Women’s Institute Educates, Inspires and Builds Future Leaders

History hasn’t been kind to China’s Chairman Mao, but his famous quote “Women hold up half the sky” resonates even in 21st-century America. If the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) has anything to do with it, women will be holding up even more leadership roles.

For Janet Bonkowski, the Institute’s Executive Director, the sooner the better. “The good news is progress has been made, but there’s still more work to do.” Not that there haven’t been challenges. “We’re doing this in a very interesting time — working not only to be inclusive to women but also inclusive in an evolving society and region.”

Janet Bonkowski, Executive Director, Institute for Women's Leadership
Janet Bonkowski, Executive Director, Institute for Women’s Leadership

In 2022, women accounted for nearly 56 percent of the labor force. Yet only one in four C-Suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color. Post-pandemic headwinds make that challenge even more daunting — for every woman at the director level who gets promoted, two women directors are choosing to leave their company. Fewer women are rising “through the ranks.”

Bottom line? UW-Green Bay’s Institute for Women’s Leadership, now celebrating its second year, is more vital than ever.

As Bonkowski puts it, “The corporate ladder that once accessed the ‘glass ceiling’ now has a broken rung.” Which adds even more urgency to the Institute’s mission. It’s also a mission that’s not all talk. IWL event

s throughout the year include networking, educating and inspiring professional women through memberships, scholarships, workshops and more.

Being a part of the University of Wisconsin also has advantages.

“University professors with expertise in research survey women regularly, which is different from what other groups can do,” said Bonkowski. And the results can be surprising, like research revealing that businesses with women leaders tend to be more profitable.

The Institute for Women’s Leadership CELEBRATE 2022
The Institute for Women’s Leadership CELEBRATE 2022 Women on the Rise event at the Weidner Center for Performing Arts on the UW-Green Bay campus, April 14, 2022. UW-Green Bay, Sue Pischke University Photographer

The Institute is also a practical resource for women in Northeast Wisconsin.

“The variety and accessibility of program offerings through the IWL is incredible,” says Kara Miller, a business system analyst for Imperial Supplies, a leading supplier of heavy-duty truck parts. “The Institute is really dialed into providing opportunities that apply to individuals at any stage of their career.”

Some opportunities are large — annual events like Celebrate 2023: Phenomenally You, an evening of connection, learning and inspiration for women offer a large-scale networking and professional development opportunity. Other events are more casual. For Miller, one of her favorite recurring events is Caffeinated Conversations, a gathering for coffee and topic-driven conversation. “I really enjoyed the energy and connection I felt during and after our conversations.”

Kara Miller is business systems analyst for Imperial Supplies and attends Institute for Women's Leadership events.
Kara Miller is business systems analyst for Imperial Supplies and attends Institute for Women’s Leadership events.

As for the future of the Institute, the sky’s the limit. “The three elements that bring us together are connection, inspiration and education,” Bonkowski says. “That’s what’s different about this Institute is that we’re a continuous presence, and we continue to grow, gaining new members of both genders. We also invite men into the room to hear these conversations.” Bonkowski wants everyone to join. The IWL is here to stay. “Come on in and listen. When women rise, we all rise — businesses, schools, the region. Things are better.”

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