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JUNE 17, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

One of our goals with Fearless is to break down gender-related topics that are stigmatized, hushed up or outright misunderstood.

Our Fearless guest columnists have written about postpartum depression and not feeling an immediate connection with a new baby, about magic prevailing after a childhood of abuse and workaholism, about divorce’s unequal toll on women, and so much more.

Fearless does not publish a lot of columns written by men. But I recently saw Eric Rucker’s words on Facebook about miscarriage and asked him if we could publish them as a guest column around Father’s Day. His writing was especially powerful because it is rare to hear a man communicate openly about miscarriage and the related pain that men can experience.

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

  • A column by Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Business Publications Corp., about why mentorship doesn’t have to conform to gender lines – and why it shouldn’t.
  • In the headlines: A bill to promote stillbirth prevention, supported by the Clive-based nonprofit Healthy Birth Day, is headed to President Joe Biden for his signature.
  • In case you missed it: Teree Caldwell-Johnson was honored with a posthumous National Civic League award.
  • Don't forget to sign up for Thursday's free virtual panel at noon focused on child care in the state.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

An Iowa father’s perspective on miscarriage: 'I’ll miss carrying you'
Eric Rucker, left, and his partner have experienced three miscarriages over the past four years. Photo courtesy of Eric Rucker.
Fearless readers: This guest column frankly discusses miscarriage and mental health. For some of you who have experienced a pregnancy loss, whether that loss was recent or decades ago, this column might be painful to read.
– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

My partner and I have experienced three miscarriages over the past four years, with the most recent one happening a couple of weeks ago. While we are fortunate to have loving and supportive people in our life, the experience of miscarriages has also caused me to reflect on the challenges of this particular kind of loss.

A few things I’ve learned: First, my experience of miscarriages have been quite emotionally painful, and I’ve been surprised how depressed, fatigued and disoriented I’ve been for a significant time span after each has happened. Second, I’ve become more aware of the way our dominant cultures can fail in terms of honoring grief in general, but particularly around miscarriage. Miscarriage is an ambiguous loss, and most of us lack the language and public rituals that are needed to support people in naming, feeling and integrating the loss.

I’m not so much interested here in speculating about the political dimension of “when a pregnancy becomes a person.” Rather, I want to name that some of my pain has been precisely due to the emotional inability to be clear about what was lost, regardless of my political beliefs. On one hand, I know rationally that this miscarriage was different from a child of mine dying. On the other hand, miscarriages evoke in me a heart-wrenching physical reaction that feels like someone I love has died. And this view is also true, because my partner’s and my dream of this child’s future, and our family’s future, dies.

I share all this for a few reasons. I hope that in doing so, it might reach some of the (many) other people who have experienced or will experience miscarriage or fertility challenges, and I hope you will know that you are not alone. I hope that you find people who can sit with you in grief, honor your process and not rush you through your feelings.

I’m especially concerned about the mental health of men in our country, and so as a man I want to share my grief process and encourage other men to find the resources they need to grieve. Crying isn’t weak, seeking support isn’t weak, tenderness isn’t weak. I see a therapist monthly, and I could not be a healthy person without his support as well as the grounding I receive from many other loving relationships in my life.

As a Christian pastor, I’m also aware that sharing when we’ve gone through loss might elicit responses from people of faith that are oversimplified, shallow and hurtful, even if these responses are well-intentioned. I do not believe that God has a plan that included our miscarriages. I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. And I actually believe that our willingness to articulate our rage, lament and deep confusion into the void is an act of spiritual honesty and faithfulness. I don’t know if God is real, but I do have faith that God is love, that this love is with us in our suffering, that this love is expressed through flesh-and-blood relationships where we show up nonjudgmentally for one another, and that this love is big enough to hold every facet of our human experience.

While supportive comments in response to this reflection are, of course, welcome, I invite you to refrain from the impulse to fix, give advice or explain anything. We are all working on avoiding that temptation!

To conclude, I want to share a song I wrote about our recent miscarriage. I invite you to sit with it, if it might be revelatory or healing for you.

Eric Rucker lives with his partner in Des Moines, Iowa, where they have welcomed foster children into their home as well as having a 2-year-old biological son. Eric is an ordained pastor in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Iowa. Responses to his writing can be sent to

Leading Fearlessly: Mentorship doesn’t have to conform to gender lines – and it shouldn’t
When I was just entering the business world, I became friends with a retired CEO through the board of a nonprofit organization. While this man was not a formal mentor, he took an interest in my career and often offered advice based on his many years of experience and success. He was generous in helping me think through several tough negotiations, encouraging me to roleplay conversations in advance so I could be practiced in my responses. His counsel gave me insight and confidence, and I still use some of his negotiation tactics today.

Mentoring programs are a part of today’s workforce. According to Forbes, 100% of U.S. Fortune 50 companies and 84% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programs. Formal mentoring was unusual in my early career, but it was common for senior leaders to serve as role models or take younger folks under their wings to show them the ropes. Since there were few women in business at that time, I generally turned to male leaders for advice and benefited greatly from their support and guidance.

Mentoring can be especially valuable for women. A Women Ahead survey showed that 82% believe that mentoring relationships help foster meaningful connections between mentors and mentees, across departments and within organizations. However, a separate Forbes article reported that the majority of people opt for same-sex mentors; 69% of women turned to other women and 82% of men turned to other men for this type of support.

While it is gratifying that there are more women in senior positions to turn to today, it is important for women to seek out males for mentorship as well.
Women can learn and benefit from leaders of all genders. However, according to research released in 2023 by and SurveyMonkey, men in today’s #MeToo era are more hesitant to spend time with women, saying, “60% of managers who are men are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone or socializing together.” That means that we need men to intentionally and actively support women at work.

With this in mind, I turned to local leaders and asked
about male mentors whose support was key in their development and advancement – and why male mentorship was so important to their careers.

Alissa McKinney, executive director, Above + Beyond Cancer
I had many more male mentors during the early years of my career in the '80s. As a student at Simpson College, I had a male mentor who encouraged me to think bigger. I met him when I was on the student paper, always asking questions. He saw something in me that I had not realized yet. He challenged me. He had high expectations. We are still in touch, and he still is one of my biggest fans. Does it matter today that I had the early influence of male mentors? No. I have had many mentors, both female and male, since that time who have all played a critical role at different times. I believe what is most important is having the right mentor at the right time in your career. My first mentor saw my potential and that is exactly what I needed.

Emily Mendez, director of development, Proteus Inc.
I have had the privilege of being mentored by Daniel Zinnel, Ph.D., CEO of our organization, Proteus Inc. Daniel introduced me to a wider professional network, connecting me with influential leaders and opportunities I would not have otherwise accessed. Daniel also nominated me for the Forty Under 40 award, which has connected me with 39 amazing individuals and inspired me to uplift and nominate others for recognition. Daniel provides a safe space to springboard ideas, and he offers guidance and gentle feedback when he sees an opportunity for growth. Additionally, Daniel encourages his team to bring their whole selves to work. We cannot separate our work identity from our sexual orientation, our parenthood, our mental illness, our disability, our race or any other identity. Daniel’s example and leadership grants space to be my whole self, which allows me to bring my best work to advancing our mission of empowering farmworkers.

Stacey Robles, DEI program manager, Greater Des Moines Partnership
I recently had the pleasure of meeting two inspiring community leaders who helped me recognize the importance of finding mentors from many different backgrounds.

They emphasized the importance of seeking out mentors who can guide you on your journey and stressed the value of finding a mentor in the career or role you aspire to. These eye-opening conversations prompted me to rethink mentorship. I asked myself if it was OK to have more than one mentor and realized I had no male mentors, an area I wanted to explore further.

I also participated in a recent training that further underscored the importance of finding not only great mentors but also male mentors, especially those in senior leadership roles that you aspire to hold one day. I am now working to expand my mentor network to help me grow in my career.

Lezlee Schutty, EVP, chief credit officer
Banking has traditionally been more of a male-dominated industry, especially in commercial lending credit administration. Since I have spent most of my career in this field, I’ve had several male mentors who positively impacted my life at various stages of my career. All of them fueled my ambition to want – and have – a seat at the table so my voice could be heard. They advised me to stay my true self and not feel like I shouldn’t speak up or that I had to be more reserved when working with men. The perspectives of my male mentors made me stronger and helped me understand what qualities I needed to improve to become a better communicator, decision-maker and future mentor. Had I only received mentoring from women and not been exposed to the unique qualities of men, I know I would not be where I am today.

Nikki Syverson, principal, Isaacson-Syverson Consulting
One mentor I will always be grateful for is Gene Meyer. He not only instilled confidence in me, but he helped me navigate difficult situations with a thoughtful, diplomatic approach. Gene taught me that it takes patience and flexibility to make large regional projects happen, reminding me in a reassuring manner that projects of major significance are a marathon, not a race. He has a gentle and diplomatic way of leading, and because of that, his advice and guidance has been invaluable to me.

On Sept. 19, 2023, a coalition of more than 50 stillbirth prevention advocates representing 12 organizations and 20 states were in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress in conjunction with National Stillbirth Prevention Day. The trip was organized by Health Birth Day Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of stillbirth that is based in Clive. Photo courtesy of Healthy Birth Day Inc.
In the headlines
Bill to promote stillbirth prevention, supported by Central Iowa advocacy group, heads to Biden: The Central Iowa education and advocacy group Healthy Birth Day is celebrating the final passage of a bill to make more money available nationwide for stillbirth prevention. Billions of dollars are distributed each year to state health departments through federal Title V grants that address maternal and child health issues – but the program does not specifically address stillbirth. The Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act directs state health departments to use some funding on stillbirth prevention programs. U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, an Iowa Republican, was one of the House leaders on the bill. The U.S. Senate gave final passage to the bill Tuesday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk. Healthy Birth Day said in a news release that stillbirth, which is the result of about 1 in every 175 pregnancies, is far more common than deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and that as many as 25% of stillbirths might be preventable.

UI Health Care seeks $74 million OB-GYN expansion, renovation
University of Iowa Health Care petitioned the Iowa Board of Regents for permission to pursue a $74 million, 30,000-square-foot renovation to expand labor, delivery and postpartum patient care on the seventh floor of the John Pappajohn Pavilion. The 33-year-old building is one of four pavilions at UI Health Care’s main hospital, and renovations would eliminate $1.5 million in building renewal costs, according to this story from the Corridor Business Journal.

Drake University expands DEIJ programs as public universities shrink theirs:
As colleges and universities across Iowa are being encouraged, or even required, to restructure or eliminate diversity, equity, inclusion and justice programs, Drake University is expanding and promoting its efforts, according to this story from Iowa Capital Dispatch. Drake officials say the university is continuing its decade-long work of expanding DEI efforts on campus with a new initiative to foster a greater sense of belonging and improve the well-being of students, staff and faculty, called “Bulldogs Belong: Resilient and Thriving.”

ISU signs $124,000 settlement with second employee in harassment and retaliation case: Iowa State University has agreed to pay a university employee $124,000 as part of a settlement agreement after she raised allegations of “harassment and retaliation,” according to settlement documents. Executive assistant Caitlynn Miller settled with the university just months after her former boss, Shawn Norman, the former senior vice president for operations and finance, entered a settlement agreement for the same amount, according to this story from the Des Moines Register.

Worth checking out
UI researcher studies how pro-family workplace benefits can affect women’s mental health (University of Iowa Office of Strategic Communications). 13 men on the highs and lows of the new era of paternity leave. (GQ). Welcome to the ‘microfeminist’ revolution: Women clap back at everyday sexism on TikTok (USA Today). Lynn Conway, computing pioneer and transgender advocate, dies at 86. (New York Times). No one asks how new dads are doing. A pilot program aims to help. (NPR/WBUR). What the Supreme Court decision means for abortion pill access (Washington Post).
Child care: A look at solutions to Iowa’s child care challenges
June 20, 2024 | Noon to 1 p.m.

Issues with availability and affordability plague Iowa’s child care system. In recent years, the issue has been seen by many as a business issue: If workers cannot afford or find available child care, they can’t work. Adding more fuel to the fire, school districts that can’t find enough teachers are considering or have moved to four-day weeks, leaving working parents concerned about finding available child care on days when school is not in session. In this discussion, we’ll talk to those working to change the trajectory of child care in Iowa through unique policy, business and community solutions. Come learn what’s being done and other ideas that could be employed in the future. Register here.

Teree Caldwell-Johnson honored with posthumous National Civic League award
The National Civic League, a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes civic engagement, presented Teree Caldwell-Johnson the All-America Leader Award posthumously at its 75th annual All-America City Award Event in Denver, Colo., on June 8.

Caldwell-Johnson, who died March 31, will be recognized for her 20 years of service as the president and CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood, a Des Moines housing and supportive services nonprofit, and as Des Moines Public Schools’ longest-serving board member. Before her death, Caldwell-Johnson had resigned from the school board to focus on her health, having announced a cancer diagnosis in 2023.

“Teree was the living embodiment of the qualities this award was created to recognize, including inclusiveness, innovation, collaboration, equity, civic engagement and community impact,” the National Civic League said in a news release. “Whether in her professional, civic or personal endeavors, Teree was committed to improving her community and making this world a better, more equitable, and just place.”

The All-America Leader Award recognizes individuals who have successfully spearheaded civic engagement efforts in their communities. Previous recipients include Roy Buol, Dubuque’s longtime former mayor, who received the award in 2022.

In 2002, Caldwell-Johnson was recognized for the Business Record’s Women of Influence. She also contributed to the Pillars of Philanthropy publication, where she addressed the challenges facing nonprofits and the next generation of community leaders.

“Young professionals are very philanthropically oriented,” she wrote in 2023. “It will be our mission to engage them in such a way that the relevance and importance of our organization’s efforts in the community resonate.”

The award presentation will take place during the National Civic League’s annual event, which celebrates its commitment to fostering civic engagement and recognizing exemplary community leaders.
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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