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NOVEMBER 6, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

November is Native American Heritage Month.

Have you heard of the book and the recently released movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon”? I knew very little about them until I read this story in the Washington Post: Margie Burkhart, who lives in Tahlequah, Okla., is the granddaughter of Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Nation member whose siblings and mother were among dozens murdered for their oil wealth during the 1920s. It is a very difficult story to read, but an important one.

Veterans Day will be observed this Saturday, Nov. 11. Be sure to check out Veterans Tech Support, a nonprofit founded by one of our fearless Iowa women.

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

  • Coverage of our Fearless Annual Celebration from last week – be inspired by fearless Iowa women Heidi Ernst of Marshalltown, Abigail Johnson of Blue Grass, Monique Scarlett of Sioux City and others.
  • A Closer Look story about Stephanie Oppel, the executive director of ICON Water Trails, which is based in Des Moines.
  • In the headlines: Working remotely has allowed women with children younger than age 5 to make unprecedented workforce gains.
  • A break from the news: Do children really get sugar highs? Which ingredient found in some candies will be banned from foods in California in 2027? Test your knowledge of Halloween candy.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Highlights from our Fearless Annual Celebration
Attendees at the Fearless Annual Celebration in downtown Des Moines. Photo by Duane Tinkey.
Hundreds of attendees helped us celebrate three years of Fearless at our Annual Celebration on Nov. 1 in downtown Des Moines. Our three speakers showed us just how resilient Iowans are, and our mentors helped guide meaningful conversations. We couldn’t have asked for a better event to help kick off our fourth year of empowering Iowa women to succeed in work and life.

Here are a few takeaways from the event.

Heidi Ernst, a 74-year-old physical therapist who was attacked by a shark in June: “What have I learned from all of this so far was to accept the love that people have given me, the help that I have received from friends, friends of friends, from total strangers and having to learn how to show gratitude for all of this help. ... And most importantly, being grateful for this new life.”
Watch her remarks | Read her story

Abigail Johnson, the 16-year-old founder of Veterans Tech Support: “[Some] might call me fearless because I’m a woman taking technology classes and looking to possibly pursue a career in that field. Now it is true that in my AP computer science class I’m only one of two girls and the statistical outlook for women in the technology field is currently bleak, to say the least, with only a quarter of that field’s workforce being women and even less in management positions or higher roles. I see that as an opportunity to work hard and fight hard for something I excel at. But can it be intimidating to walk into a room where most of the faces are of the opposite sex? Absolutely. Do I let that stop me? Certainly not.”
Watch her remarks | Read her story

Monique Scarlett, the founder of Unity in the Community: “We can control our actions. We can be the example of what we expect from others. Action truly does speak louder than words. So let our service align with our communication and our communities. What else can we control? We can control our attitude. Do you not know that our attitude determines our altitude?” Watch her remarks | Read her story
A Closer Look: Stephanie Oppel, executive director, ICON Water Trails
Photo by Duane Tinkey.
Stephanie Oppel looks to her family for inspiration when it comes to helping ICON Water Trails reach its full potential as a recreation and placemaking attraction that can help the region attract and retain talent, and improve water quality throughout Central Iowa.

She started as ICON’s new executive director on Sept. 25. Oppel grew up spending time outdoors picnicking and birdwatching at Big Creek. Her parents and grandparents went fossil hunting on Sundays, and she recalls getting up at 5 a.m. with her oldest child when he was little and watching the sunrise at Jester State Park near Granger.

“Iowa’s spaces have provided such meaning for me personally that I am so thrilled to be here and start to contribute to advance this for the next generation of people,” she said.

Oppel said she will also draw on her past professional experiences as director of work-based learning at DMACC, associate director of programs for the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake, working at DMACC to advance manufacturing partnerships on behalf of all 15 community colleges with the Iowa Association of Business Industry and with FEMA doing flood recovery work.

“With ICON there’s that large public infrastructure federal grant piece that I absolutely loved, getting to work with different jurisdictions, public works departments … so pulling those parallels I learned a ton about political engagement, about the multilayers of government, a ton about public-private partnerships, and about workforce development. So I really feel like all these positions I have had have built upon one another to prepare me for this.”

Does your background allow you to look at the work of ICON through a different lens?

I think I do bring a unique perspective because I’ve seen public-private partnerships and I’ve seen things from the federal side of things and federal funding and how we can bring that in. I also have a lot of connectivity around what do youth want and how do we retain our talent in this state, and learning that young Iowans really care about their community and want to see their values enacted. And to know how many jurisdictions, how many private companies are invested in this and checking all the boxes, not only the recreational piece and the water quality piece, but also the commitment to Central Iowa, that has a huge potential to impact the workforce, and I really like all those things.

Can you describe your management style?

My approach is always to operate with the highest integrity as possible. That is consistent and clear communication, integrity in our policies and our practices. I love to be clear about setting expectations but also being flexible. My philosophy as a leader is that people do good work when they are empowered and they are trusted. I really focus on that. I want everybody that works with me to be successful, so I’m focused on what they’re trying to get out of it and helping them make sure those needs are met.

What excites you about this position?

Everything. I feel like this work of ICON, my family is going to directly benefit from this, and if my family benefits from it, there’s a lot of other families that will benefit from it. I think it’s an opportunity to really shape something that exists but that we have not fully revealed its potential.

You think about the paved trails and what that opened up in recreation, business connectivity, breweries that have popped up. We have these waterways that people are not navigating, and they’re these hidden gems that if we can activate that, it brings this whole other dimension to the community and I love that. Uncovering what’s there in our natural resources. I love seeing so many people at the table excited about that. I don’t shy away from big, complicated projects. I thrive in that environment because it gets my brain going in a bunch of different ways, so I just love that.

What is your view of ICON as a placemaking, workforce development tool?

When folks are thinking about staying or coming here, they’re looking at the schools, they are looking at the communities, and as we continue to see water talked about nationally, it’s part of people’s thought processes when they are evaluating where they want to be. It’s as much of that placemaking piece as anything else. It’s not only that personal piece, but it’s also industry, economic opportunity whether they are using that water in their product or because it’s workforce connectivity. We have opportunities to create great, incredible features. If we do that well in a way that takes into account all the conditions, we can also do some improvements to help water quality.

Tell us something about yourself that people may not know.

I like to do embroidery and I embroider clothes and give them to my friends.

What book have you recently read?

“Somewhere in the Unknown World,” by Kao Kalia Yang. I’m two-thirds of the way through it. It is a collection of stories from refugees all over the world that have made it to live now in Minnesota. It’s their stories and it’s absolutely stunning and provides incredible perspectives, this personal narrative about their experience. I think it’s incredibly valuable for the world we’re living in now to understand and humanize these people and that they are so much like us, and that connectivity. I love it.

At a glance:
Age: 43
Hometown: Norwalk
Family: Married, five children
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Master of Public Administration, Drake University, and Ph.D. in education, Drake University
Activities: Hiking, cycling, attending live music, spending time with family and friends
Business Record Forty under 40: class of 2020
In the headlines
A new RSV shot could help protect babies this winter — if they can get it in time: Emily Bendt got excited when she first heard the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had approved a new shot to protect infants from RSV. That was back on Aug. 3, when she was in the last trimester of pregnancy. By Oct. 5, she had given birth and was cuddling with her new baby on the couch at home in Vancouver, Wash. But her excitement had turned into frustration. The new therapy, called Nirsevimab, had started shipping in September — but Bendt, a pediatric home health nurse, couldn’t find it anywhere. By mid-October, demand for Nirsevimab had already outstripped supply, according to NPR. In response, the CDC issued interim guidance to help pediatricians allocate the limited supply of doses, advising them to focus on the infants at highest risk of RSV complications: babies under 6 months old, and those with underlying medical conditions. RSV is the leading reason babies under 12 months end up in the hospital, and an estimated 100 to 300 infants die from it in the U.S. every year.

The ‘silver lining to the pandemic’ for working mothers: The share of American women working for pay is at a record high. According to a recent analysis, the surge has been led by an unexpected group: mothers of children under age 5, according to the New York Times. Though mothers in this group have always worked less than other women, their gains since the pandemic have been biggest. The analysis, by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution and based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, identifies a major reason: the newfound ability of certain mothers, especially those who are married with college degrees, to work remotely. “What’s happening with married, well-educated women with young kids is crazy,” said Lauren Bauer, a fellow at Brookings and an author, with Sarah Yu Wang, of the analysis. “These are women who see themselves as workers. They were on the upward trend before the pandemic and they bounced back and just kept going.”
In the headlines
Faced with abortion bans, doctors beg hospitals for help with key decisions: Vague state laws, and a lack of guidance on how to interpret them, have led to some patients being denied care until they are critically ill, according to the Washington Post. Last fall, Dr. Amelia Huntsberger pulled up a list of the top administrators at her northern Idaho hospital, anxious to confirm she could treat a patient with a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication. But it was a Friday afternoon — and no one was picking up. Huntsberger said she called six administrators before she finally got ahold of someone, her patient awaiting help a few rooms away. When she asked whether she could terminate a pregnancy under Idaho’s new abortion ban — which allows doctors to perform an abortion only if they deem it “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman” — the OB/GYN said the decision was punted back to her. “You know the laws, Amelia,” Huntsberger recalled the administrator saying. “You know what to do.” If she made the wrong decision, the doctor knew she could face up to five years in prison.

Microsoft and the NBA are offering menopause benefits to keep women in workforce: Microsoft Corp., Palantir Technologies Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. are among a small but increasing number of U.S. businesses offering menopause benefits, with women most likely to be affected now representing 20% of the female workforce, according to Bloomberg. About 4% of employers that offer sick leave are providing additional support for menopause, such as access to hormone therapy and counseling, according to a recent report by benefits consultant NFP. The survey, which polled 522 human resources employees involved in creating and updating their companies’ leave policies, found that about a third of businesses that don’t currently provide accommodations for menopause are open to offering them in the next five years. It was the first time NFP asked the question about menopause benefits.

Worth checking out
Iowa City announces new economic development coordinator (Corridor Business Journal). Lung cancer is more common among women than men ages 35 to 54 (Washington Post). What mothers on career breaks wish employers knew (Time Magazine). We now know female chimps go through menopause. Here’s why that’s a big deal. (Washington Post). Worldwide, women cook twice as much as men: One country bucks the trend (NPR). Newest way to woo workers: Child care at airports, schools and poultry plants (Washington Post).

Test your Halloween candy I.Q. with this quiz

I’m usually dismissive of Halloween candy stories/listicles.

They are typically not the greatest examples of journalism – parodies have even been written about them. (My personal favorite is “Please help save my writing career by clicking to read this ranking of Halloween candy” by Hillary Dixler Canavan of McSweeney’s, a humor website.)

Halloween candy stories seem overdone. We might be a divided country, but I think most of us can agree that circus peanuts are pretty awful.

This Halloween candy quiz from the New York Times was refreshing and scientific. And, I learned that a childhood candy favorite of mine was apparently discontinued in 2006.

As someone trying to learn more about visual journalism, the candy drop was also pretty cool. Enjoy. And, enjoy your favorite leftover Halloween treat without guilt, Fearless readers.

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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