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SEPTEMBER 25, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

If someone asked you to go skydiving to support a charity, would you instantly say yes? I would probably stammer a bit and say I needed to think it over. I wish I could be the type of woman who said "yes" instantly, the kind of woman who took more risks.

I love learning from women who are comfortable taking risks. There is lots of that in today’s newsletter, where you'll find:

  • A story previewing the upcoming Fearless Focus event on risk-taking, which is at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 10. How can risk-taking and even failure help women succeed?
  • A short story about Connie Wimer, who went skydiving on Sept. 10 to support Above + Beyond Cancer. Wimer, who was born in 1932, talked to Fearless about risk-taking, ageism and more.
  • A news brief about Peace Tree Brewing Co., the first 100% woman-owned Iowa brewery. Owner Megan McKay announced on Sept. 14 that Peace Tree is for sale.
  • In the headlines: Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark wins the 93rd Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete.
  • A break from the news: Find out why Athene team members surprised Angela Jackson by hiding in her office with doughnuts.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Speakers to talk about societal and personal barriers to taking risks in upcoming Fearless Focus event
Before Oprah was the powerhouse businesswoman and media guru she is today, she was hired to co-anchor the evening news for a Baltimore TV station. The show failed on many accounts and she was criticized (notably, her white male co-anchor escaped most of the scrutiny). Instead of changing careers, she chose to look for a lesson. For her, it was that she hated doing television news, but still loved television. She embarked on her own path. The rest, as they say, is history.

The most successful people have often failed – many times – before getting to where they are now. They take big risks, which requires taking a leap of faith even through fear. We’ll hear from speakers who have done just that in our upcoming Fearless Focus conversation on risk-taking and overcoming failure.

When underrepresented people are among the first of their identity to hold an influential position, there can often be heightened levels of unrealistic expectations and pressures to achieve on behalf of an entire community. Additionally, girls, women and nonbinary folks are often conditioned to be more modest and less assertive. So it’s not surprising that many of them who don’t feel qualified or confident are often less likely to aim for a goal than boys and men might be. Societal barriers and self-imposed pressure to be perfect play a role in this.

Through sharing both personal and business-related examples, our speakers will give advice on how to find success, how to learn from failure, and how you can support yourself or those you know in the journeys toward reaching goals.

EVENT DETAILS: Tuesday, Oct. 10 | Noon-1 p.m. | virtual
Registration is free. Sign up online at Women, gender-nonconforming people and male allies are all encouraged to be fearless with us.

Speakers include:
  • Jasper Chung, photographer and art teacher
  • Jann Freed, author and speaker
  • Laura Phillips, vice president of engineering, Pella Corp.
  • Sydney Rieckhoff, CEO, Almost Famous Popcorn

Ahead of the event, we asked our speakers a couple of questions. Here’s what they had to say.  

Women and nonbinary folks are often less likely to take risks than their male counterparts. What can we do to address this disparity?
Sydney Rieckhoff: Society often conditions us to delay taking risks until the stakes are high, leading to situations where we are frozen by fear. For individuals who already feel as though their voices are not heard or their opinions not respected, this can be especially profound.

To address this problem, we should prioritize creating supportive spaces for risk-taking to be practiced frequently. These environments should allow for exercising this skill when the stakes are low. People in positions of leadership and influence have a responsibility to nurture a culture that encourages risk-taking, where everyone can participate and practice safely. In doing so, we will foster growth and build confidence for all.
Jasper Chung: In order to create spaces where trans and nonbinary people and women feel more comfortable taking risks, it is necessary to allow space for the full range of human achievement including success, failure and mediocrity to exist with generosity and compassion. Gender-diverse humans are more likely to be pigeonholed in the eyes of the public based on our underrepresentation. Not only are we easily labeled based on our failures, but there is then the pressure of representing our communities in that failure. To encourage gender-diverse folks to take more risks, there must also be support for our general humanity. When one is focused on meeting their basic needs, there is no room to take risks. When the state strips away the human rights of trans people, our risk-taking resides in our existence. Supporting the whole human is the best way to encourage risk-taking, success and thriving.
Laura Phillips: Risk-taking is an incredibly important part of developing personally and professionally. People from underrepresented groups are often less likely to take risks partially because they lack a community of support and advocacy. Mentors play a critical role in creating an encouraging and supportive environment to try new things, push limits and enable growth. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the nudges I needed along the way from mentors to help me build confidence and face career challenges and opportunities head-on.
Jann Freed: When leading a meeting, call on women and nonbinary people. Often men dominate the conversation. I believe in the power of building relationships one-on-one. Take each person to coffee and encourage them to speak up more or to take more risks. Make sure they are included in influential groups.
Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it.

Jann Freed: During the process of writing my dissertation, I thought I was not going to be able to finish it. The chair, who controlled the power and outcome, was disappointed and did not seem supportive. But I made it through the process, and she turned a corner. A few years later, we ended up writing a book together. She told me she could not have written it without me. I learned to be persistent — and to not give up.

Jasper Chung: It was actually the year I succeeded the most in my outward goals that I failed the hardest. In 2019, I photographed a record number of weddings. My income level was higher than previous years, and I had a lot of momentum in my business. But it was that year that I burnt out from loving my job the most. I grew anxious and bitter because I wasn’t making time for rest, play, connection and joy. I have since learned that I thrive when I work less and live more. I am able to be more present for my clients in their important moments when I make time for my own life. Now, I work to live, instead of living to work.

Laura Phillips: Failing is one of the fastest paths to learning. I have failed many times over the years, and each time, I have come out of that failure with a broader perspective. One example is when I was starting a new project management team for my organization. I had a new team and was excited for the new adventure. I went in with enthusiasm, big ideas and a strategy that I had developed independently. I had a hard time gaining the team’s buy-in and couldn’t understand why until one of my team members had the courage to tell me that they didn’t feel like their voices were heard in setting the direction for the team. While I hated hearing that they felt unheard, I was quickly able to change the approach. I spent time listening and reflecting with the team and we ended up creating a strategy that was even better. I learned that good leaders listen!

Sydney Rieckhoff: Early in my tenure as CEO, I procrastinated on signing a lease for a new retail space. I had analysis paralysis and misjudged the other party’s willingness to wait while I did my due diligence. My hesitation ultimately cost us the opportunity. At the time, it felt like a failure, but it taught me a crucial lesson about our business strategy.

Losing that lease made us reevaluate our priorities. We recognized that we had been allocating too much time and resources into expanding our physical presence, diverting our attention from core aspects of our business that needed improvement. This failure served as a wake-up call, prompting us to shift our focus to areas that needed our attention in order to grow the right way.

This experience taught me the importance of giving yourself grace when you feel as though you have messed up and learning from short-term failures to drive long-term success.

Register for the Fearless Focus event now at We encourage you to tell your colleagues and friends to join as well! A recording and written coverage of the event will be available after.
After skydiving for charity, Connie Wimer offers women advice about risk-taking
Connie Wimer, center, founder and chairman of Business Publications Corp., went skydiving on Sept. 10 to raise money for Above + Beyond Cancer. Submitted photo courtesy of Above + Beyond Cancer.
On Sept. 10, Connie Wimer, founder and chairman of Business Publications Corp., the parent company of the Business Record, went skydiving to support Above + Beyond Cancer.

Over the past month, 18 Central Iowa leaders in business, health, philanthropy, government and more tandem parachuted. More than $123,000 has been raised to support programs for cancer survivors, families and caretakers.

Wimer will turn 91 in October. Fearless asked Wimer several questions about risk-taking, ageism and more.

It is critical that women learn how to take risks, Wimer emphasized.

"Every time you take a risk of any kind, you grow stronger and more confident – therefore more comfortable taking the next risk," she said.

How can women get started taking risks if they’ve never taken risks previously? How do you personally distinguish between a calculated risk and a foolish one?

With risks, we all take small ones all the time but don’t think about it – trying a new food or a new shop or a new haircut. A foolish risk is one that has possible negative consequences and you don’t have any information about it. The ones I mentioned have few negative consequences. I know that there have been very few accidents with skydiving, so I did not feel at all frightened or threatened. Women need to stretch their routines, their jobs, their relationships – maybe make a new investment – and start taking some calculated risks. As I stated, the more you take, the stronger and more confident you become.

Women face age-related discrimination at all ages. You were born in the 1930s. How do you overcome age discrimination?

I don’t know if I ignore it or haven’t faced much age discrimination. I am aware of very little. I actually tell people my age for two reasons – to be a role model, particularly for young and middle-aged women, that life can be fun and happy at any age. The second reason is selfish – most people are quite surprised to learn how old I am and how comfortable I am with my age, and that feels good.

When you were asked to skydive for a charity, you immediately said yes – you didn’t have to give the question a lot of thought. Where does that confidence and assertion come from? How can women "get there," too?

That confidence comes from taking lots of risks throughout my life and having most of them turn out but also learning from those that did not. Statistically, I think skydiving is relatively safe – maybe safer than driving on the interstate?

You can find more advice about risk-taking and 10 tips for success from Wimer here.
First 100% woman-owned Iowa brewery is for sale
The owner of Peace Tree Brewing Co. announced Sept. 14 that she plans to sell her business.

Megan McKay, who founded one of Iowa’s first craft breweries and the first 100% woman-owned Iowa brewery nearly 15 years ago, said she is seeking a new owner or ownership group to propel the company forward.

Peace Tree was established in 2009 as a small taproom in downtown Knoxville, Iowa. The brewery emerged from McKay’s desire to create a place for community, connections and conversations. In 2017, Peace Tree opened a Des Moines taproom in the Historic East Village.

"I’ve had the time of my life building a business that has exceeded my expectations," McKay said in a prepared statement. "We’ve created an economic spark in Knoxville, driven tourism, generated employment opportunities, enhanced community bonds, crafted exceptional beverages and had a blast doing it all."

McKay is a Knoxville native and a University of Iowa graduate.

In addition to its two taprooms, Peace Tree has evolved into a full-scale production facility with distribution networks across Iowa and Nebraska. The brewery’s lineup includes gold medal winners Blonde Fatale and Get a Little Hazy as well as its popular nonalcoholic root beer.

As the business has expanded and matured, McKay said her energy and passions have evolved. "It’s time for fresh ownership to take Peace Tree and our remarkable team to the next level," she said. While she seeks a new owner or team, McKay will continue to drive the company and the brand forward.

"Peace Tree is not closing its doors," she said in a prepared statement. "Normal operations will continue uninterrupted, and plans for 2024 are already in motion with some exciting new beers we think customers will love."

McKay’s vision for the future of Peace Tree is clear. "I’m looking for someone who can carry on the legacy and take the company to new heights," she said. "Different skill sets and energies are required for the startup phase compared to running a mature business. Peace Tree is strong, and I’m excited to see where the next owner will lead the company."

Those interested in ownership opportunities can contact Kevin Lease or Rey Gonzales at Murphy Business Sales.

Getty Images.
In the headlines
Period products are tested with saline. A study found many underperform: A new study found that many period products might be less absorbent than advertised. The reason: Laboratory testing methods fail to mimic the experience of real periods. Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University began studying the issue when they noticed more of their patients using menstrual cups. But it was difficult to compare their experiences with those of people who used other period products, because most measures of normal or heavy menstrual bleeding are based on how many pads or tampons are needed. As the doctors looked at prior research for equivalencies among the period products, they saw that testing of period products was typically conducted with saline, according to the Washington Post. The lack of industry testing standards makes it more difficult for doctors to identify patients with heavy menstrual bleeding, which can affect quality of life and lead to further health issues such as iron deficiency and anemia, said Bethany Samuelson Bannow, a hematologist and one of the study’s co-authors.

Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark wins 93rd Sullivan Award as top amateur athlete: West Des Moines native Caitlin Clark was named the winner of the 93rd AAU James E. Sullivan Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York, according to HawkCentral. The award has been presented annually since 1930 to the most outstanding athlete at the collegiate or Olympic level in the United States. Clark joins Spencer Lee (2019) as the only University of Iowa athletes to win the award. She beat out LSU baseball’s Dylan Crews, Olympic gymnast Jordan Chiles, Tennessee swimmer Jordan Crooks, Olympic swimmer Kate Douglass and Purdue basketball’s Zach Edey to win the award.

A meaningful Mexican mural highlights the diversity of Storm Lake through dozens of monarch butterflies: In the heart of downtown Storm Lake, a crew of creators cut tile, mixed up plaster and placed pieces of a mosaic masterpiece. They were creating a mural: a colorful depiction of dozens of monarch butterflies fluttering against a peaceful nature background. Storm Lake held a dedication ceremony this month for the mural, which was created to celebrate the community’s diversity, according to Iowa Public Radio. There are exactly 63 butterflies in total, one for each of the nationalities of people now living in Storm Lake. Mary Carmen, from Zacatlán, Mexico, led a team of three other artists for the project. They all traveled about 1,800 miles to Storm Lake to collaborate with local volunteers, including students from Buena Vista University’s Spanish classes.

Knock and Drop Iowa fundraises to expand community food delivery: This Hispanic Heritage Month, Knock and Drop Iowa is attempting to raise $75,000 for a refrigerated cargo van in an effort to make the organization’s mission to feed Hispanic and Latinx families mobile by delivering food directly to rural Iowa. Every Wednesday afternoon, Knock and Drop Iowa welcomes about 300 Latinx community members at the food pantry headquarters at 4801 Franklin Ave. in Des Moines. Families can pick up tortillas, rice, fresh vegetables and other food, as well as receive free COVID-19 or influenza vaccinations at pop-up clinics, in partnership with Refugee & Immigrant Voices in Action and community health care providers. Knock and Drop Iowa serves any person who comes through the door and does not require an ID or proof of need. The organization hired its first part-time staff member in 2023 and has expansion plans to set up food delivery points in towns outside of the Des Moines metro. Knock and Drop Iowa was founded by Zuli Garcia, who recently participated in "Iowa Stops Hunger: Hunger Heroes" online panel.

Worth checking out
Her father is the B.T.K. killer. She’s helping to close more cases. (New York Times). She wrote to a scientist about her fatigue. It inspired a breakthrough. (Washington Post). Remote work may help decrease sexual assault and harassment, poll finds (the 19th). "The Care and Keeping of You," American Girl's guide to puberty, turns 25 (NPR). A year after Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody ignited fierce anti-government protests, her family reminisces about the young woman they called Jina (New York Times). First, the loss of a baby, then the loss of legal rights (Washington Post).
A great team finds unique ways to celebrate individuals
Last year I wrote a column about how what we take time to celebrate – and what we don’t – says a lot about what we value. This can mean that certain life journeys or milestones get celebrated more than others.

So much of our time is spent working, hopefully in jobs that we enjoy and for organizations we’re proud of, but in the hustle and bustle of the workforce many milestones may go unacknowledged. Or if they are acknowledged, the affirmation is fleeting or standardized.

Recognition is key to employee engagement and feeling like you’re contributing to an organization’s success. The best cultures emphasize this. They find unique ways to show appreciation for their team members, both for what they do while working and in life.

Angela Jackson, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Athene and one of our recent Women of Influence honorees, recently had a fun experience being celebrated. I asked her to tell the Fearless audience about it.

Here’s what she said: What does it mean to be part of a great team? Many people say you must work well together. Often, they refer to sports analogies. Like there is no "I" in the word team. However, I’d like to share a little bit about a wonderful tribute team members did for me after being recognized as a Woman of Influence by the Business Record last month.

What a wonderful surprise! After returning to the office from vacation, the Athene Human Capital team surprised me by hiding in my office. It was so thoughtful of them to decorate my door with letters of recommendation, photos and quotes from local publications. This was the best thing that any team had ever done for me! The coordination was done by my leader Kristi Burma, and several members of the HC team. They worked together on schedules and even included Katherine Harrington from the West Des Moines Chamber in on the roost by scheduling a "fake" meeting at 7:45 a.m. When I opened the door, there they all were in my office with big smiles and donuts. I’m so grateful to collaborate with such a supportive group of people who rely on each other at Athene. They are a fantastic group from a diverse set of backgrounds who value inclusion. It's a joy to partner with each one of them – they are simply the BEST!

What unique ways can you celebrate the accomplishments of your friends and colleagues? I’d love to hear your ideas or experiences! Drop me a note at
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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