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DECEMBER 26, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

I hope you are having a peaceful holiday season. Remember to be gentle with yourself. This time of year can be equally joyful and brutal.

In work and in life, Fearless will be here for you in 2024.

What stories would you like to see us cover? Is there a workplace issue we have missed? A women's health care concern that doesn't get much attention? Have you found an innovative child care solution for your family? I would love to hear your story ideas:

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

  • A story highlighting the top 12 most impactful Fearless news stories of 2023.
  • A profile of Marlén Mendoza, founder and CEO of Mendoza Consulting, a national community-design firm that focuses on revitalizing underserved communities through policy recommendations and economic development solutions.
  • Books: We tell you a few titles by female authors you might want to add to your reading list for 2024.
  • In case you missed it, a story from our anniversary edition: Connie Wimer: A lifetime of defying – and disrupting – expectations.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Year in review: The top 12 most impactful Fearless news stories of 2023
It has been a privilege to cover women’s issues for Fearless and for the Business Record in 2023. As I typed "women’s issues" just now, I cringed. Women’s issues aren’t just women’s issues. They affect everyone. They have significant implications for everyone and for the economy.

As I looked back at stories from 2023, headlines related to health care and child care dominated Fearless. It’s likely those topics will also be dominant conversations after the Iowa Legislature gavels in on Jan. 8.

What would you like to see Fearless cover in 2024? Our goal is to help empower Iowa women and girls to succeed in work and life. We want to truly represent all corners of the state. Please send me an email with story ideas or guest column pitches:  

Here are the top 12 most impactful Fearless news stories of 2023. (This list does not include columns or individual profiles of women.)

  1. How would potential changes to Iowa’s abortion laws affect your life, in the workplace and beyond?

    Published July 17, 2023

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    In July, most abortions in Iowa were illegal briefly before a judge blocked the ban. The law that went into effect, commonly referred to as a "heartbeat" law, would ban most abortions after cardiac activity is detectable in an embryo. That activity typically occurs around six weeks of gestation – about the time a woman realizes her period is late. The Iowa Supreme Court is on track to decide the law’s fate. Fearless will be watching for a court decision.

  2. The Beacon expands its mission of assisting women to those who’ve just been arrested

    Published Nov. 13, 2023

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    The Beacon, a nonprofit headquartered in the Sherman Hill neighborhood in Des Moines, introduced a jail diversion program for Central Iowa women last fall. Previously, most of the women helped by the Beacon came to the nonprofit after being released from the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. With the jail diversion program, some women who fit a specific profile can go right to the Beacon rather than jail. Most of the women served by the Beacon have complex trauma. "Our prison system has become a mental health institution, a substance use treatment facility, and it does a really bad job of those," said Melissa Vine, the Beacon’s executive director. "This jail diversion poses the question, what would it look like to offer support instead of punishment for people with a lifetime of complex trauma?"

  3. How businesses, communities and day care centers are innovating together to address state’s child care crisis

    Published July 14, 2023

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    Within the past several years, business leaders have realized that access to child care is a critical economic issue. They have started to seriously look at what they can do to help. The solutions to the child care crisis aren’t cut and dried, and vary depending on the community’s needs. "There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to child care, because every community is so different," said Sheri Penney, employer engagement director at the Iowa Women’s Foundation. Both Penney and Emily Schmitt, chair of the state’s Child Care Task Force, said they’ve seen an increase in business involvement in child care, and believe public-private partnerships are the way to go to make the child care industry in Iowa sustainable long-term.

  4. Iowa’s gender-balance law may be on the chopping block

    Published Oct. 2, 2023

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    Iowa’s law requiring representation of women in government is in jeopardy, and advocates say that ditching its nearly four-decades-old provisions would be a mistake. The state started in the 1980s requiring that appointments to state boards and commissions result in gender-balanced boards. About 12 years ago the rules were expanded, with some additional leeway, to cover panels appointed by counties and cities. But a state panel is recommending repealing the law in order to "allow the most qualified Iowans to serve." The Iowa Legislature will likely take action on this law early in 2024.

  5. Bill moving through Statehouse would license certified professional midwives

    Published Feb. 3, 2023

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    Advocates for midwife licensure have pushed for decades to have licensed CPMs in the state. They say doing so would help drive down maternal mortality rates and create more maternal care options for parents who have healthy, low-risk pregnancies in an era where there’s a shortage of birthing units. Iowa is one of 13 states where CPMs are not licensed or regulated. Unlike certified nurse midwives, who are primarily hospital-based, CPMs specialize in births that occur in homes and stand-alone birthing centers and do not require a nursing credential or graduate degree in midwifery. Instead, CPMs are direct-entry, and complete a multiyear program through the North American Registry of Midwives.

  6. After Sharon Malheiro’s death, Iowa’s LGBTQ community navigates grief and advocacy

    Published June 19, 2023

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    This June was Iowa’s first Pride month without Sharon Malheiro, a longtime attorney and activist who was instrumental in advancing the court case, Varnum v. Brien, that made Iowa the third state to permit same-sex marriage. She founded the LGBTQ-rights group One Iowa in 2006 and was a go-to name in that community for legal issues large and small, in addition to successes defending and advancing abortion rights. Her unexpected death on April 10 has prompted questions about who might take the baton from her for future court fights over those issues.

  7. How to help someone who has survived sexual violence: Start by believing

    Published Oct. 30, 2023

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    When someone discloses sexual abuse or rape to a friend, to a family member, to a co-worker, to anyone, what that listener says and does next can greatly affect the survivor – and what happens next. Believing a survivor of sexual assault is the first and most important thing a person can do, said Sara Hulen, a sexual assault forensic response coordinator in the Iowa attorney general’s office, and Shannon Knudsen, a sexual assault nurse examiner coordinator in Central Iowa.

  8. How a dream for a conference for Black women in Des Moines continues on

    Published April 2, 2023

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    In 2016, Lindsey White was looking to attend a women’s conference that focused on and featured Black women. She soon realized she would have to travel to Chicago, Atlanta or Houston to go to one. "Instead of investing my own money in somebody else’s thoughts and plans and community, it was like, I’m sure that there’s others here that need this as well. Why don’t we just try to create something here?" she said. In April 2017, LadyLike DSM was born with a mission to empower Black women in the Des Moines metro area by offering opportunities for connecting, learning and supporting one another. "Being ladylike is not just about wearing pearls, wearing heels or having the right makeup. Being ladylike is about empowering oneself and supporting your community," Shekinah Fountain, empowerment lead at LadyLike, said.

  9. After skydiving for charity, Connie Wimer offers women advice about risk-taking

    Published Sept. 25, 2023

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    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. Wimer turned 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.

  10. Rachael Denhollander’s exclusive interview with Fearless: Advice to businesses, other organizations on how to prevent and respond to sexual abuse

    Published Nov. 20, 2023

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    Individuals and institutions have become more aware of how to support survivors of sexual abuse — but major mistakes remain common, an advocate says. Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to talk publicly about being sexually abused by Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University physician who was also the women’s national team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Stories about Nassar in the Indianapolis Star that quoted Denhollander helped bring about Nassar’s downfall and eventual imprisonment. Denhollander, an attorney and educator who lives in Kentucky, spoke at the Chrysalis Foundation’s Inspired event on Nov. 13 in West Des Moines.

  11. SHE: Ten stories of leadership, perseverance and authenticity

    Published March 30, 2023

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    In anticipation of Ballet Des Moines’ production of "SHE," a triple bill exploring themes of identity, self-expression and belonging created by three leading female choreographers, Ballet Des Moines partnered with Fearless to shine a spotlight on 10 Central Iowa women. What is it we see when we look at each other? When we really look at the woman to our left or to our right? Society teaches us to look for labels, to classify success by titles. A quick scroll through social media shows a timeline of only the perfectly posed and curated highlights of someone’s life. The "SHE" project went much deeper.

  12. Annual Fearless survey: Awareness of gender equity issues is improving post-pandemic, now action needs to happen

    Published April 13, 2023

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    Once women lose ground, it’s hard to make up. That was a major theme of a Fearless/Business Record survey published last spring. In the survey, Fearless asked respondents to rank how close they perceive women are to achieving full equality with men on a scale of 0 to 100. The average number was 53. The following responses and analysis aimed to provide a wide-angle view on some of the biggest issues that respondents identified, including child care, pay equity, representation of women in leadership and political positions, and treatment at work.

How Marlén Mendoza turned her empathy and skills into a business
Photo by Duane Tinkey. Illustration by Kate Meyer.
Marlén Mendoza is the founder and CEO of Mendoza Consulting, a national community-design firm that focuses on revitalizing underserved communities through policy recommendations and economic development solutions. In September, the 29-year-old was named the associate director of external affairs at the Latino Policy Forum in Chicago. Along with Angie Jordan and Tasha Lard, she co-led a municipal improvement project on the south side of Iowa City. As part of the project the trio created an annual diversity market, a pop-up outdoor market that began in the summer of 2021. The market brings eyes to nearly 30 minority-owned and women-owned businesses, featuring food vendors, products, services and family-friendly activities. She was previously the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Iowa state deputy director.

The following story has been formatted to be entirely in her words, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Love is not just romantic. Love is the source of everything – the relationships that we build, the reason we get up every morning, why we do what we do for the people who are closest to us. There’s risk with love because you always know that you could get hurt.

I think nowadays in our society, it’s very much about fending for yourself and figuring your own stuff out, which there is truth to that and there’s balance. But I also believe that you have to be willing to choose to lead the work – I say choose because every day you have to choose it – it’s hard. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you have to wake up every day and choose to act and respond in a loving manner, where you’re trying to be empathetic and compassionate, and you understand not everything is personal.

In community work, you have to do it in that way. Any time you’re trying to work with a group of people, they have to first know you. Then they have to like you. Once they know you and then they like you, then the trust gets built. Trust stays if there’s a component of "Oh, this person is here for the right reasons. They’re not going to harm me. They’re not here to get something out of it. I can trust them because I know that they have the best thing in mind for me." That is where I’ve always taken that risk of saying, "I’m being very transparent with you. I’m not here to pretend that I’m going to solve your problems because I can’t, but I’m willing to say that if you’d be willing to step out of your comfort zone and come to the table to try to understand how we all want the same thing, if you take that little risk, I can promise to see that the work is done with love that we can all benefit from it."

We have to go back to the foundation of conversation. Can I get to know you? Can you get to know me and put everything else aside – assumptions, biases, what people have told us to believe about each other – and just listen to each other?

My whole life when I’ve done that, and I’ve learned this from my mother, it’s come to show me why I’m good as a connector. It’s not a superpower, everybody has it, but you have to be willing to meet and listen to all kinds of people. The reason my business has been successful is because I’ve carried that needle throughout everything I’ve done. That is what makes me fearless.

I was born and raised in Chicago. I came to Iowa for school. I was applying to a lot of schools, and the University of Iowa was one of the first schools that got back to me and said, "We really want you to come here. We’re going to support you in every aspect and take care of everything." I was born and raised by a single mother. I have six siblings. I’m a middle child. My mother always taught me that education was a tool for liberation. Whether it’s formal or informal, no one can take your education. They can always destroy the person, but they can’t kill the idea. Even your thoughts, the way that you carry yourself – no one can take that from you. She always very much encouraged us to follow our passions. I always loved school. That drive and passion for education got me to the University of Iowa.

Then I graduated in 2016. I was working out in D.C. for a couple years. When COVID hit, I wanted to be closer to my family. Iowa City was a good halfway point. I’ve been here since late 2019.

I initially started my business out of necessity. Everybody was working remotely. In D.C. I had done a lot of work on policy and advocacy around workforce development and secondary education. I realized that there’s not a lot of policy jobs out here in Iowa City. So another fearless thing I had to do was realize that I had to look within and ask myself, "Who are you and what are you good at?" It’s really easy to distract ourselves and tell ourselves that we really want something when in reality, it’s other people telling you that you should. I had to do the hard self-reflection of what I see myself doing and what I actually enjoy doing.

I’m good at communication skills in general. Being able to speak in front of people, being able to communicate what I want to say, being able to bring people into a room and have them support a shared vision – a lot of these skills are organizing skills. So I decided that I wanted to do Mendoza Consulting, primarily to walk into spaces and rooms and help other people figure out where we are going? What’s our North Star? What’s our vision? A lot of my work is heavy on facilitation.

My close friends, Angie Jordan and Tasha Lord, the reason all three of us work well together is because we have the same MO, which is do the work with love. We check in on each other every day. We care more about the whole well-being of the person because in any work that you do, especially in community development work, like what we do in the south side of Iowa City, in order for families, neighborhoods, and then the community to flourish, it all stems back to the individual and then the family.

It’s very much like Maslow’s hierarchy. We’re here to help support and say, "How can we connect you to things that you may need?" We genuinely want to check in on people and care for them and say, "How can we empower you? What is it that we can do to get you to the place where you can do it yourself?" Because we do have to teach people how to fish, and you can do it in a loving way, or you could do it in a way where people aren’t going to like it.

When deciding to start the business I got to a point where I told myself two things. One, you have nothing to lose. Everything’s a learning experience. So even if this doesn’t work out, what could I take from this experience? The second thing was, I didn’t look for the business. I was in Iowa City, everyone was working remotely and my networks on the West Coast and East Coast started contacting me. I had no idea about the whole consulting side of the world of business.

I thought, "Well, it’s just until I find a job." And then I found myself saying that for two years. Then I realized these people are contacting me because clearly I have some form of value with this. I was not aware of that value for myself. As a woman, sometimes you just do things because you enjoy doing them. For some people it could be pottery, it could be painting, it could be writing. For me, it was this ability to be able to organize, communicate and bring people together. I just knew that I liked to do it. But then once you realize you have value, then what do you even charge for that value? Monetizing the thing that you’re passionate about was the hard thing for me because I kept having this idea of, "Well, if I make money off of it, then it’ll change and I’ll hate it." I was battling with my own self, but then I realized it was just my way of self-sabotaging and telling myself it’s not gonna work.

My mother is a very religious person. I consider myself more spiritual. But my mother always has taught us that whatever gifts you’re given, you are required to then multiply them and then give them back. So however much you’re given, you’re expected to do more. I decided these are the skill sets that I have and I should be putting them out there.

I made a pact with my higher self, and I told myself, "OK, you know what, Marlén? We’re going to do this. We’re going to start this business, just to prove that there’s nothing here." So I literally told myself that because I did not want to start. I thought, "I don’t want to do this. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be challenging. I gotta put my name out there. I gotta start an LLC." I had this fear of being a fraud. In the journey of entrepreneurship, you started to realize everybody’s in the same boat. Everybody has to start somewhere. Nothing is done in completion. You start in small steps.

It’s not an experience that gets shared as much because I guess people don’t feel comfortable having these conversations. One day, I’m in the negative and then the next thing, two months in the negative. You wonder, is this the thing I’m supposed to be doing? But it was really a challenge to myself. So I told myself, "I’m going to do it just to show that I did it, and it didn’t work out. Then at least I know that I tried it." I also found that clearly this is something that people wanted from me.

When I was younger, whenever I had an overwhelming feeling of emotions, I would find ways to distract my discomfort. Always. I did not want to pay attention to those feelings. I would rather bury them, suppress them and distract myself. But what I came to realize when I got older is that it’s not good to keep burying down your emotions and how you feel because these feelings are not bad or good – they’re valid. It’s just how you are feeling.

Sit with discomfort and don’t distract yourself. Ask yourself, "Why am I feeling this way?" When you look within, you’ll have that self-reflection, and that’s how you start to know who you are. When you know who you are, anything else falls into place. Because when you know who you are, everything hurts less: What people say about you, what people think about you, insults, how other people see you. Why? Because you know who you are. I feel like for young women especially, we don’t get told this enough. We’re constantly hypervigilant about how everybody else feels or ensuring other people are taken care of.

I’m not saying all women have this, but it’s very natural for us to be more hyperaware of our environment. We have that asset that other people might not have, like our male peers. We have to remind ourselves, "No, it’s OK for me to have these emotions. It’s OK for me to feel the way that I’m feeling. Let me sit with that and reflect." When you do the self-reflection of sitting with yourself and your emotions, you start to learn to be comfortable with yourself.

What does it mean to be fearless?

The word fearless to me means doing something hard when you’re very uncomfortable. It’s facing discomfort. That’s what it is.

We can all do it. And it can be something very small. It doesn’t have to be anything really big, because in life, everything we do starts really small. So you just have to take the first really small step to be uncomfortable and be in discomfort with whatever it is. That builds up and the next time you’ll be fearless, you’ll take on something that’s a little bit bigger, and then a little bit bigger.

Books You Should Read
We know many of our Fearless readers love to read and also believe in setting goals. Over the next few newsletters, we’re going to periodically recommend a few books by women that you should consider adding to your 2024 reading list. Have a book recommendation we should share in the future? Email

"Where You Are Is Not Who You Are: A Memoir" by Ursula M. Burns
This book was recommended by staff at the Des Moines Public Library as part of an ongoing partnership with the Business Record. Ursula M. Burns is the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and in her 2021 memoir she looks back on her life and her successful career at Xerox. The book is full of her insights on corporate life, the value of workers, and touches on topics such as racial and economic justice and how she believes greed is threatening American democracy. The book is part memoir, part cultural critique, told through the eyes of a woman who journeyed from tenement housing in New York City to the highest pillars of corporate America.

Other books to add to your list:
  • "What Is a Girl Worth? One Woman’s Courageous Battle to Protect the Innocent and Stop a Predator – No Matter the Cost" by Rachael Denhollander.
  • "Needles: A Memoir of Growing Up With Diabetes" by Andie Dominick (Dominick is an Iowa woman and a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer).
  • "Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them" by Gina Kolata.
Worth checking out
Iowa won't participate in federal program giving low-income kids grocery money (Des Moines Register). Five groups are applying to open eight charter schools in Iowa. Here’s what you need to know (Des Moines Register). What is Trisomy 18, the fetal condition central to the Texas abortion case? (Washington Post). When older Americans earn above a certain income level, they are often taken aback to find they owe federal income taxes on their benefits (New York Times). Return-to-office mandates are a disaster for working mothers (Wall Street Journal). Is there ever a good time to be a woman in business? (Forbes).
Connie Wimer: A lifetime of defying – and disrupting – expectations
For much of Connie Wimer’s life, the founder and owner of Business Publications Corp. has taken the road less traveled. Usually, it worked out, but even when it didn’t, her failures kept things interesting and memorable.

"Connie" is how most people refer to this stylish, 91-year-old woman who, like Madonna, Cher and Dolly, is a single-name identity.

"She’s just about the smartest woman I know," Des Moines City Councilwoman Marie Wilson once said. "She pays attention. She can smell out good information."

A presentation Wimer made years ago at a Des Moines Chamber of Commerce gathering helps frame her life. Each month, a different community leader was featured at chamber lunches. Wimer followed appearances by John Ruan and Gary Kirke. Rather than tout her successes, Wimer said, "I gave a speech about all the things I tried that didn’t work. I believe if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough."

One of her failures involved a bridal business centered on an invisible connector that joined tops and skirts, giving brides more flexibility in selecting wedding gowns.

"It was a brilliant idea" but the creator had no business abilities and didn’t seem able to learn, said Wimer. After much frustration, she called it a day and took her loss as an investor.

A fact that often gets glossed over is how Wimer built one of the most successful local publishing operations in the country. Today, BPC not only publishes a weekly newspaper focused on local business and an assortment of digital newsletters, it also produces lifestyle magazines about Des Moines and Iowa and publishes books and custom magazines, including an annual, 150-plus page "Book of Lists" that is a who’s who of local businesses. In addition, it tackles niche topics in its digital and print publications ranging from innovation to philanthropy and mental health, among others.

She also created, almost by accident, a much-envied event business that promotes and celebrates new issues of her magazines and other publications at unveiling parties and content-driven panels and award programs, which bring community leaders together periodically to review the economy, seek solutions to common problems and celebrate leaders in the community.

Wimer didn’t set out to do any of that.

"Nobody talked about college," she said of when she graduated in a high school class of 13 in Merrill, Iowa, a small town northeast of Sioux City. Her father, Horace Horton, was a mechanic who could fix anything from watches to tractors; her mother, Irene, was a homemaker.

"I went to work at age 12 at the drug store, not because I had to but because I wanted to, and I worked there until I graduated high school," Wimer said.

At the urging of a teacher, she attended Morningside College in Sioux City for one year, working part time for 35 cents an hour, before moving on.

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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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