Associated Bank increases female leadership 10 percent in three years

In 2011, 17 percent of the leadership roles at Associated Bank were filled by women. By 2014, that figure had grown to 27 percent, thanks in large part to the founding of the Associated Women’s Network.

The AWN was founded in 2011 with the goal of achieving 30 percent female leadership representation at senior vice president or higher, and it is already approaching that goal. The intra-company group offers professional development events with female board members, lunch and learn opportunities, and coaching for women interested in joining boards.

Last week, the AWN held its annual signature event in Milwaukee, at which about 100 members of the network from across the Green Bay-based bank’s footprint met each other and networked over lunch.

Donna Smith, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the AWN and the executive director since its beginning, was honored as she prepares to retire from her role as executive vice president and head of commercial banking on June 1. The group now has about 200 members.

“(Smith) actually started by being a good leader and developer of people…who just so happens to be a woman,” said Ruth Crowley, a member of Associated Bank’s board of directors and its first female director.

Crowley took the opportunity to reflect on how far the organization has come in gaining more female representation in a primarily male-dominated field.

“I’m really proud of the women in this room,” she said. “We know and we understand that not only are you, excuse the expression, ‘just’ women, you’re leaders, moms, sisters, supporters, drivers of the business organization. You’re special.”

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was the keynote speaker at the signature event. She discussed her role as a woman in business, a mother and a politician.

When Kleefisch was a television anchor, she asked to go part-time to care for her young daughter and her managers weren’t willing to accommodate her request, so she quit.

“I left a $20,000 raise sitting on the anchor desk,” Kleefisch said.
That media company now allows female news anchors to go part-time. Kleefisch said she hopes her conversation with the C-suite helped put a few cracks in the glass ceiling.

Kleefisch also described her journey from a stay-at-home mom to a lieutenant governor, all while battling colon cancer.

“In the case of politics in general, we often hear that it’s an old man’s job or a young man’s job, but not a woman’s job,” particularly not one with two young kids, she said.

Women should feel empowered to make the choices that are best for them and their families. And the Kleefisch family manages to balance raising children with both parents working full-time in politics.

“You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once,” she said.

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