Nataliya Boychenko Stone reflects on war in Ukraine
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Good morning and happy Monday!

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news lately, there’s a good chance you’re feeling pretty awful about the various tragedies in the world. I came across an illustrated quote from author Mari Andrew, who wrote about how weird it is to go about daily life while there’s so much suffering occurring. "I am washing my face before bed while a country is on fire. It feels dumb to. It feels dumb not to," she wrote back in January 2020. She followed up on that viral quote last week, and it’s worth checking out.

There is still good news in the world, though. You may remember Nataliya Boychenko Stone (a native Ukrainian) as a member of the 2020 Women of Influence class — her mother safely made it out of their hometown of Korsun'-Shevchenkivs'kyi and into Iowa late last week. Also on the Ukrainian front, Sukup Manufacturing safely evacuated more than 30 Ukrainian women and children.

There are other good nuggets of news in this week’s edition – find them below.

Have a great week!

— Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Heartbreaking, but unifying — a lesson in kindness, perseverance and an amazing human spirit
Nataliya Boychenko Stone. Contributed photo.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on the Holmes Murphy blog. Nataliya Boychenko Stone was part of the Business Record’s 2020 Women of Influence class.

As I watch the tragedy and events unfold in Ukraine, it is like watching a piece of my heart break. Places I know, spent time in, or have fond memories of are now rubble. And what might be the scariest part of all is that my mom has been there for much of this.

I am Ukrainian — born and raised in a city called Korsun'-Shevchenkivs'kyi. I came to the U.S. — Iowa, specifically — for the first time when I was just 14 years old as an exchange student, and officially in 2001 for college.

At the time, I didn’t leave my country because I thought it was unsafe. I simply did so for the opportunity to study and live the American dream. Never in a million years did I think I would be witnessing what I am today.

I first want to tell you a bit about Ukraine. It has always been a peaceful country. It is beautiful, and known for its richness of land. If you look at the Ukrainian flag, the blue represents the sky, and the gold represents land and wheat. Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe and is an agricultural driver of many economies. Beyond all of that, though, is the human spirit. Generosity and kindness are woven into the very fabric of the Ukrainian people.

As you can imagine, the fighting is horrific, but think for a minute what it would be like to wage war with family and friends. Essentially, that is what’s happening in Ukraine right now. The Ukrainian and Russian cultures and family trees are so intertwined because we have common roots. Most people in Ukraine have relatives in Russia. In fact, my mom was born in Russia, even though she’s lived in Ukraine most of her adult life.

This war is severing people’s connections. There is miscommunication and misunderstanding, and unfortunately now, a war-imposed separation of cultures. Ukraine did not choose this, and neither did most Russians. Ukrainians do not hate Russians. This is a Russian leadership issue.

Here's what I can tell you, though: I am extremely proud. Ukraine, as the world bears witness, is showing what it is to be united, courageous, and to fight for their very lives, their country, and independence. From President Volodymyr Zelensky himself (who, by the way, is giving strength to his people through his own passion and will to protect Ukraine) to women who are leaving behind their children to fight for Ukraine — it is beyond remarkable. Their bravery and collective will to be free, coupled with their unwavering kindness (Ukrainian soldiers who captured Russian soldiers are ensuring Russian soldiers can call their families, are well fed, etc.), are something I will not soon forget, and I hope you now carry it in your heart, too.

If there is anything we can learn from what we are seeing in Ukraine today, it is that the power of community will always win over. In the U.S., we sometimes take for granted our freedoms and have become somewhat desensitized to what others are going through because we are so fortunate, and those places may feel so far away.

I feel like this is a great opportunity for us all to pause and to reflect on how much we have simply by living in the United States of America. Political parties aside, the U.S. has a working system with checks and balances and a government that protects us. This is what Ukraine is fighting to keep.

I know many of you — from my co-workers to my friends, clients and people in the community — have been praying for me and my family. My mom was able to make it to the U.S. safely over the weekend. I was so happy to give her the biggest of hugs and just see her face to face!

Thank you to each and every one of you who has reached out to offer kind words, support, prayers, and even ask what you can do to help. Your support means more to me than you will ever know.

Leading Fearlessly: Just say no!
From left: Abena Sankofa Imhotep, Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, Whitney Warne and Ana Coppola. Contributed photos.
Recently, someone asked me to be a part of a very worthwhile civic project and I heard the word "yes" coming out of my mouth even though the words going through my head were: "You don’t have time right now." While I supported the work, someone else could have done it equally well. Why was it so hard to say no?

"Saying no is more challenging for women because of societal pressures to be likable," explains a recent American Psychological Association article titled "When and how do you say no?" The article points out that men are "still seen as likable if they're assertive," but emphasizes the opposite is often true for women, especially women from racially diverse or underrepresented groups.

It is often the right thing to do to say yes to new professional opportunities and to advocate for ourselves, as I explored in a recent Fearless column called "Just say yes!" But many of us agree to things or remain in situations that are not positive for us even if we would prefer not to or they sap our time and energy.  

Sometimes, saying no is a good thing. Deciding to say no to a job or even a promotion that isn’t right for us can set us on a better path. Standing up to someone or something might not only protect us, but also help others. And saying "no more" or passing on an opportunity can give us the opportunity to do something else or open up a door for someone else.

I asked some fearless female leaders about a time they chose to "just say no" in a career situation:

Abena Sankofa Imhotep, director of Sankofa Literary and Empowerment Group, founder of Sankofa Literary Academy, student at Drake University: I said no to a job with meager returns and began investing in myself as an entrepreneur. I launched Sankofa Literary and Empowerment Group, which creates lifelong learning communities and centers diverse scholarship and books by Black authors. Without the courage to say no, I may not have ever realized my capacity for leadership, community-building or forging institutional change.

Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, Ph.D., public health director, Black Hawk County Public Health: Black women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. When our hair does not conform to Eurocentric standards, we get stares, thoughtless questions and microaggressions in the workplace. When I was asked to pull my natural, afro-textured hair into a ponytail, I said NO. Being in a leadership position, it’s important that I bring my authentic self to work, whether that means I wear my afro, braids or straighten my hair.

Whitney Warne, speaker, coach, photographer, Ivory House Photography: When I started saying no to shooting weddings, I was able to say yes to what I really loved – photographing people one-on-one and ensuring they are lit up by the experience. By directing my energy to what filled me up, I was being kind to myself, my clients and my fellow photographers who love to shoot weddings.

Ana Coppola, public health planner, Polk County Health Department: Because my first language is Spanish, people just assume that translation and interpretation are in my job description. They are not. This is where I have to just say no. But I do offer to review the work once they find someone else.

Left: Gov. Kim Reynolds. Center: Director Domee Shi. Right: Former Dress For Success Quad Cities Executive Director Tyla Serwin-Cole.
In the headlines
Worth checking out
Remote work lets moms-to-be act more like dads (New York Times). Few women of color are pilots. United Airlines' flight school is changing that (NPR). What would it look like if we started paying for unpaid labor? (Fast Company). Ukraine’s surrogacy industry has put women in impossible positions (The Atlantic). My miscarriage in photos: When I got pregnant, my partner took out his camera. In the turbulent weeks after, he never put it down (The Cut). Press 3 for a pep talk from kindergartners. A new hotline gives you options for joy (NPR). Companies tweeted for International Women’s Day. Then this account called out their pay gaps (Washington Post).
Read the March/April issue of dsm Magazine
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