Leadership seminar brings together women leaders in government

Group photo of the 2023 Wisconsin Women in Government Leadership Seminar attendees and instructors.
“It was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot,” commented one participant of the leadership seminar. “It was lovely to spend two full days in the presence of a group of driven and compassionate women.”

On March 3 and 10, the La Follette School and Wisconsin Women in Government (WWIG) assembled women leaders and La Follette faculty members to discuss leadership in public service, providing techniques for rising leaders to use in their careers during the annual WWIG Leadership Seminar. Participants came from all over the state, including Trempealeau County, Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Madison, and represented offices from county health departments and city transportation agencies to the State Assembly and state agencies.

On the first day, La Follette School Director and Professor Susan Webb Yackee set the tone for the seminar and participants discussed what it means to be a woman leader in government and how organizational culture and structure can affect outcomes.

Seminar attendees sit facing each other for an activity.
Participants applied lessons learned during interactive exercises.

During a lunch panel, Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard, retired Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Mary Kolar, chief of staff for Wisconsin State Senator Joan Ballweg Bethany Rasmussen, and retired member engagement and communications director for the League of Municipalities Gail Sumi talked about how meandering careers can lead to unexpected opportunities. Participants found the panelists relatable and inspiring, giving them more confidence to take bigger risks.

La Follette School Associate Professor Tana Johnson’s presentation on key tools for public management engaged participants to think about policy option evaluation, identifying and speaking to people’s motivational focus, and facilitating group decision-making. Interactive exercises provided the opportunity to apply these tools and work with each other on those skills. After the workshop, one participant commented that she used the skills right away at work the following week.

Mariel Barnes hands attendee Michelle Schultz a certificate.
Attendees received certificates after completing the Leadership Seminar.

On the second day of the seminar, a snowstorm forced the group to adopt a hybrid model, but the mood remained sunny. Nancy Clark of Darcy Luoma Coaching and Consulting gave tips on being “thoughtfully fit” and how to use one’s calendar to reflect boundaries and priorities. La Follette School Assistant Professor Mariel Barnes led a session on women in the workforce and walked participants through how to negotiate salaries as they climb the career ladder. Then it was time for speed networking and a quick graduation ceremony followed by cupcakes.

Despite the hybrid format during the final day, many important connections were made among this cohort of public service leaders. Participants said the two days “created a dynamic sense of community” and they experienced “a physical buzzing energy” that helped to recharge them for the work week.

Group photo of seminar attendees and instructors with some joining remotely.
Participants said the two days “created a dynamic sense of community.”

Applications for next year’s WWIG Leadership Seminar will open in the fall. Program costs not covered by tuition are funded by the WWIG Gala and generous sponsors, including the Wisconsin Counties Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Gail Sumi WWIG Scholarship Fund.

Founded in 1987, WWIG is a nonpartisan volunteer organization that recognizes and supports women by providing scholarships as well as educational and networking opportunities. WWIG and the La Follette School launched the leadership seminar in 2001.

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