champion Ken Jennings and executive producer Mike Richards.
  • The Polk County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to appoint Mary Wells to the position of treasurer, filling the spot held by longtime Treasurer Mary Maloney, who died unexpectedly in January.
  • A sixth woman has come forward accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. The Albany Times-Union reports that a current female staffer told a supervisor that the governor fondled her under her shirt. The incident allegedly happened late last year, when the woman was summoned to the governor's private residence inside the Executive Mansion.
  • In 2020, women were outnumbered on the U.S. Billboard charts by men at a ratio of 3.9 to 1, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s annual study of the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart. Women made up 20.2% of the 173 artists that appeared on the chart in 2020, dropping from 22.5% in 2019 – and a high of 28.1% in 2016.
  • On International Women’s Day last week, President Joe Biden announced the nominations of two female generals for promotion to four-star commands. "Once confirmed, they will become the second and third women in the history of the United States armed forces to lead combatant commands," Biden said at the event.
  • The beauty and personal-care company Unilever, which owns brands like Dove and Vaseline, said it would no longer use the word "normal" on its products and in its advertising, following a study that revealed it makes most people feel excluded. Unilever also said it would not digitally alter the body shape, size and skin color of models in its advertising as part of its Positive Beauty initiative.
  • Sixteen finalists in four categories for the annual Inspiring Women of Iowa award have been announced. The event, whose proceeds benefit the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, honors women of courage, confidence and character as well as people who make up the communities that support them.
  • Around the world, almost 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization. That number has remained largely unchanged over the past decade, WHO said.
Bringing her full self to work: Munirah Khairuddin
As a young girl in Malaysia, Munirah Khairuddin wanted to see the world. And so she did, but during her journey, Munirah discovered that the person she’d become was the most important destination. Read more about how Munirah Khairuddin learned to bring her full self to work and why she traveled the globe only to return home again, READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
Celebrating female leaders (Washington Post). A safety net for American children (The Daily podcast). Burger King’s ‘Women belong in the kitchen’ ad is a cautionary tale, experts say (Washington Post). How Meghan Markle’s openness about her suicidal thoughts could help others (Vox). What the $300 a month child benefit could mean for a family on the edge (NPR). One year later: 15 ways life has changed since the onset of the COVID pandemic (Fortune). COVID-19 is exacerbating the housing crisis. See how these women are fighting for their families (Time). How a gymnast who lost a friend in the Parkland mass school shooting came to Iowa and found ways to heal (Des Moines Register). The last photos before the pandemic (NBC News). The pandemic has given women a new kind of rage (The Atlantic). The Black woman in the workplace (Medium). 'There’s so much death around': Eight women reflect on one year of COVID-19 (The 19th). By the numbers: One year later, the pandemic's impact on women (New York Times In Her Words). Meet the women answering burning questions big and small about COVID-19 (National Geographic).
Join the Business Record to kick off your day on one Friday each month in our Fearless Friday series. Focused on women and gender topics, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from and connect with others around the state equally as passionate about these issues. Women, gender-nonconforming individuals and male allies are all encouraged to be fearless with us.

This month's topic: Leadership
We’ll introduce you to female leaders across the state and will focus on gaps in representation as well as challenges female leaders face.

Featuring: Jen Carruthers, president, Capital City Pride; Jamie Butler Chidozie, director of diversity, inclusion and social justice, University of Northern Iowa; Sarika Bhakta, president, Nikeya Diversity Consulting LLC.

Register for the free event, scheduled for Friday, March 26, at 8 a.m.

Growing our knowledge
Many good ideas are formed when taking part in casual conversation. While attending a national industry event in 2020, networking and discussing recommended books, I thought – why not have a book club to further these discussions? My goal for attending has always been to grow in knowledge, networking and leadership. Even though I had never participated in a book club, this seemed like a perfect way to keep us growing until we met again.

Then, as we all know, a pandemic hit. The group was a perfect opportunity to get connected, stop focusing on the devastation and do something to move forward. Last year, through the American Bus Associations’ Women In Buses Council (for which I am currently past chair), five groups met, reading four books.

We kicked things off with "Girl, Wash Your Face" by Rachel Hollis. After discussing the many lies women tell themselves, the club decided to get busy untelling those lies and take on the tasks at hand.

"Decide" by Steve McClatchy was next. The title suggested we would work smarter, reduce stress and lead by example. What kind of leader, you ask? A servant leader.

A two-book series was chosen. "The Servant" and its sequel "The Culture" by James C. Hunter. I don’t like change, but to grow you must change. Reading these books inspired us to make changes and grow in 2020, despite our circumstances.

As 2021 rolled around, a different approach was taken. Rather than build just our library of books, we reached out into the genre of podcasts. We began by discussing the film "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix. Now we are currently going through a series of 20-minute podcasts to keep propelling us forward.

As the leader of this group, I am constantly inspired to keep moving forward. After all, I am sick and tired of the phrase "return to normal." I don’t like looking back. I want to move forward, and return to better.

If you are interested in returning to better and living fearlessly, I would love to facilitate a book club using the same content above for leaders in Iowa. Please complete this interest survey and let’s get started -- growing our knowledge, network and leadership in Iowa.
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