Read about 12 Fearless Iowa women
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Good morning and happy International Women’s Day! Today we're republishing our profiles of 12 women from across the state that we first ran when we launched the Fearless initiative last November. We hope their stories of times that they were fearless give you the inspiration to do great things not only today, but every day hereafter. To read their full stories, click on their names. Also featured in this newsletter:

  • A guest opinion piece from Tiffany O’Donnell about findings from the EPIC Corporate Challenge.
  • An excerpt of a column by BPC Group Publisher Suzanna De Baca on several Iowa she-roes.

Have a great week!

– Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor

This International Women's Day, learn about 12 fearless Iowa women
I can think of so many times that I’ve been fearless because I’m moving in this space of fear based on my former immigration status. I was undocumented for about 15 years. Speaking in public about my personal experience with undocumentation and my family’s mixed status here in Iowa, typically to an audience of almost all white people, is one space where I hold this fear. Those are the times that my voice shakes. My heart beats faster. Sometimes my eyes well up with tears.

I was following the killing of George Floyd and I was reading the news so much that I began to get distracted. My mind, my soul, everything began to focus on whether there was any justice. I got asked if I was going to march. John Lewis wrote a book before he passed away and said that what he, Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and others did in history was they studied. They were academically prepared to join the movement. So I thought, what is my place? You have to know history to know your place in a movement. My place is books.

I’ve always wanted to teach. I like translating what I love into something that students can use. They’re not always going to love it at the end, but I hope that they really see the value of it. I like helping people think more critically. I’ve never been afraid to go into a classroom and teach what I’m teaching. So I guess in a way, that’s fearless.
I think it’s really important for students to have a voice and a vote on the City Council in Ames because we’re half of the population. I’m originally from Ames. I grew up here my whole life and I’m a student, so I can really represent both perspectives, but especially give that voice to the students that hadn’t had one before.
I am passionate about judo more than anything. I started doing judo when I was 16 years old. Judo is an amazing sport. I do not think I would be doing the things I am now but for judo. I can’t even imagine who I would have been if I hadn’t gotten into judo by accident because my brother got beat up one too many times.
I was going to be the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I knew I wanted to go to college, so I joined a summer program to help at-risk students. If you met the criteria of the summer school portion, you got to go on a trip to Branson, Mo. That night, our head counselor said he was so proud of us for getting through the summer portion and that we could go in and out of each other’s hotel rooms, even though boys and girls intermingling was never allowed. So we were like, that’s exciting, that’s perfect. Nothing could go wrong. Things went terribly wrong. That night I was sexually assaulted by another student in the program who was 18. I was 15.
Last summer [my troop] went to Girl Scout Camp Tanglefoot. One of the things at Tanglefoot is a very adventurous high ropes course and zip line. Not all troop leaders do the course, but I wanted to be a good role model for the girls and show them that I’m here with you and we’re doing it together. I wasn’t really well-equipped to do it. I had jeans on. I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I did it on a whim. The girls were all afraid and no one wanted to go first. So I thought, I’m their fearless leader, I’ll go first. Well, turns out that was quite the opposite.
I am very vociferous about what needs to be done scientifically and from the stance of public health. There’s so much mixed messaging out there about COVID-19. Public health and science have become very politicized even though they should be objective at a time like this. Unfortunately there are certain people who don’t want to hear messages about wearing a mask or other scientific-based recommendations.
I was in a relationship in which there was domestic violence and sexual assault. The time I felt the most fearless, or rather, fearful, was when I made the decision to leave that relationship. The domino effect from that was that I lost about 90% of my social support as well. I was raised in a home that looked really good on the outside but had a lot of dysfunction on the inside. When I would reach out for help, I was essentially told that I just needed to be a better wife.
I never wanted to be a cop. I wanted to be in conservation. I fell into law enforcement because it was a way that I could do hands-on conservation work and talk to people. After I’d worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service in Colorado and the Iowa Conservation Commission, it didn’t occur to me after working for all of those good organizations that I would be looked at or treated any differently as a woman [at the DNR]. People would say, "What’s it like being a woman officer, working with the public?" It’s fine. No biggie. I didn’t face problems being a woman officer with the public. I faced it internally with the agency.
My kids push me to be who I am. I want them to not only have a strong role model in their life, but know that they can do anything they want to. When I was younger, I really didn’t have high expectations for my life. I got pregnant when I was 15. I had my first son when I was 16.
Being transgender, whether people know it or not, I have to own it. Living in my small town that I grew up in, I can’t hide. I can’t be that wallflower. I’m 5 feet, 10 inches and I wear heels. I’m visible. I want to be proud of it, share it and be that person that people can look up to and learn from. I don’t want to live my life worrying about the what-ifs and being miserable because I can’t tell someone something.
It’s time to innovate and make adjustments to maintain your female workforce
In preparing for a presentation about new statistics on the women’s recession, I gathered three women vice presidents of a national company for whom I was presenting. Following the presentation, they were to provide their own personal perspectives on balancing work through a global pandemic.

As I began to ask the first woman how she was navigating these times, she sat silent. I asked again. It was after that second ask that the first tears began to fall. She gathered herself in front of me, a stranger, and proceeded to tell me how challenging the last few months had been at work and at home.

I then asked the second woman how she was navigating this time. She is also a vice president and the company’s highest sales producer. Once again, silence, followed by tears.

I wish I could tell you the story was different for panelist number three. It wasn’t. All three had clearly reached their breaking point in front of me, a complete stranger, who merely asked, "How are you doing?"

I share this story because these are strong women. You know and maybe even live with someone like them. All were open and honest enough to say that the challenges of this pandemic had prompted them to consider quitting. That’s right. QUITTING. The highest sales performer at the company considered walking away because of the demands of work and life in a time of COVID-19. It was clear from this interaction that there are costs to working these days financial, physical and most certainly mental.

No longer anecdotal, hard evidence from firms like McKinsey & Co., and now Women Lead Change, have data to back up the looming crisis.

Each year, we survey members of the EPIC Corporate Challenge. In 2020, we added the opportunity for COVID-related feedback. This data, however, is focused on self-reporting from an organizational perspective. We thought it was important that we dig deeper and ask for the perspective of our individual contributors. So we also commissioned a research study, in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, to be able to take a look at the employee’s view versus the employer’s view.

The goal of the study: to help organizations, policymakers and communities identify effective ways to support professional women. To unlock the needs of women like those mentioned above who can be struggling in silence.

Here are some key findings from this research.

  • Professional women’s mental health is an urgent issue in the current pandemic.
  • 80.5% of our survey respondents reported at least some symptoms of depression over the last month. Among them, more than 25% reported depressive symptoms more than half the days (over the last month).
  • Women are being pushed to the brink when trying to shoulder work and family responsibilities.
  • Single women and those who are either divorced or separated reported higher levels of job insecurity than married women. These women are in charge of the second and third shifts at home with less support systems.
  • Multiple sources of help are needed to alleviate women’s burden.
  • Women report greater levels of work changes that they made themselves (e.g., forgo work assignments; sacrifice personal time to catch up on work) to attend to family.

Left: Movie director Chloé Zhao. Center: United Way of Central Iowa President Elisabeth Buck. Right: TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett.
In the headlines
  • Chloé Zhao won the Golden Globe for best director, making her the first Asian woman ever to win that prize. In taking home the award, Zhao also became the first woman to be named best director since Barbra Streisand won for "Yentl" almost 40 years ago.
  • Elisabeth Buck, who has served as president of the United Way of Central Iowa since 2017, will retire in July. Buck joined United Way of Central Iowa in 2011 as chief community impact officer. She was promoted to president six years later.
  • Financial services giant TIAA has named Thasunda Brown Duckett as CEO, making her the first woman to helm the company and only the second-ever Black female chief executive in the Fortune 500. The historic announcement also marks the first time in Fortune 500 history that a Black CEO is succeeded at the top by another Black executive.
  • As part of an equity initiative, the Iowa City Community School District is implementing a health and puberty curriculum that’s inclusive of LGBTQ and nonbinary students. The program meets the National Sexual Education Standards and is inclusive of issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • The White House has withdrawn Neera Tanden’s nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget, marking the first failed confirmation push for one of President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks. Tanden, the leader of the Center for American Progress, had come under criticism from some lawmakers for past social media comments.
  • To celebrate Women’s History Month, Iowa State University’s Student Government is hosting Women’s Week 2021, an events series with the goal of empowering and highlighting strong women around the world, March 8-12.
  • Sarah Thomas, who officiated the Super Bowl last month, will headline the 2021 Women Lead Change Quad Cities Conference on Oct. 13.
  • The European Commission wants to end paycheck differences due to gender-based discrimination in the EU, and is planning to present rules that would give employees access to pay information broken down by type of work and employees’ sex to empower workers and force employers to redress unwarranted pay differences for comparable jobs. The gender pay gap is estimated to be 14.1% in the EU.
  • One of the country’s largest adoption and foster care agencies, Bethany Christian Services, announced that it would begin providing services to LGBTQ parents nationwide effective immediately, a major inflection point in the fraught battle over many faith-based agencies’ long-standing opposition to working with same-sex couples.
Bringing her full self to work: Munirah Khairuddin
As a young girl in Malaysia, Munirah Khairuddin wanted to see the world. And so she did, but during her journey, Munirah discovered that the person she’d become was the most important destination. Read more about how Munirah Khairuddin learned to bring her full self to work and why she traveled the globe only to return home again, READ THE FULL STORY>
Worth checking out
Meet Kylie Elser, a young entrepreneur with Rett syndrome whose T-shirt business sends a message of belonging (The Courier). On TV, a rare realistic look at breastfeeding (New York Times). Imagine your flexible office work future (Culture Study). Big companies disclose details on gender, race in workforces (Wall Street Journal). Lady Bird Johnson’s audio diaries: A first lady narrates her powerful role in history (Washington Post). When something breaks, moms pick up the pieces. What happens when moms break? (Glamour). Screw your annual tweet for International Women’s Day (Fearless She Wrote). Biden promised to prioritize women’s rights. Here’s the plan to actually do it (Refinery 29). Female athletes are undercovered. These Olympians want to change that (New York Times). Remote work is the cruel new ally in the war on working moms (Fast Company). Diane Von Furstenberg’s secrets to living well at 74 (Wall Street Journal). Mothers are regaining jobs, even while shouldering pandemic burdens at home (New York Times). Has Zoom changed how you see yourself? 6 women share their stories (The Lily). Why I worry remote work schedules could mean fewer women in the office (Washington Post Opinion).
Thanks again to everyone who attended last month's Fearless Friday event where we focused on health care. If you couldn't make it, you can watch a replay of the event on our website.

If you're interested in hearing from other Iowans about the topic of leadership, register for this month's free Fearless Friday event, which will be held on March 26 from 8 to 9:30 a.m.
Iowa 'She-roes' inspire today’s leaders
March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments of female role models. Right here in Iowa, countless women have shaped and advanced our state and made a difference in our lives, including the 180 particularly noteworthy women honored in the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

If you are seeking inspiring stories of Iowa women who have made a difference in the past and present, look no further than this treasure trove of hometown "she-roes." If you are like me, you may know some of these women’s names, but not their stories. Others may be new to you. Regardless, these women’s accomplishments have likely made some aspect of your own life and work possible.

My life has been enriched by many women in the Hall of Fame, including BPC founder and Chairman Connie Wimer. I asked several area business leaders which Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame recipients particularly inspired them:

Dr. Angela Franklin, president and CEO, Des Moines University:
Willie Stevenson Glanton was a trailblazer, attorney and legislator who also impacted medical education as the first and only person of color to chair the Des Moines University board of trustees. Her influence created the Glanton Fund, which improves access to careers in medicine for deserving individuals. She was a role model and champion for women leaders, and we continue to thrive because she paved the way.

Teri Walig, M.D., CEO of ChildServe:
As a former NASA chief astronaut, Peggy Whitson continuously broke the mold when it came to women in space. At ChildServe, we believe in breaking barriers by tapping into the spirit of a child, through innovation and a "can-do" attitude. Role models like Peggy Whitson inspire children and adults alike to reach new heights.

Jen Carruthers, president, Capital City Pride:
The work Lilian Edmunds did in improving race relations for this city is the type of impact I want to have for the LGBTQ+ community. I've faced discrimination and know how difficult it can be to not only survive, but thrive. I am passionate, committed, and determined to strengthen and expand opportunities for LGBTQ+ individuals because of women like Edmunds who have come before me.

Today, the struggle for equity and equality still exists for women and for many communities. Public role models like those recognized in the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame help girls and women imagine lives and careers beyond what is familiar. Their accomplishments and stories tell us that not only is anything possible, it is possible right here in Iowa.  
Looking for ways to celebrate International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month? Check out the following resources:

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