Women in Government
Our goal is to boost government as a choice for women. The research shows that modeling and mentoring make a difference in the path a person chooses. The motto is “if they can see it, they can be it!”
You can join in: choose one or two questions from the five below and send your answers, along with your name and title and a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Women in Government.” We will add you to the gallery and feature you in our social media including on the League's LinkedIn page.
1) Why did you choose a career in govt.?
2) What advice would you give your younger self?
3) Is there someone or something that made a difference in your career that others could learn from?
4) What opportunities do you see for women in government?
5) Tell us about one or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career.
Caroline (Neilsen) Gregerson,City of La Crosse Community Development Administrator
Is there someone or something that made a difference in your career that others could learn from? Finding a job that really matches my personality and caters to my strengths. I landed in a job I love after both reflection and lived- experience really taught me about who I am and what I did well at and what drove me. I think part of my success is just having a job that really “fits me”. When I became the Community Development Administrator for the City of La Crosse, I actually knew very little about the technical aspect of the job (HUD, housing) but I was able to pick it up quickly because it fit my personality so well.
Tell us about one or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. I’m proud of the ways that as a team in the Planning Department, we’ve launch some innovative community development programs that no one else is doing anywhere in the nation, and they are working to make our city better. I love being part of that. I also enjoy being able to drive (or walk or bike) around the City and see the development taking place and know that I’ve played a role in helping make it happen. Like the new homes being built in the neighborhoods, people making home improvements, blighted buildings that are now new apartments, and our efforts to end homelessness in La Crosse.
Melissa A. Ratcliff, Village of Cottage Grove Trustee & District 36 Dane County Board Supervisor
What opportunities do you see for women in government? So many! It is important for women to be involved in government so that our values and interests can be expressed and considered. I ran for Village Trustee because there were 7 men on my village board and I did not feel my values and interests as a woman, professional, homeowner, mother, and wife were being considered. It is important to have viewpoints from all levels, incomes, genders and races so that everyone in a community can be equally and fully represented – this helps a community to grow and that is ultimately what local government should be about. Women bring different perspectives than just men at the table, which makes conversations broader and fuller and expands the ability and prospects of what local government can do and be about.
What advice would you give your younger self? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up. I’ve learned that many people may also have the same questions or concerns, but don’t say anything. It’s easier to be part of a conversation than it is to start a conversation, so asking questions during meetings helps to facilitate a discussion and allows everyone to hear the information. In addition, it allows others to feel comfortable participating and providing their input.
Theresa Stevens, District 2 Alder, City of Sun Prairie
What opportunities do I see for women in government? It’s incredibly important to have women in all sectors of government. Women tend to work more collaboratively which leads to positive and effective change that lifts up all people. We approach problems with another perspective, and look at a multitude of potential outcomes, weighing which will be most beneficial to the population. As I grow in this role of Alder, I’m excited whenever there is an opportunity to build collaborative systems with other public institutions through networking, supporting other women in government (and their ideas), and creating spaces to test ideas before proposing on a larger stage.
What advice would I give to my younger self? Believe in yourself and share your interests and perspectives...speak up! I believe a lot of girls age 10-16 go through a phase of uncertainty, friendship challenges, and wanting to belong - that is hard to navigate. Looking back, I wish I had taken more opportunities to step out of my comfort zone to share my talents and perspective. To realize you feel more empowered when you speak up could have gone a long way back then. Of course, she probably wouldn’t have listened to the sage advice!
Allyson Watson, Community & Economic Development Educator, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Brown County
What opportunities do you see for women in government? I see a society that continues to accept and expect women’s presence in government. I believe that women consider problems, and communicate solutions differently than men do, and that they bring a much needed alternate perspective to the public realm. Men and women’s roles in government should be balanced, just as they are in the society which government reflects.
Scottie Ard, Alderman District 2, The City Beautiful – City of New Richmond League Lobby Team
What advice would you give your younger self? If you’ve hit a brick wall, dismantle it and use the bricks to build the road to your goal. The challenges you face, the individuals and issues you defend will cause the world to be better and you will be stronger in character and knowledge for the experience.
Is there someone or something that made a difference in your career that others could learn from? “Never be afraid to fight for your rights and the rights of others; knowledge is the greatest power and God and your family will always have your back.” This mantra was represented by the fearless women in my family; Ellen Scott, Peg McDermott and Esther Wentz. These amazing women triumphed against employment, religious, cultural, economic and educational barriers and in so doing changed the course of life for themselves and others.
Elizabeth Doyle, City of Verona, City Council President, District 1 Alderperson
What opportunities do you see for women in government? The public sector is ripe with opportunities for women. Differing perspectives and experiences make policies and the resulting discussions more comprehensive and successful. I would encourage other women to pursue whatever governing body or department is of interest to them and utilize their skills to make a positive impact on their communities.
Teresa Anderson, P.E., leads an engineering team in the Rice Lake office of MSA Professional Services
What opportunities do you see for women in government? Being “in government” is not about being male or female, it is about working hard to do what is best for the people you represent. Throughout my career, I’ve met many strong women with various roles in government, from mayors and village presidents to municipal clerks and treatment plant operators. I’ve come to realize that women in government represent many different skill sets: executive, administrative and hands-on, but what these women have in common is a passion for serving their communities to the best of their abilities. Opportunities for women in government are plentiful, we just need to rise to the challenge.
Allison Byrne, Alderwoman for the Sixth District of the City of Wauwatosa, League Lobby Team
Like all people who seek public office, I believe my constituents will benefit by the votes I make while humbly serving in their interest. An additional motivator for me is that fact that I bring an underrepresented voice, that of citizen, mother, teacher, and care giver, to the composition of city council. This does not make me more qualified than the many attorneys on council, but it certainly does not make me less so.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Find a mentor not afraid to tell you when you are wrong. Accept you will make mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.
Constructive criticism is limited as a public official. We often hear why a constituent is displeased with a vote, or even with a project beyond our control; however constituent feedback may not take into account competing government priorities. And while we personally have the benefit of understanding the city at large, self-assessing the effectiveness of our very isolating position as an elected official is difficult. Having a trusted advisor who can share honest feedback is a tremendous asset.
Leaving a meeting where we wished we phrased something differently, or brought more of a polished voice into the room, is not unique to our profession. However, working as a public official means all your time on the job is open for civic comment. Finding a trusted mentor, ideally one who understands the complicated dynamics at play for the municipality as a whole, to offer you sincere assessment and feedback is crucial for professional growth.
KateLynn Schmitt, Deputy Treasurer/Administrative Services Coordinator, Village of Richfield, League Lobby Team
One or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. Whenever starting a new job I seek to accomplish two things. One, increase my knowledge and experiences in the profession. And two, contribute to the organization in some profound way. Finding ways to align these goals is extremely important for me to feel successful within any organization. Since working for the Village of Richfield I have helped to develop the Capital Improvement Plan and achieve the Governmental Finance Officers Association’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. Working for the Village of Richfield I have learned that nothing can be accomplished on your own. It takes a great team to develop and implement usable policies, procedures and documents that will improve the organizations effectiveness in serving the community. I consider the knowledge I have gained in Richfield to be fundamental to the foundation of my career.
Tara Krista, Professional Engineer, Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. (SEH), working as a Civil Engineer out of the Chippewa Falls office
Tell us about one or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. I am proud of all of my projects, whether a small bridge rehab project or a major intersection replacement, all projects are important to me. At SEH our moto is "Building a Better World for all of Us." I truly feel I touch each community that I work for by providing safe facilities and improving the quality of life for the traveling public. I am proud of the work that I do; because I help communities make their communities better.
Deborah Hoffmann, City Attorney/Director of HR, City of Fond du Lac
What opportunities do you see for women in government? Local government is in the midst of reorganizing. All levels of government need to reach out to each other and work together to avoid duplication of services, to make the best use of scarce resources and make sure great service is being provided to our constituents. Women are known for empathy, communication and caring for others. These skills will be of great use when blending two communities or school districts or fire departments into one to reduce costs and duplication, while respecting the traditions and standards of each.
Barbara Dickmann, Village President, Village of Saukville, League Past President, League Lobby Team Member
Tell us about one or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. Since I became Village President, our team has been able to improve Saukville's Moody's Bond Rating; construct an efficient and functional Police Department building; create a thriving retail center east of the freeway; add businesses to our very active business park; combine and share services with surrounding communities; use non-lapsing reserve funds for various department purchases; are in the process of creating a master Financial Plan for Saukville; annually review and make necessary changes to staffing to improve efficiency and service delivery.
Megan Stritchko, Municipal Advisor, MSA Professional Services, Inc., Madison office
What advice would you give your younger self? The advice I would give my younger self is that the greatest risks often produce the greatest rewards. Many of the most rewarding experiences I have had are those that were intimidating and uncertain. Every instance in which I’ve challenged myself to step outside of the box and try something new and different, whether it be a job, an idea, or an experience, has been rewarding and helped me grow both personally and professionally. While it is usually scary and intimidating at first, these challenges provide value because you always learn something. Is there someone or something that made a difference in your career that others could learn from? I have been fortunate to have had a number of women (and men) who have mentored and encouraged me throughout my career. Without those people who have taken a few extra minutes in their busy schedules to offer advice, feedback, and encouragement, it would have been very difficult for me to get to where I am today. One of the most valuable resources we can offer aspiring women in government is our time, and it is my hope that I can be as helpful to others as the mentors in my life have been to me.
Dianne S. Robertson, Village Administrator/Treasurer Village of Thiensville
Why did you choose a career in government? Forty-three years ago my father encouraged me to get involved in local government. He had been a full-time firefighter in the Milwaukee area and he knew I could be a dedicated public servant. I have never regretted the decision to enter into public service. It is truly rewarding and requires good old fashioned hard work. In order to be a successful public servant you must serve with honor, dignity and humility.
One or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. I am proud to have played a role in the Village of Thiensville becoming debt free in the year 2007. It has remained debt free to date. That distinction has been allowed to occur by careful planning and being a true watchdog of local financing by the administration and elected officials alike. I am also proud of completing all of the stormwater projects that have made the Village of Thiensville as flood proof as it can get. By completing these projects over a 17 year period of time and by favorable weather conditions the Village has not been adversely impacted by a flood since 2008. The Village will never be flood free with the Milwaukee River running along the southern border but the projects have greatly reduced private and public infrastructure damage and staff overtime responding to these floods.
April Little, City Administrator, City of Monona
Why did you choose a career in government? I stumbled by luck into taking a public administration course at UW-LaCrosse, which had a wonderfully interesting teacher – Dr. Joe Heim. He said to be in government was to have impact. That’s what I wanted – to make a difference.
What advice would you give your younger self? I wish the book “Lean In” was around when I was younger. We shoot ourselves in the foot unnecessarily just by not being confident. We are smarter and better than we think we are. Be bold and take a leap.
What opportunities do you see for women in government? We talk a lot about elected officials, but there will be a lot of job openings in public administration fields like mine too.
Tell us about one or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. Helping to rebuild Cambridge’s Main Street from dirt, and to restore Lake Belle View after that project stalled for decades. Nothing like a ribbon cutting to boost your confidence! Incidentally, I was the first administrator in both Cambridge and Belleville, and the first female administrator in Monona.
Abby Bernhagen, Engineer, MSA Professional Services, Marshfield
One or two accomplishments that you are especially proud of in your career. I am proud to have chosen to work for a company right out of college that enables me to positively impact the lives of others. Through my experiences as a new engineer at MSA Professional Services, I’ve helped communities improve their utilities’ infrastructure from start to finish, beginning with design and seeing projects through construction. I’ve also become more involved in City of Marshfield community events, participating as a volunteer at June Dairy Days and as a fundraiser “jailbird” for the Muscular Dystrophy Association “lock-up,” among other events. These opportunities have allowed me to grow personally and professionally and for that, I’m very thankful.