September 19, 2013

A Week of Dining on Nuggets


I'm not talking about bite-sized pieces of breaded and fried chicken. I'm referring to the pithy content I'm devouring from attending food-filled events featuring speakers with delicious content.

"The central moral challenge of this century is oppression of women and girls throughout the world." — I heard that last Thursday at the Chrysalis Foundation's "Inspired 2013" event. Sheryl WuDunn, author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, shared details of sex trafficking and slavery, maternal mortality, brutality and mutilation, and lack of educational opportunities for women and girls across the globe. Some 60,000 to 100,000 females are missing in our world, and we aren't just talking Cambodia: it's an issue in the U.S. and yes, even Iowa. There's no formula for solutions, but gender inequities worldwide need to be fought with education for girls and access to capital for women. 

"The quality of your communication with yourself determines the quality of your communication with the world." — The Wednesday luncheon of the Greater Des Moines Chapter of American Women in Communication featured my friend Deb Engle, an author, publisher, president of Golden Tree Communications and co-founder of Tending Your Inner Garden. We have 70,000 thoughts a day, so what are we telling ourselves? Any chance that it's negative? (I'm not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, etc.) Time to focus on self-talk that's positive and productive. Change "I'm overwhelmed..." to "I'm powerful and I ask for support when I need to." Science is proving that we can create new inner pathways in our brains, and with strong self-affirming statements we're carving out trails for successful inner dialogue. Deb's upcoming book, "The Only Little Prayer You Need" — with Foreword by the Dalai Lama — will be published next year. It's based on a six-word prayer: Please heal my fear-based thoughts.

"Do you want to win or do you want to make a point?" — Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, learned that phrase from Walter Cronkite during her 25 years of advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. At today's breakfast meeting of a group called the Consortium, Donna — who came to Iowa for the climate, and she doesn't mean weather — shared that for her "the political is personal and the personal is political." She's worked nationwide for basic rights in the workplace and the ability for LGBT individuals to live with human dignity and be out of danger. She'll marry her partner of 26 years on Saturday. Because of Donna's respectful, persistent and quiet conversations with those of diametrically opposing viewpoints, some of those coming to Des Moines for her celebration are individuals who once had the "you people" stereotype. They've surprised themselves and gotten to know this intelligent, caring and vibrant individual whose marriage will not "hurt their families." 

Right now, I'm too full of gratitude for opportunities to be with amazing women to write any more. 


June 08, 2013

Breakfast with Champions for Families

Talk about starting the day right this week! Early on Tuesday I was taking in every morsel I could about VNS —Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa. "Growing Great Families" is the VNS theme for the year.


For 105 years VNS nurses, social workers, outreach workers and interpreters have collaborated to provide client-focused services. Its programs meet the health and human service needs of 56,000 individuals each year, including 3,550 children across six counties. VNS currently provides access through translations services for 21 different languages and dialects.

VNS of Iowa board member Deb Milligan told the women attending the breakfast how she requests that her guests forget hostess gifts when they come to her home and bring essentials for the Stork's Nest, one of 27 programs operated by VNS. Moms-to-be and young moms in a two-year relationship with VNS earn points when doing the best things for themselves and their child (going to birthing, new mom and childcare classes, medical appointments, etc.). Those points can be redeemed for brand new baby accessories, clothing, furniture, and baby feeding, hygiene, medical and safety items.

While her mother held her easy-going, six-month-old, a 20-year-old rock star young mom being served by VNS shared her story of an abusive relationship, depression, fear and questioning when she learned she was pregnant. Her mother's friend told her about VNS. She's received therapy to deal with depression, emotional and medical preparation for the arrival of her son and instruction on caring for him now. And along the way she received the strength to end her abusive relationship and take responsibility for being the best mom and person she can be. She's now enrolled to study psychology.

"I missed the red flags," she said. "VNS helped open my eyes ... now I'm a better parent for my son and a better person for myself. I'm a lot better, a lot happier."

I know that this non-grandma is going baby shopping. Want to help me stock the Stork's Nest? 

March 30, 2013

"I don't want to go to school today!"

I don't know how many times I said those words from the time I started kindergarten until I graduated from college. But school was just something I did, so it's hard for me to imagine my behavior if I'd been denied access to education. I hope I would have been like one of the extraordinary young women I met this week watching Girl Rising. Viewers of the feature film learned the stories of nine extraordinary young women fighting for education in their countries: India, Cambodia, Nepal, Egypt, Peru, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Sierra Leone. 

What changes when women in developing countries are educated ?

  • Educating girls dramatically improves the well-being of their families, communities and countries. 
  • If a mother is educated, her child is 50 percent more likely to survive to age 5. 
  • Educating a girl breaks a family's cycle of generational poverty.  
  • When girls receive 7 years of schooling, they marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children. 
  • When female farmers are educated, crop yields rise. 
  • When women take leadership roles in their communities, corruption diminishes. 
  • When 10 percent more of its girls go to school, a country's GDP increases an average of 3 percent. 
  • When women are educated and empowered, democracy is more likely to flourish and conditions that promote extremism are reduced.  
  • Educated mothers are 50 percent more likely to immunize their children. 
  • When girls are educated, a country's malnutrition and HIV rates decline.  
  • And $1 in the hands of a woman is, on average, worth $10 in the hands of a man.

According to World Vision, there are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school. Educate girls; change the world. Find out how to bring a screening of Girl Rising to your community through 10x10.


March 08, 2013

"You Can't Be What You Can't See"

MissrepplaceholderThose simple words by Miriam Wright Edelman tell much about the media's misrepresentation of women, a reality that has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. The documentary Miss Representation was shown Thursday night in Des Moines—thanks to the Junior League of Des Moines, Principal Financial and Farm Bureau Financial Services. I simply don't know where to begin; I fear I'll type the world's longest blog. There were so many powerful messages, and Ms Edelman's quote is just one of them.

The 90-minute film powerfully presents the media's limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls. It explains why it's difficut for the average woman to feel powerful and for women to achieve leadership positions. Quite simply, in a society where the media dominates in shaping what's acceptable, the message is that woman's value and power lie in youth, beauty and sexuality. It's about the body and not the brains; that message is everywhere.

American teenagers get 10 hours and 45 minutes a day of media consumption (watching TV, listening to music, reading magazines, online). What role models do they see in celebrities with perfect bodies playing TV and movie roles that diminish the power of women? Do they hear lyrics degrading to women? Are their magazines loaded with super thin models—typically digitally manipulated to create an impossible body—and messages domainated by revealing clothing and the need for beauty products.

While women have made strides in the past decades, we're still the minority on corporate boards; we're still making less than men for the same work; we aren't gaining parity in our state and national legislative bodies; heck, the U.S. is 90th in the world for women in national legislatures. Why aren't we leading? As Miss Representation points out, we've gotten the message: we aren't enough. And we've living with that belief.

With women holding only 3% of the clout positions in mainstream media, it's not going to change unless we do. The film's take action page tells what each of us can do. And here's something very simple that Terry Hernandez, The Chrysalis Foundation, mentioned in the discussion after the film: When you're in the presence of a young girl, talk to her to show her that she's valued as a person. Leave "you're so cute" out of it; engage her brain and applaud her for her knowledge. Remember: women can be women's biggest critics, and the same thing goes for girls. Give yourself and other females a break.

February 04, 2013

You just never know

It's remarkable sometimes how an athlete's career plays out.

Years ago _ it was the summer of 1997 _ I stood on the floor of Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, interviewing the quarterback of the winning team in an Arena Football League playoff game.

This particular quarterback, who played for the Iowa Barnstormers, went on to win two regular-season MVP awards in the NFL and was the MVP of the 2000 Super Bowl.

Of course, we're talking about Kurt Warner. But in 1997, who could have foreseen all that happening? Arena football could be fun to watch, but it wasn't exactly the NFL's prime feeder system.

Now, fast forward to December 2007. I slogged through an ice and snow storm so I could get to Cedar Falls to cover a Northern Iowa football playoff game. Not sure what I was thinking because this was after I had retired and I easily could have said, nope, not gonna risk it. But my trusty Pathfinder got me there safely and, looking back, I'd have to say it was worth it.

Northern Iowa was unbetean and a contender for the Division I-AA championship. But the Panthers were upset that day, in part because they had a terrible time trying to tackle the opposing quarterback.

He was big, strong, had a cannon for an arm, was fairly mobile and he just wouldn't go down, even as defenders seemed ready to wrestle him to the turf. Time after time, he slipped away to make a key play. He ended up throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. Afterward, he sat in the modest interview room and talked to us about the "insane atmosphere" in the UNI-Dome and how much fun he had playing there.

Well, on Sunday that quarterback performed in a much bigger dome, in a much bigger game.

Yep, it was Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, MVP of the Super Bowl, former quarterback at Delaware.

This is one of the great things about football or any other sport. You just never know where it's going to take someone.



November 27, 2012

Change vs. Transformation


I hosted a NAWBO-CI coffee in Ankeny this morning for women business owners to discuss "making change." Not the monetary/dollars and cents kind, though the changes we make in how we do business can have big payoffs. Our focus was our behavior, our actions and how we create, implement and sustain change, for ourselves (hey, it starts with us!) and within our businesses.

Consider the intellectual part of our brain — the rational, analytical, visionary side that tells us that today we must work our marketing strategies and make sales calls in order to achieve our annual goals. It gets sabotaged by the emotional part of our brain — the "feeling" part that avoids fear, desires pleasantries and chooses to use today to clean out files, respond to not-so-pressing e-mails, catch up on business reading or accounting, or start researching a project that's not due until next month.

There are always distractions, demands and ways to keep from focusing on our goals and strategic plan activities — even when we know we'd be better off if we just moved forward with a necessary "must do now" tasks and set aside the low-priority "should do sometime" tasks. 

Frankly, change is hard, even for those who feel uncomfortable with where they are. It requires clarity on why the change is necessary, what that change looks like, and how one plans to achieve what's envisioned. It requires commitment and motivation, whether we're talking about self direction or leading a team within your company to embrace a change in our products or services, processes and policies, marketing methods, etc.

This morning business and leadership coach Dr. Christi Hegstad, MAP Professional Development, said she replaces the word "change" with the word "transform," because "change" implies that something is worn out, broken and needs fixing. "Transform" conjures up a vision of creating something new, wonderful and alive. Sounds like something we're all after. What do you want to transform about yourself — or your business — in the year ahead? It's time to start creating!

September 07, 2012

Chasing a Legend

The good folks in the central Iowa city of Boone have long been accustomed to trains rumbling through their town. The city has a rich railroad history and straddles the main east-west line of the Union Pacific, which runs dozens of trains daily on those tracks. L-o-o-o-n-g trains, mostly. So one more locomotive pulling a line of cars into town is no big deal.

Unless the locomotive is the UP 844, that is.

The 844 was the last steam locomotive built for the Union Pacific. It was delivered to the railroad in 1944 and pulled some of its most glamorous passenger trains, such as the Overland Limited and Los Angeles Limited, before the UP shifted it to freight service in Nebraska in the 1950s. Known as the UP's "Living Legend," the 844 is said to be the only steam locomotive never retired by a North American Class I railroad.

The 844 was dispatched to Boone for the city's annual Pufferbilly Days celebration, and when it steamed in from the west on Thursday, I knew I had to see it. I would have done it by myself, but my friend Angela and her daughter Alexa agreed to go along. Alexa is only 2 -- she'll be 3 in November -- but she's already seen the light: She's a true train buff.

We decided to head out of town, then turn around and chase the locomotive on Highway 30 back toward Boone. To nonbelievers, this might sound like a pretty nerdy thing to do. But among railfans it's an entirely honorable pursuit, so to speak. Angela even enlisted the help of "spotters" to chart the 844's progress: her parents in Jefferson, 27 miles to the west, and her in-laws, who farm near Grand Junction, about 20 miles from Boone.

Angela's mother called as we drove west to report the train was in Jefferson and moving fast. We thought the Highway 169 bridge over the railroad would be good spot because you can see a long way down the tracks in both directions. We were right. When Angela's father-in-law called to say he heard the train in Grand Junction, we looked to the west and saw the locomotive's head lamp. It's amazing how far away you can be and still see those lamps glowing on the horizon.

I'll show my age here: I can remember catching sight of the occasional steam locomotive when I was growing up in Lima, Ohio -- a great town for train watching, by the way. So when the shiny black 844 churned into view, pulling baggage and passenger cars painted in UP yellow and crimson, it was, for a moment, like looking into the past. Well, except for that modern diesel locomotive coupled behind the tender. But the 844 was doing the work.

The moment passed quickly because if we were going to catch the train, we had to get moving. We thought we were gaining on it as we neared Ogden, where we turned on to Old Highway 30, hoping we could get to the Kate Shelley Bridge in time to see the locomotive at the most spectacular railroad site in Iowa -- the wide Des Moines River valley spanned by one of the tallest and longest double-track bridges in North America.

As we started down the dusty gravel road leading to the valley, we saw a News Channel 8 car coming up the hill.


We laughed, because that was a sure sign we were too late.

Back on old 30, we drove into Boone and ... what was that Angela noticed on our left? 

Yellow train cars. Then we heard the whistle and saw the smoke. The 844 -- it burns fuel oil now instead of coal -- was crawling through town and we were right with it. We passed several people along the tracks taking photos. A woman was shooting video with her iPad. We drove to where we thought the engine would park, and when we saw all the people waiting with cameras, we knew we were in the right place. 

I stood near the edge of the tracks as the massive engine inched past, its eight huge drive wheels turning slowly as Angela shot video with her iPhone. "They're taller than you are," she said later. Yes, they are. At 80 inches in diamater, they dwarf me by a good seven inches. Quite a sight and worth the effort.

And where was our littlest train buff?

Sound alseep in her car seat.

But you can bet she'll be awake on her next train venture later this month. That's when Thomas the Tank Engine is comes to town.



August 26, 2012

Still Working on Equality


August 26 = Women's Equality Day, the day that the 19th Amendment gave U.S. women full voting rights in 1920. Few who started the suffrage movement lived to see their work come to fruition. So this seems like a good time to call attention to equal rights and gender balance. The photo is the cover of a brochure I wrote this summer for Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW).

As of this year, Iowa's local governing boards—cities, counties, municipalities—are now required to make a good faith effort to have an equal balance of men and women on their commissions and boards. Friends of the ICSW will soon be compiling a database to connect local governments with women in their area who are willing/qualified to serve. Friends of the ICSW is asking women throughout the state to spread the word to others in their network and contact Friends about their willingness to be included in the databse. I'm working with the Central Iowa Chapter of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) to get women who are already leading companies to help lead as community decision makers. So female friends, contact me for a copy of the brochure.

Yesterday I attended the 38th Annual Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Ceremony and luncheon. I am always in awe of the accomplishments of the inductees who are forever humbled by the ICWS's recognition of their focused pursuits on behalf of women. In many ways they remind me of the Suffragettes. They're relentless in their passion for their goal. Their actions are not about them, but what they can do for others. 

Congratulations to Dr. Judy Conlin, Teri Hernandez, Dr. Dorothy Schwieder and Mary Stier (inductees) and Elizabeth Barnhill, recipient of the Christine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice.  In your lifetimes your work is already coming to fruition. You do Iowa—and women—proud.

March 30, 2012

Picking Up the Pieces

Winter escapes to oceanfront destinations now are memories, and spring breaks are coming to a close, too. This year, like all loyal beach walkers, I couldn't leave footprints in the sand unless I was searching for shells. But on the second or third outing I found myself asking, what's this shell quest really about? 

My home hardly needs another glass vessel filled with the skeltons of marine animals. So must I keep my eyes affixed to the sand to have something to "do" because I can't slow down enough to just enjoy the walk, the feel of sun on my skin, a breeze blowing through my hair or sand scrunching under our toes? And why do I get excited when I think I've spotted the most incredibly whole shell, only to feel disappointed when my probing reveals not a glorious masterpiece of Mother Nature but another broken shard? Why do I always keep an eye out for that one flawless shell? What's wrong with being a piece of perfection?

So on day three I started picking up interesting pieces whose colors, shapes and textures I could ponder. I wondered where they'd come from, knowing that before they'd arrived with a recent wave they'd been home to an ocean creature, weathered some strong currents, been tossed about and pounded nearly to oblivion. As I examined each piece I wondered about its story and wished it could tell me its age, wax on about its finest times, and reveal how it came to be in pieces.

We've all been tossed and challenged and lost something along the way. And I doubt the perfect shell and I would be compatible. How many perfect people do you have among your friends, family and co-workers? It's the pieces that have the best stories, don't you think?

February 08, 2012

Leadership on February 23

It's been ages since I've written anything that didn't involve work for a client or a volunteer cause that I'm passionate about. Sorry to be so absent, but let me just tell you about one thing that's been keeping me hopping. Because it's about to take place.

I'm on the planning committee for the fourth Women Mean Business® Summit of the National Asscation of Women Business Owners - Central Iowa (NAWBO-CI) on February 23 in West Des Moines, IA. My role is overseeing communications for this event and I've been doing this all four years, plus chairing the Summit's awards component for three. This year we've had quite a promotional campaign, because there's such great Iowa speakers and content for our theme: HEART OF A LEADER.

The Summit appeals to anyone who wants to enhance their leadership abilities within their community or company; you don't have to be a woman business owners to find value in taking one day to focus on building your leadership savvy, skills and soul. Maybe you'd just like to get noticed by your business peers, supervisor or the team of folks who surround you.

GRABBING A SEAT AT THE TABLE is the keynote of Melynda DeCarlo, The Meyvn Group. Mary Andringa, Vermeer Corporation, shares LIFE'S LESSONS ON LEADERSHIP at the luncheon. And Liz Nead is the final keynoter with FINDING YOUR LEADERSHIP GAME. Three keynotes is a lot, but there's more! The Summit also includes eight workshops with 10 presenters to choose from and a panel of women business owners sharing their leadership stories. Panelists include Mary Stier of Mary Stier Connects, Jan Miller Straub of The Straub Corporation, and Gina Blean and Kelly Heysinger of Unified Therapy Services. That's 20 people talking about topics that will improve your success as a leader in just one day. Can you afford not to be there?

Please take a minute to visit the Summit website and look over this event for women in business. Hey, men, you're welcome to attend too!