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MARCH 18, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Since health care is one of the major topics covered by Fearless, I closely follow news about perinatal mental health disorders.

I recently saw a headline about a Waukee mother who claimed insanity but was ultimately convicted of killing her 1-year-old son. I wondered if the mother had struggled with mental health for the entire year after giving birth. I wondered if she had a support network. I wondered if there was anything that could have been done to prevent this child’s horrendous death.

I wonder if there is still a stigma surrounding these conversations about perinatal mental health disorders. My Fearless friends: What will you do to support the postpartum parents that you know?

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

  • A story, including an exclusive Fearless Q&A with Shaunna Edwards and Alyson Richman, the authors of the “The Thread Collectors.” Principal hosted the authors at a public conversation in honor of International Women’s Day.
  • A column by Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Business Publications Corp., about the power of role models for women.
  • In the headlines: Most Iowans support Gov. Kim Reynolds’ prescription-free birth control plan, the Iowa Poll found.
  • In case you missed it: ISU basketball player Audi Crooks signed an NIL agreement with ClaimDOC.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

‘The Thread Collectors’ authors speak to Iowans about challenges facing women – and what unites us
Authors Shaunna Edwards (left) and Alyson Richman (right). Photo courtesy of Principal Financial Group.
Authors Shaunna Edwards and Alyson Richman made a bold and unusual choice when writing their bestselling book, “The Thread Collectors” – when describing a character’s race, they capitalized both “Black” and “White.”

This is contrary to most writing style guides, including Associated Press style, which only requires that a journalist capitalize “Black.” Very few writers, anywhere, capitalize “White.”

Edwards is a Black Catholic who grew up in New Orleans. Richman is an Ashkenazi Jew from New York. The women met by chance in 2009 at a lawyers’ retreat in Las Vegas. Edwards, an attorney, saw Richman, a longtime writer, letting men cut in front of her in a line for drinks. She asked her why. They’ve been friends ever since.

The women live in Harlem now. They drew on their own family histories to write “The Thread Collectors,” which begins in a small Creole cottage in New Orleans and follows two main characters – a Black enslaved woman named Stella and a Jewish abolitionist named Lily – as they risk everything during the Civil War.

Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Business Publications Corp., asked the authors about their unusual capitalization choices in the book on March 7 at the Principal Financial Group Auditorium in Des Moines. de Baca was the moderator for a Principal-hosted event that featured Edwards and Richman, who spoke to a large crowd gathered in celebration of International Women’s Day.

“That was the decision we made on our first full writing day,” Edwards said. “When you’re reading a book, you rarely see a character described to you as ‘a white woman’ or ‘a white man’; it’s like, ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ and then ‘a Black lady walks through.’ And I think it is important to highlight that someone is Black and Jewish. Then ‘white’ has to be equally important to highlight that someone’s voice, and, if it’s not important to highlight that someone is white, then maybe we should pull back from the highlighting of the person as Black or Jewish.”

Richman added, “It made me, as an author, really conscious of how I used it in the past and how I use, in the future, black and white. … We are all people, we are all humans.”

Event sponsors included the Chrysalis Foundation, the Iowa Women’s Foundation and Women Lead Change. Here is an exclusive Fearless interview with authors Edwards and Richman.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Fearless: You mentioned a lot about colorism and about discrimination that you’ve experienced. Personally, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing U.S. women right now?

Edwards: I think storytelling is incredibly important because it reveals our commonality. I think that one of the biggest challenges facing women is one of the biggest challenges facing people, and it’s our insistence on focusing on the ways in which we are different. Women still have incredible challenges to overcome as a gender, and those challenges, whether you are upper income, lower income, college educated, not college educated, they might vary by degree, but it is still very similar. And without that kind of bonding around those shared challenges and shared solutions, we’re not going to get anywhere.

I have no interest in fighting with Alyson about the fact that she’s White and Jewish, and I am Black and Catholic. I have a lot more interest in figuring out, “OK, we both want to raise incredible children. We both want safe neighborhoods, we both want great schools.” That’s a lot to bond over. And that’s a lot to figure out: “OK, what can you bring to the table? What can I bring to the table?” But I think there are a lot of forces at work, not all of them internal, some of them externally applied, that reap a lot of benefits from having us focus on our differences. You have to be willing to speak to someone that you might not think you have anything in common with, and you have to be able to cross the room and say, “What are you doing here, and I love your dress.” And it’s not going to always work out; 80% of the time, you may get a polite smile, but 20% of the time, you find someone who can become one of your best friends, and I take those odds any day.

Richman: I think you need to have courage to be able to speak your own mind and know what is important to you, what is worth fighting for. When you think about how women have fought for the right to vote, what that means, there’s a responsibility to know who you’re voting for and what that represents.
Leading Fearlessly: The power of role models for women
“Would you be able to pick Gloria Steinem up from the airport?” was one of the more memorable questions Peg Lonnquist asked me when I was a college student at Iowa State University. As executive director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Women’s Center, Lonnquist (“Peg,” as we called her) was a source of inspiration for me and many other students. She had an uncanny ability to identify potential in young leaders and point them in the direction of projects that helped develop their unique talents. Peg tapped me to chair various events that allowed me to meet female trailblazers including Steinem, Maya Angelou, Sarah Weddington and others. She and I have stayed in touch over the years, and I’m proud now to call my role model a friend.

Role models matter. Whether at work, in our personal lives, or on a national stage, seeing others who look like us or who are like us inspires us to strive, take risks and succeed. Representation is important for everyone, but especially for women and underrepresented groups who may feel certain doors are not open to them.

Statistics back up the power of role models for women. A 2022 study from the UK found that 43% of women believe they would be more successful if they had a role model in the workplace, “with 57% believing that having a relatable role model is crucial to achieving career success and 70% agreeing it’s easier to be like someone you can see.” The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT recently released research that showed in high-income countries, exposure to women role models often positively affects women students’ participation and educational performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields by improving students’ perceptions and aspirations of having STEM careers. And a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology revealed that exposing girls to role models in STEM careers led to greater motivation in those fields of study among girls of color.

As we observe Women’s History Month, take a moment to consider what women have served as your role models. Are you a role model to someone else? A young woman or girl might be looking at you and seeing herself in your actions or behavior. Be sure to challenge her, present her with an unexpected opportunity or just tell her she’s fabulous just being herself.

I asked local leaders to share one role model from our state who has had an impact on their lives.

Annie Brandt, senior vice president, market executive, Bank of America:
Jenna Knox is a force. Born and raised in Des Moines, she stands for all the things that make our community the best in the nation. A leader, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a changemaker and a friend. I was incredibly impressed with Jenna several years before we became friends. She was my mother’s boss. My mom, a woman whom I have greatly admired my entire life, continually shared how her leader at work made her a better person and led with respect. As a young leader myself at the time, I wanted to learn more about her style and I was blown away. Jenna has the ability to identify a person’s strengths and inspire them to have the confidence to dream and become more. As a truly fearless woman, she challenges those around her to take action and be the change they want to see.
Jane Burns, freelance writer and editor:
Somewhere basking in the warmth of the Hawaiian sun is a woman who inspired me greatly and probably has no idea she did. Valerie Monson, an Iowa girl from tiny Bode, was a Des Moines Register features writer extraordinaire whose work I still think of often. It was her free spirit and world travels that caught my attention when she was a guest speaker for my Drake reporting class, but to then be her Register co-worker was a gift. Her stories were often funny, like her, and always full of kindness and compassion. That taught me as a young writer and young professional that not only could creativity and humanity go together, but that they should go together as necessary partners. I don’t think that’s just a lesson for a writer, but for anyone who is creative. Or human. Or, ideally, both.

Lori Chesser, senior shareholder and vice president, Dentons Davis Brown, PC:
One Iowa woman who inspired me is Deborah Tharnish. She was one of the first women partners in our firm and our first woman president. She served and continues to serve as a mentor and confidant of many in the firm (and likely many others), both women and men. She is a person people trust. She is also not afraid to call out inconsistency or challenge the status quo.

More than all those admirable traits, what inspired me was her ability to be an excellent lawyer at the same time as raising a family, practicing her faith and doing community service. Although she did all these things well, she let us know that it didn’t have to be perfect to be possible. We could do it too!

Madison Sconiers, training specialist, Polk County Treasurer’s Office:
There is a village of Iowa women who have inspired and supported me throughout my life. However, there is one in particular who has been an inspiration to most in that village (and beyond): Mary L. Chapman. Everything she touches leaves a legacy of compassion, advocacy and collaboration. As a community leader for more than five decades, her accolades alone inspire many, but her ability to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves is immeasurable. Her impact extends beyond her long career in education and is nothing short of inspiring. As her mentee and niece, I am so grateful to be a part of her legacy. Knowing that she did, tells me I can and should live a life that inspires others. She is my motivation for continued support for our community.

Teri Wood TeBockhorst, president, Headlight Strategies:
Starting a new career can be scary. Everything is so foreign. As a young executive learning the ropes of a new industry, I was fortunate to find a role model in Willi Ware. Willi was a seasoned professional in a senior leadership role of an advertising agency that was primarily male. That didn’t bother her. She looked at everyone as individuals. People are just trying to do their best, playing on the same team for the win.

I was fortunate she took me under her wing as a mentee. She was a master of grace under pressure who was selfless with her time and energy. I admired her, was inspired by her, learned from her, and wanted to be her. At Willi’s memorial, I heard words like giving, creative, inspirational and fearless. I still hear her voice today, guiding me to always do the right thing! Let’s all be like Willi.

Teresa Zilk, owner, Teresa Zilk Creative Consulting LLC; founder, Stories to Tell My Daughter
Penny Furgerson, founder of Gateway Dance Theatre, has been a role model for me for as long as I’ve known her. I first met Penny when I was a young mother of three small children. She became my daughter’s dance teacher and over time, a creative mentor and great friend to me. I am inspired by her deep belief that dance is a tool and a language of community, connection and solidarity. I’ve watched her take people from all walks of life and help them unlock the confidence and power inside of themselves by teaching them dance and movement. I’m inspired most when I think about all the ways that she dared to define herself and her life. She started a dance company all while working full time as a pharmacist and raising a family. That kind of vision and tenacity is inspiring.

Getty Images.
In the headlines
Most Iowans support Kim Reynolds’ prescription-free birth control plan, Iowa Poll finds: A strong majority of Iowans support Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to allow pharmacies to sell birth control without a prescription, according to a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Legislation being considered by state lawmakers would allow Iowans ages 18 and older to purchase certain forms of birth control, such as pills, birth control patches and vaginal rings, without first seeing a doctor. The bill does not include drugs intended to induce an abortion, according to this story in the Des Moines Register.

Iowa Poll finds Iowans split on whether to repeal gender balance requirement for boards: Iowans are split in their opinions on whether to repeal the requirement for boards and commissions to have equal numbers of men and women, as a bill to do so waits on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk. Forty-eight percent of respondents say they oppose repealing the requirement, while 46% say they are in favor, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll finds. Five percent say they are not sure, according to this story in the Des Moines Register.

In the headlines (continued)
Dubuque woman dedicates her life to serving veterans: Rebecca Ward served in the U.S. Army and is now dedicated to serving other veterans. She works as a lab technician at the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Dubuque, according to this story by WHO 13. Because of her service, she has created a bond with patients. “When she saw my hat, she goes yeah, I served in 101st [Airborne],” veteran Wesley Glass said, “and instantly we just, OK, you’re my battle buddy.”

Can divorce save you? An Iowa woman says yes while promoting her book on the ‘Today’ show: Iowan Lyz Lenz was a special guest on the “Today with Hoda and Jenna” Tuesday morning for her New York Times’ best-selling book “This American Ex-Wife,” according to this story in the Des Moines Register. Lenz hopes she can encourage women to reclaim their happiness and freedom from their divorces. “Especially since the pandemic, women are just breaking,” Lenz told Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager and Maria Shriver during the show on March 12. “They want another way out and another way to live.”

Worth checking out
Photos from demonstrations around the world on International Women's Day (Iowa Public Radio). Women earn 84 cents for every dollar men make — or even less (NPR). Career: How former Iowa State gymnastics coach KJ Kindler built a women’s gymnastics dynasty in Oklahoma (the Cut). Iowa woman combines mom, farm duties (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier). The No. 1 thing jobs can do to keep female employees (CNBC). In states with laws targeting LGBTQ issues, school hate crimes quadrupled (Washington Post).
ISU basketball player Audi Crooks signs NIL agreement with ClaimDOC

ClaimDOC, a medical claim auditing company based in West Des Moines, has signed freshman Iowa State University women’s basketball player Audi Crooks to a multiyear name, image and likeness agreement.

Crooks will serve as a company brand ambassador throughout her basketball career and will appear in local advertisements and participate in employee events. Crooks’ partnership with ClaimDOC, which began this week with an ad at the Des Moines International Airport, will include participation in ClaimDOC’s community events.

“As an Algona native myself, I couldn’t be prouder of all that Audi has accomplished during her first year at Iowa State,” said ClaimDOC CEO Ben Krambeck in a prepared statement. “Whether it’s business or athletics, some people just love to compete. That is ClaimDOC, and that is Audi.”

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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