Experiences with microaggressions, the impact of mentorship and remembering the Queen
 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌
View as webpage, click here.
Good morning and happy Monday! Whew, last week certainly was a newsy one. We’ll catch you up below. Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s edition of Fearless:

Have a great week!

— Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

'I meant it as a compliment': Stopping microaggressions against women in your workplace
From left: Dwana Bradley, Nola Cartmill, Courageous Fire, Missy Gowey, Bev Hutney and Beth Shelton.
When I was starting out my post-MBA career in the male-dominated world of investment management, there were few women in the business. I got a lot of comments about my appearance. One of my colleagues regularly and publicly remarked on my outfit, pointing out when he thought I looked "especially pretty." Even though his scrutiny made me uncomfortable and self-conscious, I brushed him off with humor. When my male boss overheard him, he chastised the colleague for being inappropriate. But the colleague's reaction was not to apologize. Instead, he got defensive, explaining, "I meant it as a compliment." For a long time, I didn’t even know these types of behaviors and comments had a name: microaggressions.

What is a microaggression? According to American Psychology research, a microaggression is: "Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group." Microaggressions are so ubiquitous that women often don't notice them or recognize them for what they are.

Common microaggressions: If you’ve ever had a job, chances are you’ve heard and experienced mansplaining, mom shaming, victim blaming, qualification questioning, behavior policing, stereotyping, "friendly" touching, sexual language or harassment, objectification, and last but not least: the wage gap. While some microaggressions can be subtle, the harm is lasting; they can contribute to depression, anxiety and issues with relationships on a personal level. They can also have long-term effects on organizations, with academic research showing that they negatively affect job satisfaction, engagement and performance.  

Microaggressions damage organizations. A study cited in a recent Harvard Business Review article revealed microaggressions can lead to less effective team interactions and inhibit the advancement of women in leadership. The author says, "When male-dominated cultures normalize women deferring to men, teams not only miss out on women’s contributions, but they end up overlooking women for promotions." Not surprisingly, the HBR article and a recent McKinsey study point out that microaggressions are more commonly experienced by women of color, women with disabilities and LGBTQ+ women than men and women overall in professional settings.

I asked some women leaders to share their experiences with microaggressions and thoughts on why microaggressions are so damaging in the workplace:

Dwana Bradley, general chairperson, Iowa Juneteenth Observance: When Bradley was starting out as general chairperson of Iowa Juneteenth, she went to visit the president of an organization to discuss their work and to explore sponsorship interest. As she normally did, she brought along her father, the founder of Urban Experience magazine. From the moment they entered the room, the president looked at and talked only to her father. It was as if Bradley were invisible. Eventually, her father stopped the man, saying, "You keep looking at me, but she is the one with all of the answers. She is the boss." Bradley brushed it off with a laugh, but was mortified and upset. She left questioning whether her dress and language made this individual discount her, rather than focusing on the business at hand.

Nola Cartmill, chief diversity officer and legal counsel, Holmes Murphy: Cartmill, a Harvard-trained lawyer, says she will never forget one particular courtroom experience. She remembers walking into court for a pretrial hearing "suited and booted, as they say." She sat down at the counsel table and was asked by the court reporter if she was a lawyer. Cartmill says, "I wish I had responded, ‘Well, I’m wearing a suit and sitting at counsel table like every other lawyer in the courtroom, aren’t I?’" But instead, she sheepishly said yes and felt her self-confidence deflate. She remembers, "What seemed like a small slight to others took my balloon of confidence and popped it right before I needed to be at my best."

Courageous Fire, owner/social entrepreneur, Courageous Fire LLC: Fire recalls an experience that occurred when their company had new hires shadowing in the center where she worked. As one of the longest-tenured employees, she had helped craft the new hire curriculum and was considered a leader. That day, in keeping with her typical style, she was wearing a fluffy white faux fur. Her supervisor introduced her as the unofficial leader of the center and then blurted out, "Don’t you just want to PET her?" Fire stood in shock, feeling insulted and undermined. Had her white boss really just likened her to a dog, she wondered, and in front of new white employees and colleagues she had trained? Everyone laughed, oblivious to her distress. When she later worked up the courage to confront her colleagues, their reaction was that they "had not meant it that way." That incident was life-changing for Fire. She says, "Although the mental toll for me was immeasurable, I somehow grew strong enough to take up a new mantle working to change the narrative on the ways Black women are treated in crisis situations right here in Iowa."

Melinda "Missy" Gowey, executive director, Genesis Philanthropy, Genesis Foundation: At one point in her career, Gowey hired a male colleague more than a decade her senior for a niche role on her team. He was a well-known, seasoned professional with a stellar reputation, so she was thrilled to bring him on board. What she did not foresee, however, was that he would be mistaken for her boss both externally and internally. She often noticed her all-female team’s deference to his opinions. They were both uncomfortable, says Gowey, "Not because of the reporting relationship, but because the archaic assumption that a senior male is the leader when a younger female is present diminished me and called into question his decision to accept a ‘lesser’ role." Gowey recalls that while her response to uncomfortable situations at the time was to defuse with humor, she now recognizes that not speaking up prevented her from being a change agent. "When did it become natural for individuals of a singular gender, race or ethnicity to be the perceived leader?" she asks. "As I mature, I see more clearly the influence and opportunity I have been given to help those who may be overlooked or undervalued."

Bev Hutney, board director: As one of six women in an executive MBA class of 42, Hutney vividly remembers squirming as an economics professor explained the theory of supply and demand using bikini sales in Europe. The professor joked that the demand for bikini tops in France was far lower than in the United States. Hutney recalls seething inside because the topic was business economics, yet the thought of topless women made the room giggle sheepishly. The example unnecessarily undermined women and made it awkward for the female students in the class. "Sadly, I did nothing," she reflects, partly because the professor was teaching his last class before retirement, and she didn’t want a fuss. "I valued his feelings over mine," she says. "Sound familiar?"

Beth Shelton, CEO, Girl Scouts of Iowa. Shelton has often experienced microaggressions related to the expectations of motherhood and the balance of being an executive. With even short business trips, she says it is regular to get questions like "Who is taking care of your children?" or comments like "That must be nice, but I could never be away from my kids." She observes there's a consistent undertone that engaged and caring motherhood is mutually exclusive to a robust career. Shelton says, "In my experience, women are often the recipients of these microaggressions, increasing the unspoken pressure for women to pass up or be passed up for career opportunities, exacerbating the leadership and wage gap."
The impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa’s ‘I Am Enough’ program
Photo courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa’s "I Am Enough" mentoring program empowers young girls in our community.

"I am proud to serve as an ‘I Am Enough’ champion alongside 30 phenomenal women. These women are outstanding community and civic leaders from all types of backgrounds. What we all have in common is our belief in these young ladies we are nurturing," Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa CEO Bridget Cravens-Neely said.

Being a champion allows Phonsavanh Sullins, Businessolver foundation manager and member services collaboration partner, to pay it forward.

"Growing up as biracial, I found it difficult to find my place in the world. I looked to strong female mentors in my life who inspired me and reminded me that ‘I Am Enough.’ I'm so grateful to be a champion and hope to provide the same guidance and encouragement I was given as a young girl," Sullins said.

Once a month, Champions facilitate a workshop for Little Sisters (ages 9 to 16) and their Big Sisters (volunteer mentors) held at Principal Financial Group. Workshops have covered topics like valuing uniqueness, feeling and expressing emotions, and overcoming obstacles. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa program support specialist Emma Kolpek plans the curriculum for these workshops and works closely with Champions and Little Sisters.

"Throughout the year, I witnessed the girls become comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences. Friendships have blossomed and confidence has soared," Kolpek said.

During one of the workshops, Little Sister Adalynne enjoyed presenting her vision board with the group. She filled her board with magazine cutouts that embodied her dreams and goals.

"I have learned it’s OK to be different and I am enough to do anything," Adalynne said.

Another workshop included a service project.

"As we packaged meals at Meals From the Heartland, it warmed my heart to see the girls work together and make a difference for others. I feel I get more out of the program than the Little Sisters," Kolpek said.

Last month we held a celebration to honor Little Sisters for completing the first year of the program. Little Sisters and their families, Bigs, and Champions, as well as Principal Financial Group Chairman, President and CEO Dan Houston. Each Little Sister received a colorful bracelet with the words "I Am Enough," a daily reminder of how far they’ve come in their development and believing in themselves and understanding their self-worth.  

Champion Deb Alexander, who is a virtual campus English language arts middle school instructor, is passionate and committed to this program.

"I love the ‘I Am Enough’ program. As an educator, I see many young girls struggling with self-worth and acceptance. This program allows me the opportunity to pour positivity into their lives and watch them as they go through their metamorphosis and blossom into beautiful butterflies," Alexander said.

As the second year of "I Am Enough" begins this fall, Cravens-Neely reflects on the origin of the program.

"I personally want to extend a special thank-you to Renee Hardman for creating the ‘I Am Enough’ program during her time as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa CEO. I respect and appreciate Renee’s vision to facilitate a psychologically safe space where young girls can discover who they are and how special they are," she said. "I am proud to continue the legacy Renee started and to elevate it even more as we begin our second year with new and returning Little Sisters and Champions. ‘I Am Enough’ is a program that is near and dear to my heart."

September is Big Brothers Big Sisters Month. Mentoring is more than hanging out – it’s unlocking potential. Join the village and become a Big:
Left: Queen Elizabeth II. Center: Planned Parenthood North Central States CEO Ruth Richardson. Right: British Prime Minister Liz Truss.
In the headlines
  • Queen Elizabeth II, the U.K.’s longest-serving monarch, died last week at the age of 96, after reigning for 70 years.
  • Ruth Richardson, a Minnesota state representative and head of a substance use disorder treatment center, has been named the CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, which includes Iowa.
  • Liz Truss took office as the British prime minister last week, making her the third woman to hold the position. She plans to "govern as a Conservative" and slash taxes to help the country’s economy grow. The U.K. is currently facing a dire winter energy crisis, a cost-of-living crisis and a potential recession.
  • More women are self-employed now than before the pandemic — particularly Black and Hispanic women and those without bachelor's degrees, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. One explanation for the increase is the child care worker shortage – mothers are scrambling to find ways to earn money at home while caring for their own children.
  • The winners of Women Lead Change’s Quad Cities Women’s Leadership awards have been announced. Honorees are Megan Brown-Saldana, Lead(h)er QC; Monica Kruse, Meridian Title Co.; Mary Macumber Schmidt, Trinity Health Foundation; Ann Schwickerath, Project Renewal; Tyla Sherwin-Cole, Doris & Victor Day Foundation; and  Rebecca Skafidas, American Bank & Trust. The emerging leader award honoree is Melissa Church, Digi-Buzz/Bad Science Jokes. Honorees will be celebrated at a luncheon on Oct. 6.
Worth checking out
She-lection! Midterm coverage begins (The Takeaway podcast). These single women say they face a workplace penalty, too (Washington Post). Abortion bans could have far-reaching impacts on the Black community in the Midwest (Iowa Public Radio). There’s no Labor Day for women’s work (San Francisco Chronicle – Note: this item is behind a paywall, but you can see the print layouts of the story on Twitter).
Worth checking out – Queen Elizabeth II edition
See rare photos of Queen Elizabeth II from National Geographic’s archives (National Geographic). ‘This remains an all-time story about the queen’ (Twitter). 10 things to know about Queen Elizabeth II’s life (Associated Press). Mourn the queen, not her empire (New York Times). ‘London Bridge is down’: The secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death (The Guardian – originally published in 2017). Queen Elizabeth’s life and death on front pages around the world (Poynter).
Flourish Fund finalists announced
Four entrepreneurs will pitch their business ideas later this month for a chance to walk away with $3,000. Morgan Chicchelly, Cassandra Spence, Kristen Daily and Chelsea Smith were announced as finalists of this year’s Flourish Fund.

Chicchelly is the founder of Des Moines Girl, a digital platform that provides guides, itineraries and profiles on small businesses in the metro. Spence is a chef at DSM Culinary, a program that teaches culinary classes to the public. Daily and Smith are the women behind Pie Bird Pies + Bread by Chelsa B, a new business partnership joining their two existing companies selling pie and sourdough bread.

The Flourish Fund community event is designed to give women and gender-nonconforming business owners a chance to earn funds by pitching their ideas to spark, grow or revamp their businesses to a live audience. Ticket sale proceeds are presented to the crowd-selected winner to help fund the idea.

The event will be held at Jasper Winery on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m.
Tickets are available to the public at the Flourish Fund website.
Like this newsletter? Please forward to a friend!
Did someone share this newsletter with you? Sign up here.

Business Publications Corporation Inc.

515.288.3336  |

Contact the group publisher of BPC:
Contact Fearless editor:
Submit press release:
Advertising info:
Membership info:

Copyright © BPC 2022, All rights reserved.
Reproduction or use without permission of editorial or graphic content in any manner is strictly prohibited.

Email Marketing by ActiveCampaign