2023 Women of Influence: ‘A small stone thrown on an otherwise still pond creates big ripples’

Published by Nicole Grundmeier on

The Business Record’s 2023 Women of Influence celebration at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown on Aug. 3 was an evening of networking, gratitude and reflection. The 10 honorees in the Business Record’s 24th Women of Influence recognition shared thoughts about the most important people and most important lessons in their lives.

You can find details about each honoree and video from the program here. A quick snippet from each speaker’s remarks is below.

Claudia Schabel, president of Schabel Solutions Inc. and the Iowa State University Ivy College of Business Woman Business Owner of the Year: “If you are a business owner, hats off to you. It’s not an easy endeavor. Our clients have put their faith in us. We wouldn’t have a business and I wouldn’t be the business owner of the year without our clients’ support. … To each of our clients, in the room tonight and beyond, for those that are watching this later: I am definitely thankful for your business. I’m honored to be with you on this journey in ensuring that your organization is more inclusive. When you invest in local businesses, you are creating a ripple effect. You are helping us influence and reinvest in our communities, and it’s priceless. I’m eternally grateful.”

Shaimaa Aly, head of business assurance, Cards and Merchant Service at Wells Fargo, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines Emerging Woman of Influence: “I moved to this country over 20 years ago. I had a degree in economics and statistics, and over five years of experience in the financial industry. And I couldn’t get my foot through the door to work in any company. I worked in housekeeping jobs. I worked as a nanny. … We have immigrants here in this community – doctors, lawyers, engineers – who work as an Uber driver. Unutilized talent is a wasted resource here in Des Moines. So let’s do something about it. … As you put your head on your pillow, I want you to think of the challenges that you have faced in your life and what was your lesson learned from it, and please make an effort to ensure that it’s easier for other people who are going through it.”

Barbara Quijano Decker, executive director of Catholic Charities in Des Moines: “My fundamental principle of giving back to others through mission and service is very key to me. Treating people with respect and dignity is very important, and particularly in the midst of conflict and challenge, as we experience today, it’s even more important to be humble. I invite you to share your own experiences and your own stories with our youth, with our young professionals, and others as role models, because each of us are role models. We want to give them hope.”

Angela Jackson, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for Athene: “How do you become a woman of influence in Iowa? For me, three things come to mind. Foundations, faith and fortitude. … Fortitude is courage, grit. I learned these lessons from my parents, from mentors and many others. I continue to try to lean into them this day: fortitude, staying the course, running a race, cleaning the toilet, making the calls, coaching, speaking up against injustice, and encouraging others to do their best. Especially when times are difficult, people may not appreciate your diverse, inclusive approach. However, just remember, have fortitude to keep pressing forward, no matter what.”

Lisa Shimkat, state director for America’s Small Business Development Centers Iowa: “True friends are like stars, brightening our darkest nights and celebrating our brightest moments. Their presence adds richness and meaning to our journey, making the road less daunting and the joys more joyful. To my friends, old and new, who are seated out here tonight, thank you for being by my side, for your support, your encouragement and most of all, the laughter.”

Laura Sweet, vice president and chief operating officer for Des Moines Performing Arts: “I’m at my core someone who likes recognizing and making connections. We all have more connections in common than you think. And in a world that can be pretty divisive, I think connections matter more than ever. … For anyone who knows me, you know that if we find ourselves in a social situation, I’m very likely to stop what we’re doing, grab two people, two humans that don’t know each other that I know, to make sure they know what they have in common. Making connections is what fills my cup.”

Terri Vaughan, professional director of the Emmett J. Vaughan Institute of Risk Management and Insurance at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business: “I had the chance to attend the celebration of life for a friend and former colleague last Saturday morning, the definition of a loving professor at Drake University. Deb mentored students, she worked with them to build and support a medical facility in Uganda. She supported and mentored young leaders in Africa. And she always lifted people up, including me, when I was the dean at Drake. Her name is known across Africa. But she did her work quietly, not seeking recognition. She and so many other women are women of influence. And so while I’m honored to be recognized here, I am also humbled because I think of so many others who deserve this recognition. So lastly, let me take this opportunity to offer my kudos and thanks to all the wonderful women in this state who are working quietly to make us better and lift us up to better things.”

Maria Volante, president of Volante Consulting: “We celebrate these women today for these big, bold and beautiful things that they’ve done. What I would add, though, is tonight’s honorees also are the epitome of the little things they do and how those aggregate to big things. It’s Terri’s awesome big laugh. It’s how Barbara and Shaimaa really create change in the communities that they serve. Mary and Angela have paved the way for so many women that have come before and after them. It’s Lisa’s vulnerability, if you read her article that she shared with us. It’s Kim’s warm laugh and warm smile. It’s Laura Sweet’s love notes that you get. It’s Claudia’s awesome hugs. It’s the little things that these women do that add up. A small stone thrown on an otherwise still pond creates big ripples.”

Mary Wells, Polk County treasurer and co-founder of Investing in My Future Inc.: “Day-to-day, you don’t realize how you impact or imprint what you’re making a difference to and who you’re making a difference for. You just don’t know, when you’re making those encounters, who’s watching. So I encourage each of you to move throughout your day being considerate, knowing you are impacting someone. Smile, be gracious, be thankful; you don’t know what they’re going through. I just ask that you let all your interactions be positive, and make positive impressions on whoever you encounter.”

Kim Willis, a community champion: “A few weeks ago, we heard a sermon that was kind of funny. It was entitled, ‘Aspire to Inspire Before You Expire.’ … It made me think about, well, I better do some more things before I expire. And what it’s all about is encouraging everyone every day, whether it’s helping a child to read. Maybe that’s what one of you or five of you are doing. Maybe you’re being nice to the lady at the grocery store, she’s 17 and she just needs someone to be kind.”

Categories: Leadership