Plus, the power of women's resource groups
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Good morning and happy Monday! We’ve got a packed edition today so let’s get right to it.

Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s newsletter:

Have a great week!

– Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

‘It was time for me to move on
A conversation with a former and a current nonprofit executive director on making space for women of color in leadership
Left: Former ICADV executive director Laurie Schipper, photographed in May 2021. Right: Current ICADV executive director Maria Corona, photographed in summer 2020. Photos by Emily Blobaum.
On Sept. 2, 2020, Laurie Schipper addressed a two-page letter to Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence board members. “It has been a challenging and reactive time with so many opportunities to make transformative changes,” it began.

Three months earlier, in the midst of the racial reckonings brought forth by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people, Schipper and leaders of 44 other sexual assault and domestic violence coalitions from 33 states signed the Moment of Truth letter, which acknowledged the ways that their leadership failed underrepresented survivors, leaders and movements, specifically people of color. In it, they detailed changes they would support surrounding partnerships with police departments and the criminal justice system. The work that led to the letter was not easy, nor was it an easy road after, as the stance was seen as controversial by some in the state and nationally.

She received feedback from several leaders of ICADV’s culturally specific programs. “Those are great words, but where’s the action?” they asked. Schipper came to the decision that it was time for her to step aside and make space for a person of color to hold leadership.

“We tell ourselves that because we’re in Iowa, a white-majority state, that it’s too hard for us, that the numbers [of qualified people of color] are not there. It is hard, because you don’t get the numbers unless you do the internal work,” Schipper said.

She wrote in her resignation letter: “This is a truth I have been thinking about for a number of years, recognizing that I am one of those white women who took on a leadership role at age thirty and stayed forever, never making room to center the leadership of women of color. ... It became clear to me during our staff discussions that it was, indeed, time for me to move on.”

She was 58 and had been the executive director for nearly 30 years. ICADV board members and staffers were surprised, but supportive, she said. Schipper called on the board to hire a new executive director as soon as possible, and indicated that she would stay on through the spring to help train her replacement. At the same time, Schipper and other ICADV staff members created a five-year action and accountability plan.

“What we found is that the work that we’ve done publicly around supporting communities of color and leaders of color brought an amazing group of women to the position as candidates,” Schipper said. “There were a lot of women of color that could have filled this position. That’s something that white-led organizations should know, even if it’s Iowa.”

In January 2021, ICADV hired Maria Corona, who is a three-time graduate from Iowa State University with degrees in women’s studies and international studies, a master’s degree in family and consumer sciences, and a Ph.D. in human development and family studies. Before her hiring at ICADV, Corona worked closely with Latina and Latino survivors of domestic violence at Iowa State’s Child Welfare Research Training Project and worked as a diversity outreach coordinator and advocate for survivors of domestic violence at Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support (ACCESS).

Schipper has transitioned out of her role as senior consultant to the executive director and now works for Galvanize USA, a national women’s empowerment and voter engagement organization.

The following conversation with Schipper and Corona has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Laurie, when did you come to the decision that you would step down and make space for a woman of color?

Schipper: It’s important to acknowledge that I’ve thought about it for years, and as a white woman, I’ve had the privilege of setting it aside and asking if it was convenient for me at this moment. It started in 2015, although it wasn’t a specific plan. It was working with folks at the national level thinking about what it would look like to center the leadership of women of color and the needs of marginalized communities. That work was really transformative and led us to the Moment of Truth letter.

After the letter was released, our culturally specific programs were holding us accountable. At the time it was really painful; now I know it was a gift.

I was talking to some of my friends who run national programs, and they said, “Do it. Just do it.” I still didn’t think it was financially possible in my life. But hearing them say to do it stuck with me. I was in a place of great privilege and I had waited way too long. And if not me, who could we ask to do this? It was hard and scary and sometimes I felt sorry for myself. I was defensive, threatened and sad that people didn’t beg me to stay. But leadership is taking the leap.

Because I had been here so long and because the Moment of Truth letter caused a lot of commotion politically with law enforcement and legislators, it was important for me to stay in a role of leadership so Maria could get her feet planted and I could help open doors or deflect anything that was my fault so she didn’t have to. It’s a complicated role and I wanted to make it easier. I had to do a lot of white fragility work in a short period of time. That transition has been the growth experience that I didn’t anticipate and that will always be every time I see Maria’s face, something that I am so humbled by and so appreciative of and love her so much for.

Corona: It’s important to know that the national folks that Laurie tapped into for support through this process are also women of color. If you don’t surround yourself with diverse thoughts and people who come from underrepresented communities, you’re not really going to hear and feel what it means to give up your space as a white woman. So that support that Laurie had was essential to this transition. She could have easily just talked about it with her white friends and they might have said, “Are you crazy? Why would you leave that role?”

It may feel like a very micro-level thing that happened, but it’s actually huge. I’m a state-level leader, but I’m on a national stage because of our position as a coalition and what we do policy-wise at the national level.

Throughout this transition, I never felt that Laurie framed this experience as, “I’m doing this for you.” It’s not a hand-me-down. It’s her own reckoning. I appreciate Laurie for staying as long as she did, because this is a really hard job.

I have knowledge, skills and experience. I’ve been organizing in the community and I’m well-versed in research, grant-writing and other administrative pieces. There are other areas that I need support in, and her staying really gave me the space to take a breath, to think about the transition and really assimilate into the role and feel what it’s like to be in this powerful space.

My undocumented mother would never think of this as a reality, and she’s so proud. To have the opportunity to do this and show my skills and compete, and I know there were a lot of other great candidates, it was all about showing that this is my purpose. I went to grad school for this. It’s a marathon that I’m still running. There will be rocks along the way and things thrown at me and other barriers that I have to face as part of my identity. [Schipper’s] staying so long gave me a sense of support and it made me feel like “I’ve got this. I can do this.” It also allowed me to learn from her.

Schipper: I took Maria’s job at the age of 30, with one job experience under my belt and a bachelor’s degree. Maria would have likely not been able to get hired at that point in time. Maria has articulated to me that in order to feel heard by the world, she had to get a Ph.D. So this wasn’t about going to look for somebody who may or may not be qualified. Maria was very qualified and would not have been considered likely because of structural racism.

This isn’t about being a white savior. It’s about white folks taking on a super hard reckoning and learning things about themselves that they don’t want to know, and then stepping aside. I want white folks to know that my world didn’t come to an end. It was hard, but wow, what I get to watch happen now. This is where Maria was supposed to be.

You mentioned the notion that women of color often have to be extra qualified to even be considered for jobs. What are other barriers or challenges that women of color face in being hired for leadership positions?

Corona: Women of color always have to prove that we’re good enough, that we are in this space because we have the skills, the capacity and that we’ve done the work. As a Latina, I come from a very collectivistic space. We are very community-driven, and what we do in our life, it’s all driven out of love for my community. Yes, it’s out of love for my family, but also for other families who look like mine, or that experience systemic racism. That’s how I drive my leadership, based on lived realities and experiences of people. That’s something that I think women of color also have to constantly prove is valuable.

Because there’s a lack of representation, there’s a limited number of folks I can look to for support. There’s very few Latino/Latinx nonprofit directors. I can’t really reach out to people who are like me and vent.

Another barrier is the space within your organization. Do people believe in you? What perceptions do they have of you? Do they believe you’re capable enough? If you don’t have a team that respects who you are and recognizes your value as a human and a professional, you’re not going to feel welcome. You’re not going to feel supported. You’re going to be constantly battling within your own organization. I have never been in a space with majority-white people that actually believe in me. And it sucks. You’re always wondering, “Should I say something? Should I say that a comment was racist? Should I have a conversation?” I’m thankful to say that as of now, I haven’t had to do that. ICADV’s team is amazing and they are all ready to do the anti-racism work. Before I came here, they put together an action and accountability plan for working toward being antiracist and uplifting and centering the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color] community. Having that space ready, I didn’t have to come in as a new leader and walk on eggshells because someone is doubting me and my skills. I am so lucky to say that, even more so because I’m in Iowa.

For me, after graduating from Iowa State University, I wanted out. I was like, “I need to get out of Iowa. I need to go somewhere where I know my community is and I know I can feel the love and respect that I need and deserve.” I never expected that at ICADV. I’m still building relationships – it’s my fourth month on the job – but I feel very comfortable. With the video of the 13-year-old Latino kid that was killed by police in March, I was able to come in and say, “This is really heavy on me right now.” And they’re there for me telling me to take care of myself. You can really be your full self at ICADV. I’m so proud to be here. I’m so proud of my team. It’s all a matter of us holding ourselves to the action and accountability plan.

Another barrier is relationships with community leaders and leadership across member programs. What do they think about me? Never in my life would I have thought that I would be able to get on a call with the attorney general. When that happened for the first time, when I hung up the phone, I cried. I come from a community and a family that said, if you see a cop, go the other way. You don’t talk to them. You don’t call them. I’m calling the biggest cop in town now. I’m getting on a phone call with him to ask him to do something for me. That is incredible. I would have never thought that that’s something that I would be doing in my life. It gives me a sense of so much responsibility, not just for survivors of violence, but for communities of color. To know that I’m in this position is amazing. It fills me with lots of strength and it makes me feel empowered. It also makes me feel a little afraid because of the amount of responsibility that I have for my people, for my community and for communities that are underrepresented.

Laurie is one of the women that has paved the way for people like me, for women like me. She gave space for my community, for the undocumented community, for folks that are typically not given the room to speak up. That means a lot. And it was really thoughtful. Everything was really intentional, thoughtful, and set up for me to succeed.

Schipper: Not all white-led organizations will necessarily be ready for this. There have been a lot of casualties before Maria [at ICADV] in wanting to diversify for the political correctness of it and hiring women of color when we weren’t ready to look at our own white supremacy culture. For those women, it was never a fair playing field when they came into our organization and they all left. We have lots of reckoning to do around that. I wanted to make sure that we took on several years of really intensive work around our own white fragility, anti-racism work before our team was ready for this.

So as much as I would want to encourage people to look at their ability to center the leadership of women of color, I also think you have to do the work to get there. I am haunted by the women before Maria that didn’t find the space welcoming, that didn’t find it a place where they could fulfill their potential and left.

Corona: Thank you for saying that. That’s why I’m lucky to be here now. If I were to have come on 10 years ago, I probably would have not been in the same space that I’m in now. I could see the internal work that the staff does on their own; it's really beautiful to see that growth. It’s scary for white people to do that. You get lots of feelings like shame and guilt. You’re uncomfortable. But it’s courageous to stay in those feelings and work on them and process them. To say, “I’m going to work on myself and I’m going to work on my behaviors and habits that have caused harm and that continue the ideology of what’s supposed to be professional,” that’s courageous. The team is doing that work all the time. And when they don’t, they call each other in. I’ve witnessed that and it’s amazing.

Aquaculture researcher named 2021 World Food Prize laureate
The goal of global food production should not just be feeding the world’s growing population, but nourishing “all people and all nations as well as sustaining the health of the planet in the long term,” said Dr. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, the World Food Prize’s 2021 laureate. She is the seventh woman and the first woman of Asian descent to receive the award.

Her research on small native fish species in Bangladesh led to the development of nutrition-sensitive approaches to aquatic food systems, from the farm to the food processor to the consumer. That included the development of aquatic products such as fish chutney and powder, which offer high-protein sources for people living in developing countries in Asia and Africa, and can complement staple food products such as rice, vegetables and other livestock products.

In a virtual announcement last week, Thilsted spoke about the challenges of being a woman in the field of agricultural research.Citing data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that shows only 30% of researchers worldwide are women, Thilsted said there are deeply entrenched systemic biases and challenges that must be overcome.

She said she has been fortunate to have a supportive family and a close circle of colleagues and mentors who have helped her navigate those challenges.

“If we must achieve gender equality in society, we must achieve gender equality in the workplace, also in the field of science, and men alongside their female colleagues must step up and play an active role in driving this change,” Thilsted said.

Women’s groups are a powerful resource for career development
When you think about career development or professional development opportunities, what comes to mind? Most often it’s trainings, conferences, professional organizations and master’s programs. But when you think about your own career journey, what has been the key to your success so far? For many women, including the two of us, it’s not a traditional learning experience, it’s the people around us.

While we work together at Bankers Trust, we’ve ventured through different career paths – Jodi works in risk and compliance and Jayme is a commercial banker – but we both have faced similar challenges in previous companies and roles in the male-dominated banking industry. We know what it’s like to be the only women in the department, and often the only woman in the room. We’ve felt isolated when our teams and bosses don’t understand or experience the same challenges we face in our careers. And we’ve watched our engagement and motivation start to flicker when working in environments that didn’t prioritize women team members.

As a result, we sought support through other women who have helped shape our career trajectories as traditional mentors and in formal networking groups, informal social groups and female-focused professional organizations. Sometimes it was even women who blazed the trail or supervisors who went to battle for us advocating for a promotion or raise. While our specific experiences are different, we both can attribute so much of our career growth and success to these relationships and how they helped us build connection, find purpose, spark inspiration and push ourselves in our career aspirations. It’s also one of many reasons we launched a women’s employee resource group at the bank a few years ago.

Now in its second year, EmpowHER strives to help women at all levels and across all departments of the bank advance in ways that positively impact their personal or professional goals. We recently held an event aimed at building relationships with other women across the company and one focused on self-development, sharing tips for virtual meetings and staying connected with team members in our hybrid environment. These events generated great response, especially at a time when many women have been lacking connection.

Self-advocacy is another topic that’s top of mind for many women, and we’re planning events and resources to help women get more comfortable with negotiating, promoting themselves, having crucial conversations and other soft skills that help people advance in their careers.

Jodi Selby is vice president and senior risk operations and compliance manager, and Jayme Fry is vice president, commercial relationship manager at Bankers Trust. Together, Jodi and Jayme serve as co-chairs for EmpowHER, the bank’s women-led and women-focused employee resource group, which addresses and encourages female representation at all levels of the company.

Left: Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Center: U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney. Right: Incoming Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee.
In the headlines
Leading by Example: Andilla Arantika
“My story is less about me being fearless and more about my mother and sister. I’m always looking up to them.”
-Adilla Arantika, business innovation manager, Asia, at Principal®

Adilla Arantika’s family has been her rock throughout her life. They’ve taught her life lessons, like doing the right thing, particularly when nobody is watching. They’ve given her inspiration, like when Adilla’s mother carried the family after Adilla’s father’s untimely death. Now as a leader at Principal, Adilla embodies these values on a daily basis, finding success at work and giving back to others from a similar background. READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
The fight to end violence against Indigenous women continues in Iowa (Talk of Iowa podcast). Military mothers face their own battles — family and community give them strength (National Geographic). Watch: Through the night (PBS POV). The child care industry was collapsing. Mrs. Jackie bet everything on an impossible dream to save it (ProPublica). The invisible labor inside America’s lactation rooms (Time). UI graduate student promotes financial literacy on viral TikTok account (Daily Iowan). Much more than muffins: The women scientists who invented home ec (New York Times). Bumble CEO says heightened scrutiny of women business leaders is wrong (Wall Street Journal). From periods to powerlifting: Over 200 people on what’s been mansplained to them (The Lily).
Join us this Friday, May 21, at 8 a.m. for our May Fearless Friday event. We'll hear from Gilmara Vila Nova-Mitchell, who is a leadership consultant at the Sarah Noll Wilson consulting firm.

Sign up for the free, virtual event on our website.
Meet Renee Christoffer
When Renee Christoffer and her executive team welcome a new employee at Veridian Credit Union, it’s easy for the credit union’s president and CEO to relate to whichever role that individual will play within the organization. Whether it’s an entry-level teller position, a midlevel branch manager or an executive role, Christoffer has held many of those same positions in her 27-year career. Christoffer has worked for Veridian her entire career, beginning as a co-op student while still in high school. For the past 14 years, she was Veridian’s chief administrative officer. Christoffer is the second woman to hold Veridian’s highest leadership position, behind Jean Trainor, who retired in 2014. Read more.
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