Standing up for your rights, tips on risk-taking
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Good morning and happy Monday! We’re adding something new to the Fearless newsletter this week that I’m excited about.

I know for me personally, the news cycle can feel as though I’m being tossed around in a heavy-duty washing machine with no reprieve in sight, and I’m sure it can feel like that for you, too. In an attempt to help ease that feeling, we’re going to include a section in the newsletter that provides a break from the news each week. We hope you’ll find it useful, and we hope you’ll share ideas with us on things to feature! Kicking us off is a reflection from a 100-day creative project series.

Here’s what else you’ll find in this week’s newsletter:

I hope reading this newsletter gives you a boost of motivation or empowerment this week. Go forth and conquer!

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor
Fighting for your rights at work
From left: Lastascia Coleman, Sheriffa Jones, Jordan Juhl, Mayra Lopez and Beatriz Mate-Kodjo.
I still vividly remember a situation in a past job where one of my female team members tearfully confided that a high-level male colleague had drunkenly and aggressively groped her during a company outing. When I urged her to report this offense to human resources, she refused, saying it was better not say anything for fear that the individual would retaliate and her career would be damaged. Only when I asked her if she would not fight for the rights of one of her own team members if they’d been assaulted was she willing to let me report the incident.

Fighting for our rights at work is difficult and complicated, especially for women, who have historically not been afforded equal rights and opportunities at work. Despite gains, significant disparities and challenges continue today, as illustrated by a recently released study by the World Bank called "Women, Business and the Law 2022," which found women across the globe still have only three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men.

Fortunately, thanks to men and women together, some progress has been made to advance women’s rights across the globe and in the U.S. According to the World Bank study, recent reforms have focused on protecting against sexual harassment in employment, prohibiting gender discrimination, increasing paid leave for new parents and removing job restrictions for women. In order to continue to make progress, men and women alike must demand that elected officials and business leaders recognize inequities in the workplace and at home, and actively work to change laws or policies to level the playing field.

But it is also necessary for us as women to advocate for ourselves. As my former colleague experienced, it is not always easy to fight for our own rights, but knowing we are also working to create a better future for other women, our daughters, and society overall can give us the courage to stand up and speak out.

I asked local leaders: "What was a time that you had to stand up for your own rights or the rights of others in a professional setting?"

Lastascia Coleman, clinical assistant professor, University of Iowa College of Medicine: Standing up for other people is a daily part of my job as a certified nurse-midwife and a core value to midwifery practice. Whether it’s helping a patient make health care decisions that meet their needs or advocating for better maternity and reproductive health outcomes on a bigger stage, I’m not afraid to be a change agent and advocate for basic human rights.

Sheriffa M. Jones, executive director, Spencer Chamber of Commerce: There are several things that come to mind when I’ve had to advocate for myself. One that I reflect back on was negotiating maternity leave for the first time while working for a nonprofit. There hadn’t ever been a woman at the organization who needed maternity leave, and it was a board that was largely led by a group of men.
Jordan Juhl, director of public relations, ChildServe: I was working full time in crisis management when I had my son at age 32. I felt like every day was a race against the clock trying to balance work and quality time with family. The 8-to-5 job that required a body in a seat no longer worked for me. I had conversations with my boss and negotiated a flexible work schedule and a new salary.

Mayra Lopez, psychotherapist, Plains Area Mental Health Center: As a social worker, I abide by a strict code of conduct that requires I act to prevent the discrimination against ANY person. I do this within my professional role as well as in my personal life. There have been times in the past where I have had to advocate for my clients to my own colleagues and peers, which is not easy to do.

Beatriz Mate-Kodjo, managing partner, BMK Law Firm: As a lawyer, I try to help employees act as positive change agents by calling attention to workplace disparities without litigation. Not enough credit is given to employers that adjust pay, grant tenure, or otherwise correct injustice when it’s brought to their attention. I don’t make a dime off those cases but they are some of my favorite accomplishments.

A Closer Look: Melissa Ness, President and CEO, Connectify HR
Iowa native Melissa Ness is using her leadership experience with professional employer organizations to build a new entrepreneurial venture with Connectify HR. Launched in August 2021, Connectify’s mission as a professional employer organization (PEO) is to simplify the business of running a business by connecting numerous vendors, suppliers and services through a single organization that can take the time to understand each client’s business. Ness was most recently chief financial officer of West Des Moines-based Aureon. Before Aureon sold its Aureon HR subsidiary (formerly Merit Resources), Ness worked for that company for 14 years, with roles as chief financial officer, chief operating officer and ultimately president.  

What do you see as a few of the toughest issues that small and medium-sized businesses need help with? How are you differentiating yourselves in those areas?
Everybody’s hearing the talent issues, so both finding and then also retaining talent and, boy, everybody seems to be struggling with that. And so we partner with our clients and, depending on their size, their industry, their location, help them with strategies on both of those things. And that’s an inside-out process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we really do work with them to partner on that. … Our response time is something that we put a lot of emphasis on, which seems to be a differentiator. We want to respond within hours of any request or any question that comes to us. What we provide is so personal they can’t wait for hours, days and weeks to hear. What’s going on with my payroll? Can you tell me about my benefits? What’s happening with my 401(k)? I have a work comp claim. What do I do? We want to customize our solution, based on getting to know them and building that relationship and customizing the solution to meet their needs.

Another thing that companies are struggling with is remote work — that’s something we can help with. They don’t quite realize the kind of workers’ compensation, tax and HR exposure when they have employees in other states, and so we can work in 49 states and we are in quite a few of them already, based on all that remote work going on. And I do think it’s something that I want to continue to try to make sure that we educate on. You don’t know what you don’t know until something happens.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found in the process of starting your own business?
There have been a few. One of the first ones out of the gate was the name. It’s really hard [finding a unique name]. It’s a very crowded space to try to find that and I was really surprised by how long it took us. You kind of fall in love with something and then it’s taken, so that process was surprising. But the support from the community has been overwhelming and, honestly, really inspiring, and that confirmed the thought process around it.

In the headlines
  • The Las Vegas Raiders have hired Sandra Douglass Morgan as their president, making her the first Black woman to serve as president of a National Football League team. Morgan acknowledged that she’s experienced being the first throughout her career, but hopes she won’t be the last. "If I could be an inspiration, or help, or open doors for any other woman and girl out there, then that's an incredible accomplishment for me."
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now part owner of the Denver Broncos. Rice is part of the Walton-Penner family ownership group, which agreed to purchase the NFL franchise for $4.65 billion.
  • President Joe Biden signed an executive order designed to expand access to medication abortion and education about legally available abortion options. The executive order also directs the White House counsel and the U.S. attorney general to coordinate volunteer lawyers who will defend patients and medical providers facing state-based charges for "lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country."
  • Applications to participate in the Flourish: Fund Ideas That Matter event are now open. Flourish: Fund Ideas That Matter is an annual micro-granting event hosted by FuseDSM and Love Local that’s designed to give women and gender-nonconforming business owners in the Des Moines metro area a chance to earn money by pitching their business ideas to the community.
  • A 162-kid child care center opened at Outlets Williamsburg last week, increasing capacity for child care in Iowa County by 14%. The project is a partnership between Williamsburg Child Care Center, Outlet Williamsburg, Bayer Williamsburg and Compass Memorial Healthcare.
  • Count the Kicks will host a virtual panel discussion on the state of Black maternal mental health in the U.S. on July 20 at noon. The six-person panel, which includes maternal health experts from across the country, will discuss the maternal mental and physical health crises and how racism affects well-being for Black parents. More information and registration is available here.
  • The Iowa Women in Agriculture conference, scheduled for Aug. 4 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny, has announced its theme and sessions. The theme is "Women Power Up: Countdown to Success" and it will host sessions on marketing strategies, global trade forecasts, risk management skills, climate-smart initiatives and mentoring advice. Early bird registration is $55 until Aug. 1. More information is available on the Iowa Women in Agriculture’s website.
  • The Iowa Restaurant Association is seeking nominations for its annual 40 Women to Watch in Hospitality Award, which recognizes women in Iowa's hospitality industry for their creativity, leadership and contributions.
Worth checking out
The women giving corporate America a second chance (Glamour). States with abortion bans risk losing their economic edge (New York Times). ‘Raising children is not an individual responsibility. It is a social one.’ (Culture Study). What HR leaders are focusing on post-Roe (Time Charter). How women can negotiate a better severance package as recession-driven layoffs climb (Fortune). Millennials on their very real fears about money (New York Times). Meet the 77-year-old woman keeping her town’s newspaper alive as its last remaining employee (The Daily Yonder).
Fearless Focus: Confidence
Cheltzie Miller Bailey, former assistant director at the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State University, talks about the concept of "failing forward" and how doing so can help you find your sense of values and self-worth.
Connie Wimer’s tips for success
Business Publications Corp. Chairman Connie Wimer often shares a list of tips she’s acquired with young women and business leaders. She agreed to share them with Fearless.

  • If you have true integrity, you’re able to love and respect yourself. You have to do that to be able to take risks.
  • Be the hardest worker. Wherever, whatever, just dig in and work harder than everyone else.
  • Surround yourself with smart people, both in your personal life and your business life. Choose those people that you can learn from.
  • If you don’t have it, develop optimism. When I’m scared, I sit down and say, "What is the very worst thing that could happen?" And I prepare for that. But after you’ve done that, then think optimistically, and think, "What is the best thing that could happen," and you start to expect that, because we very often get what we expect.
  • Learn to be a risk-taker. I get asked all the time how I learned to be a risk-taker. My school was so small, there were 13 people in my graduating class. It allowed me to participate in absolutely everything. Because it was a small school, I knew from fourth grade that I would probably be a valedictorian and that gave me confidence. In a big school, you might get lost, but I think those are the things that allowed me to become a risk-taker. Every time you take a risk and make it work, you get stronger and are more willing to take the next risk.
Reflections on a 100-day creative project
Suleika Jaouad is a writer and author based in New York. You may recognize her from her "Life, Interrupted" column series in the New York Times a decade ago when she was battling leukemia.

I’ve subscribed to her newsletter for a few years now. Each week, she offers up a journaling prompt meant to spur creativity and reflection. Earlier this year, she started a 100-day project where she encouraged people to do something creative every day for 100 days. July 9 marked day 100, and to celebrate she collected 20 creations and 20 lessons from people all across the world who participated in the project.

Some of my favorite lessons:
  • Small acts accumulate.
  • Waking up and breathing are enough.
  • Notice life happening in real time.
  • It’s never too late.

If you’ve been looking for a good dousing of creativity and inspiration, I’d encourage you to spend a few minutes scrolling through these works of art and reflections!
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