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APRIL 22, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

How do you express gratitude? It’s not something that comes easily to everyone. And, it’s something we often put off until it’s too late.

On “Saturday Night Live” on April 13, Caitlin Clark roasted “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael Che, calling out his frequent sexist jokes about women’s sports.

Then she faced the camera directly.

“I’m sure it will be a big first step for me, but it’s just one step for the WNBA thanks to all the great players like Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, the great Dawn Staley, and my basketball hero, Maya Moore,” Clark said. “These are the women that kicked down the door so I could walk inside. So, I want to thank them tonight for laying the foundation.”

How will you express gratitude to the women who kicked down the door so you could walk inside?

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

  • A second story about our 2024 Fearless survey on the status of gender equity in Iowa.
  • A feature story about Jill Wilkins, the executive director of the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo).
  • In the headlines: Hundreds of mourners packed Plymouth Congregational Church to say goodbye to Teree Caldwell-Johnson on Wednesday.
  • In case you missed it: Blanca Plascencia, co-owner of El Fagon, won the 2024 Mel Essex Award from the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Fearless audience weighs in on obstacles for women at work
Questions on allyship, finances and discussing social issues in the workplace
Editor’s note: This is the second part of coverage from our 2024 survey on the status of gender equity in Iowa. We will feature parts of the survey throughout the year.

In this year’s Fearless survey on the status of gender equity in Iowa, women told us they continue to balance competing expectations. Take a look at a few of the questions and responses in this year’s survey, and check out full coverage of the survey online.

What are the biggest challenges, obstacles or barriers that you and other women face at work?
This question includes only answers from women and nonbinary respondents.

“Women being seen as less knowledgeable than men. Women often have a different slant in looking at things, and it is generally not respected. Women continue to not be seen as equal when in a boardroom or in a business meeting.”

“Parental leave, flexibility, pay inequality.”

“Continuing to have to balance family and work. I am a member of a senior leadership team at my work and the only one that has to balance caregiving of school-age children. My company is very supportive, but I see that male counterparts, although active parents, do not seem to have the same family expectations upon them. Many of their wives work part time or do not work outside the home.”

“So many women had to adjust their personal and work roles at the beginning and through the pandemic. I notice many women are less willing to go back to giving up nights and weekends for their work, which I fear will have an impact on women’s advancement opportunities. I know I’m less likely to volunteer for after-hours networking or an in-person conference out of town because I’m more protective of my off-work time. I also worry that our state will lose a lot of women in the workforce who choose to move out of state rather than continue to live in a state that disregards women’s health so blatantly.”

What’s the one thing that has been most helpful to your professional success and advancement?
This question includes only answers from respondents who identify as women and nonbinary.

What is the most effective way for men to be allies to women?

Comments from respondents who identify as women and nonbinary:
“It starts at home. Men cannot only be allies to women in the workplace. They need to be allies to their partners, sisters, daughters and female friends first. Then that allyship will naturally extend into the workplace. Are men sharing the child care workloads? Are men sharing in the household workload? Are men encouraging young girls to be brave and strong, or meek and polite?”

“Elevate their voices. Take a back-seat role that still gives effort but doesn’t take over or constantly doubt/question the course and honors their expertise.”

“Salary transparency; calling out mansplaining.”

“Men in business need to champion ways to correct the poor child care climate.”

“Give credit when due.”

Comments from respondents who identify as men:
“Ensure women have a stronger voice in political and policy decisions at all levels of government.”

“Direct mentor support and more focus on sharing responsibilities outside of work.”

“It’s very simple. Treat women as they should be treated and give them every opportunity they deserve. Treat them exactly as you would treat everyone else. Merit matters more than strictly gender.”

“Ask questions, engage them, be genuine, but understand their intentions – not yours. For example, do they really want mentored or your unsolicited opinions? Every person and situation is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

Which, if any, of these tasks related to finances are a challenge for you?

This question related to financial challenges was pretty telling about the adversity women face. Respondents could select all that applied, and we broke the results down by respondents who identified as women or non-binary and those who identified as men. There was one particularly stark difference: Only about a quarter of women or nonbinary respondents selected “none of the above” to our list of challenges, but 68% of respondents who identified as men selected this option.
Do conversations about social issues have a place in the workplace?
This question asking whether conversations about social issues in the workplace showed a discrepancy on gender lines. The majority of respondents who are women and nonbinary (66%) said the social issues discussions belong in the workplace, but only 44% of the men agreed.
A Closer Look: Jill Wilkins, executive director, NewBoCo
Jill Wilkins’ home office wall, decorated with framed posters from Broadway shows, is a reminder of the influence the arts have on her life. Her parents are both artists, which drew her to dance, music and theater growing up.

To Wilkins, the arts, at their core, are about creating unique moments and experiences for audiences, big or small. And in her career, she’s discovered new ways of expressing that tenet, including in her current role as executive director of the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative in Cedar Rapids, better known as NewBoCo.

Working in and planning events was her first outlet. She got her start as a marketing assistant for Orchestra Iowa. A few years later, she took a job as director of events for the Cedar Rapids Downtown District, which later became the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance following a merger.

The role brought her a new set of experiences at a time when event positions were just starting to become common.

“I had a really neat opportunity to go back to those roots of creating that moment for somebody or that unique experience and doing it in a different way, but then also really having an opportunity to work with the business community in a way that I hadn’t before, to really start to pick up a better understanding of all of the different facets,” Wilkins said. “Then also community development and just getting an understanding of how that quality of life piece with events plays in partnerships with the business community and being able to have a much better understanding of what all is involved in the creation and work within a community.”

While coordinating events like the Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market, she became familiar with the Iowa Startup Accelerator, the state’s first accelerator program that evolved into NewBoCo as the founders started to notice other gaps in entrepreneurial support at that time.

Wilkins first joined NewBoCo as events director in 2016 when it was preparing to host EntreFEST for the first time. She then applied her skills to the whole organization as chief operating officer starting in 2020.

She said her passion for creating unique experiences easily translated to the entrepreneurship space.

“It’s still similar in the way of making that thing happen. I love coming up with the idea,” she said. “They’ll say in the event space, ‘Come up with the idea and figure out how to make it happen,’ and that is so much entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Wilkins served as NewBoCo’s interim executive director starting in May 2023 and officially took over the role in December.

The Business Record recently caught up with Wilkins to learn more about NewBoCo’s evolution, its efforts to collaborate with more communities statewide and the effect of new commercial development on entrepreneurship.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

How did the Iowa Startup Accelerator evolve into NewBoCo?

NewBoCo did start as the accelerator, really building that entrepreneurship community. [What] has been the interesting and, I think, neat thing about the organization is that over the years it has very much been a matter of identifying gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and trying our best to fill them if no one else is. That really is how the organization started from entrepreneurship and moved to entrepreneurship, computer science, education and innovation, and we really think of innovation as that thread throughout. Entrepreneurship and innovation are really our two big pillars for the organization and that’s done through a variety of programming. It’s been really neat to be able to see just how we’re able to utilize all that programming within different communities in the state since every community is unique, so how we can best be of help changes from each community that we work with.

Nominations open for the 2024 Women of Influence awards
The Business Record is now accepting applications for our Women of Influence awards. The 2024 class will be the 25th group awarded since the initiative began. The honor celebrates the work of trailblazing women who have made a difference.

Each year we feature all of our honorees in an issue of the Business Record. In honor of the award nominations being open, we’re taking a look back at the 2023 Women of Influence. This story includes five of the 10 honorees. See answers from the other five in this previous edition of the Business Record Daily.

Nominations are due no later than noon on May 3, 2024. The winner will be honored at the Women of Influence event on Aug. 1, 2024. Learn more about the awards at (Photo above of the 2023 class with BPC leaders and sponsors.)

Teree Caldwell-Johnson. Photo by Duane Tinkey.
In the headlines
‘Such a force for good’: Mourners remember Des Moines advocate Teree Caldwell-Johnson: Hundreds of mourners packed Plymouth Congregational Church to say goodbye to a Des Moines community “force” Wednesday, according to this story from the Des Moines Register. They came to remember Teree Caldwell-Johnson, 68, as an advocate for Des Moines Public Schools, area children and families and the Oakridge community. She served for almost two decades as CEO at Oakridge Neighborhood and on the Des Moines School Board.

Without RVAP, the future of sexual assault survivor support is unclear in SE Iowa: The future of sexual assault support services is unclear in southeastern Iowa. On Wednesday morning, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office announced that more than $400,000 in federal and state funding are up for grabs. That money used to fund comprehensive sexual assault support services at the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. The organization served eight counties, including Johnson County. But the University of Iowa announced at the beginning of April that it was shuttering RVAP, according to this story from Iowa Public Radio.

In an Iowa NICU, a nurse strives to give a dying baby one final ‘loving embrace’: While doctors necessarily move between patients, nurse Stephanie Amundson is usually at their bedside for the entirety of her shift. There she plays provider, medical dictionary, cheerleader and confidant all in one. Amundson has the unyielding strength to hold dying babies when their own parents sometimes cannot, according to this story from the Des Moines Register.

Iowa woman’s closet cleanout turned into ‘Purses for Purpose’: A Des Moines woman was cleaning out her closet and thought of a way to help people in the community. Adhel Jok had a few bags she no longer needed, so she started a project called Purses for Purpose. She wanted to give away the bags to people at homeless shelters and fill them with hygiene products and essentials, according to this story from KCCI.

Worth checking out
The year after a denied abortion (ProPublica). The Supreme Court opens the door to more discrimination claims involving job transfers (NPR). U.S. to pay victims of Larry Nassar $100 million over FBI failures (Wall Street Journal). Women in engineering discuss differences in treatment, representation (Iowa State Daily). Complications from alcohol use are rising among women (New York Times). Meet Miss Kittie, the oldest woman competing on the BMX racing circuit – and a former Iowa school principal (Iowa Public Radio).
Blanca Plascencia wins 2024 Mel Essex Award
Blanca Plascencia, co-owner of El Fogon restaurant, was the recipient of the 2024 Mel Essex Award given by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce last weekend at the Athene Black and Brown Business Summit.

The Mel Essex Award honors business and Iowa community champion Mel Essex. The award recognizes honorees for high standards of business ethics and a heart for inspiring and encouraging others to fulfill their dreams of securing economic success. Since 2021, the Summit has been recognizing winners who fulfill the intent of the award. Past recipients include Pernell Cezar Jr. – BLK & Bold Specialty Beverages (2021), Lu Spaine – Zumi Collection (2022) and Perlla Deluca – Southwest Contractors (2023).

“I am grateful and honored to receive this award, but it also comes with a weighty responsibility,” Plascencia said in a prepared statement. “In accepting the award, I am reminded of the many individuals still residing in the shadows, facing challenges no different from my own. This award serves as a reminder of the ongoing work needed to achieve meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion.”

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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