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JUNE 12, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Last week, I attended the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce's Tina Talks event. I arrived feeling uncertain and awkward. I've been working mostly as a parent for the past seven years. My confidence is shaken from spending most of my time with a child rather than with adults.

I felt welcome. I felt emboldened. Six highly successful women in the Iowa business community told their life stories. You will find the panelists' stories below and online.

For this month's Leading Fearlessly column, BPC President President and CEO Suzanna de Baca wrote about the tyranny of mansplaining. Unfortunately, it isn't just men who do it.

Be sure to check out In the Headlines. There is a fascinating story from the Iowa City Press-Citizen about an innovative approach to child care. In a first-of-its-kind push in Iowa, a collaboration among a county, a city and local businesses will help provide child care services with funding to increase caretaker wages by $2 an hour.

-- Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

‘Imposter syndrome is a real thing’: 6 Iowa female leaders share their stories at Tina Talks
From left: Connie Wimer, Angela Walker Franklin, Rosemary Parson, Katherine Harrington, Blanca Plascencia, Perlla Deluca and Claudia Schabel gather for a photo before Tina Talks last week in West Des Moines. Photo by Nicole Grundmeier.
After studying sociology in Mexico, Blanca Plascencia came to the United States to pursue the American dream – but she found herself busing tables, cleaning toilets and rarely seeing her children.

She worked at a restaurant from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“More than half of the tips that I was making was going to the babysitter. My kids were raised by babysitters. It was not the American dream that I was hoping to live,” Plascencia said.

Plascencia and five other women shared lessons about adversity and leadership on Tuesday afternoon at Tina Talks in West Des Moines. The program is organized by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce. This year’s theme was #LeadHERship.

Plascencia told the crowd of women that her marriage fell apart during those early years in the United States: “Cuando la pobreza entra por la puerta, el amor escapa por la ventana” – When poverty walks through the door, love escapes through the window.

“That’s what happened to me,” Plascencia said. “I didn’t live the American dream that I was hoping to live. I left my home, my family, my language, everything that I knew. I left it to come here to give my kids a better opportunity, to give them a better life, and it wasn’t happening. So I just was questioning myself: What am I doing wrong?”

Her path changed when a co-worker told her he was leaving for Minnesota to open his own restaurant. His entrepreneurship sparked something in Plascencia. She was inspired to do the same.

On July 8, 2017, Plascencia and her new husband opened El Fogón Mexican Grill in West Des Moines. In 2022, Plascencia was Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business Woman Business Owner of the Year. The same year, she was named the Iowa Restaurant Association’s American Dream Award winner.

Here are some highlights from the other women’s speeches at Tina Talks:

Perlla Deluca, owner and CEO of Southeast Constructors Inc.
Perlla Deluca grew up in Brazil, where her family didn’t have a lot of money. Her father was able to get her into a school “through charity,” where she felt different from other students.

When Deluca was 14, she came to a conclusion that would have lifetime implications.

“I wasn’t going to let other people talk me down just because I didn’t have things, or I didn’t look good. So I decided, you know what, I’m going to write down everything that I’m good at, and I’m going to take that through life. And I’m going to make my own decision about who I am.”

Deluca immigrated to the U.S. at age 20 and started working for a small construction company in Florida. Eventually she became a general contractor. She is passionate about construction, especially women in construction. Deluca is the co-founder of the Iowa School of Construction.

“I think for people that don’t have an opportunity to go to college, like myself, I think it’s an amazing opportunity to start a career in construction,” she said.

Deluca’s career has included 26 federal projects, including the restoration of a house that belonged to former President Harry S. Truman and the Iowa Women of Achievement bridge.

The tyranny of mansplaining (and it isn't just men who do it)
Have you ever had a situation in a meeting where a person – perhaps a man – explained something to you that you obviously had expertise in, or doubted your qualifications publicly? This used to happen to me frequently as a young woman in finance, and sometimes it was difficult to know how to respond. Therefore, I was recently delighted to run across the experience of an Australian associate professor of neuroscience named Dr. Tasha Stanton. While at an Australian Physiotherapy Association conference in 2019, a man recommended to Dr. Stanton that she should consult an academic paper on the topic at hand – and it turned out to be her own paper.

After her subsequent tweet about this encounter went viral, Stanton was featured on “Good Morning America,” where she said, "It was just ... this amazing, somewhat delicious moment because you just never get that opportunity to actually be like, 'Hold up there for a second, friend. I am Stanton. I’m the one that you just mentioned.’”

The phenomenon of when a person – usually a man – provides a condescending explanation of something to someone who already understands it is now often referred to as mansplaining, a made-up word that combines the words man and explaining. Most women have experienced it. While not always gender-specific, new research conducted by Michigan State University graduate research fellow Caitlin Briggs and published in the Journal of Business and Psychology indicates that females tend to react more negatively to being mansplained, simply because we are so often questioned about our competence and qualifications.

“What we found was that women largely had negative outcomes as a result of being mansplained to, whereas it didn’t affect men as much,” said Briggs. “They tended to register that their competence was being questioned more than men did, and to attribute this to a gender bias – so, maybe this person doesn’t think highly of me or doesn’t like me because of my gender.”

Mansplaining undermines confidence. Another study backs up the prevalence of mansplaining as well as the havoc it can wreak on women’s confidence and subsequently their productivity at work. Carleton University researcher Chelsie Smith and her colleagues interviewed both U.S. and Canadian adults about mansplaining, asking if they had experienced it, how frequently had it occurred, and the gender of the perpetrator.

They found that mansplaining was ubiquitous, with nearly every individual interviewed reporting “having experienced it at least once in the past year, regardless of their gender.” They also found women exhibited the same behavior but less often. Additionally, reviewing video footage revealed that women talked less after a man spoke condescendingly to them compared with men, suggesting that women are more affected by such interactions.

Mansplaining erodes employee engagement. These studies show us that mansplaining does happen frequently and can have a measurable impact on women, leading to workplace dissatisfaction. Smith said, “Mansplaining can lead to employees feeling that they are undervalued or not valued in their workplace, or as though they don’t belong – even if there was no negative intent on the part of the instigator.”

I turned to several leaders and asked their opinion on why mansplaining is so damaging to women in the workplace.

Amy Jennings, executive director, Lead DSM: Mansplaining is detrimental because the valuable and diverse contributions of women are disregarded or not heard. When mansplaining happens to me, the person often says something like, “I don’t know what you know about this subject and I don’t want to mansplain, but let me explain. …” This is said without pausing for a response. The awareness that they may be mansplaining, but then doing it anyway, perpetuates the assumption that women have less knowledge and therefore less value in the workplace or community.  

Luisita Dona McBurney, founder and executive board chairwoman, Filipino American Society: Mansplaining in the workplace has led to numerous instances of being undermined or dismissed based simply on my gender. Additionally, as a woman of color, oftentimes race plays a factor in this dismissive behavior. I have often found myself having to prove my competence repeatedly, while my male colleagues were assumed competent from the outset. This type of condescending behavior has a negative connotation on my confidence, while also perpetuating gender and racial bias.  It is crucial for organizations to recognize the detrimental effects of mansplaining and take proactive steps to foster an inclusive workplace for everyone.

Patty Sneddon-Kisting, executive director, Urbandale Food Pantry: I have been constantly surrounded by women in the nonprofit world. The American Association of University Women says women make up 75% of jobs in nonprofit, education and philanthropy sectors, but women hold less than 75% of leadership positions. When a woman’s knowledge or expertise is questioned, we undermine their value and imply a lack of trust. Mansplaining can be damaging because it assumes incompetence instead of presuming competence. It can stifle a woman’s ability to perform at her best, or to bring ideas/solutions to the table. It also perpetuates a systematic undertone of inequality and gender bias, which is destructive for organizational culture.

Andrea Woodard, senior vice president of government relations and public policy, Greater Des Moines Partnership: Conversations in the workplace should be approached with professionalism and respect. Each circumstance is different, and through a lens of civility, we can communicate and listen with good intent.

I asked these leaders for advice on what to do if you find yourself in a situation where your qualifications or competence is being questioned, or where you are being dismissed.

Luisita Dona McBurney: Trust yourself. Remember that you have knowledge, expertise and valuable insights to contribute. Believe in your abilities and trust your instincts. Recognize that mansplaining is not a reflection of your capabilities but rather a reflection of another person’s biases. Stay confident and focus on your personal growth. Don’t let your bad experience undermine your self-assurance. Seek support. Build relationships with supportive colleagues and mentors who recognize and value your contributions. Surround yourself with trusted people. Sharing your experience with others who have faced similar situations can be empowering and help you navigate challenging encounters.

Amy Jennings: My advice to women is to interrupt and share what they know. My advice to men is to be aware of when they are making assumptions about a woman’s understanding and then to stop and listen, as well as to step in to advocate for women when they see others undervaluing women’s contributions.  

Patty Sneddon-Kisting: I would encourage women to never downplay or devalue what they bring to the table, their knowledge, and their voice. You are in that seat for a reason. Interject when there is no explanation needed or ask for clarification when there is. If you are in a situation when mansplaining is happening, speak up and say something. The key is to not let it go unaddressed. Maybe the person didn’t know they were doing it. If they did know, make them aware that there is no need for it and that it can be harmful and detrimental to the growth of the company or organization.

Andrea Woodard: In challenging situations, I try to start with the goal of the conversation and communicating with civility in mind. I've also been actively working on improving my listening and asking questions to better understand other perspectives and points of view.
In the headlines
In a first-of-its-kind push in Iowa, a collaboration between Johnson County, the city of Iowa City, and local businesses will help provide child care services with funding to increase caretaker wages by $2 an hour, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The decision aims to facilitate the growth of the local child care system as demand and cost to families rise.

Caregivers in Iowa are struggling: Thousands of them aren't being compensated for their care and must dip into their own savings to pay for caregiving expenses, according to Iowa Public Radio. Many of the unpaid caregivers
are women. According to AARP, 330,000 caregivers in Iowa are working without pay while caring for loved ones and family members who are unable to care for themselves due to age, illness or disability.

In the past two years at least 14 states have enacted or proposed laws rolling back child labor protections. Typically, the new laws extend work hours for minors, lift restrictions on hazardous work, lower the age at which kids can bus tables where alcohol is served, or introduce new subminimum wages, according to the New Yorker. In Iowa, a new law allows children as young as 14 to work in industrial laundries and, with approval from a state agency, allows 16-year-olds to work in roofing, excavation, demolition, the operation of power-driven machinery, and other occupations.

Gender bias and discrimination have held women back in the workplace for generations, but new research indicates gender-based judgments barely scratch the surface of ways professional women are criticized throughout their careers, according to CNBC. In a recent study of 913 women who answered open-ended questions, researchers found 30 common personality traits and identity-based characteristics that women say were used against them at work. Just a few of those: accent, attractiveness, body size, dietary restrictions, pregnancy, religion and political preferences.
Worth checking out
After turning 60, these women bonded and competed for pageant glory (Washington Post). Tennis stars get lots of hate online. The French Open gave them AI 'bodyguards' (NPR). As older TikTok creators flourish, brands are signing them up (New York Times). The happiest way to change jobs (The Atlantic).
Due to systematic and individual barriers, women may be on a continuous journey to improving their confidence. Confidence can come in many forms -- body image, self-esteem, willingness to step outside our comfort zones -- and they all affect one another. Confidence plays a role in whether we dive into challenges or sit them out, whether we negotiate our salaries and whether we stand up against inequity. In an online Fearless conversation on June 22, our speakers will talk about how we can empower ourselves or women we know in finding confidence in ourselves as we work toward professional and personal goals. You'll leave feeling energized with a better understanding of why confidence can at times be hard and with strategies to inspire us to find ourselves worthy and in turn help others so that they are enough, too.

Register here.
How are you celebrating Pride this month?
Most of my family is Czech American. We have a proverb in Czech: "Bez práce nejsou koláče" Without work, there is no kolache. With this in mind, I brought homemade kolaches to a Business Record DEI potluck on Wednesday to celebrate Pride month. I just added little flags on toothpicks.

Kolaches are fruit-filled sweet pastries, although a meat-filled variety is popular in Texas and at Coaches Kolaches in Urbandale. My Czech grandmother, Libbie Kubik, never needed a recipe. The recipe was baked into her brain. I'm not that skilled, so I follow this kolaches recipe. It's the closest I have found to the pastries she made.

How are you celebrating Pride month? What does it mean to you? Is this year different somehow? Tell me: I want to hear from you.

Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer
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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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