Mount Mary promotes executive development through Women’s Leadership Institute

Mount Mary University, formerly known as Mount Mary College, is in the midst of expanding workforce development programming for the region’s community of businesswomen through its reimagined Women’s Leadership Institute.

As the Milwaukee-based school, which officially became a university in July, rounds the corner of its centennial anniversary, it will amplify its community outreach efforts from holding events throughout the year to hosting professional development workshops and programs for women in the workplace looking to strengthen their creative leadership skills.

“For 100 years, Mount Mary has been living out the mission it was founded on – to educate women to transform the world,” said Dr. Eileen Schwalbach, president of the Catholic university for women. “Instilling leadership skills is a vital part of that educational experience for our students, but we also see a need for women already out in the community to develop and use their leadership skills for transformation.”

To steer the new direction of the Women’s Leadership Institute and begin sketching out the structure of the programming, Mount Mary appointed Beth Wnuk executive director in July 2012.


With experience serving as regional president of PNC in southeastern Wisconsin, participation on the board of directors of Ixonia Bank, and community involvement with organizations like the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Wnuk is using her business expertise and connections to rethink the institute’s delivery of creative leadership.

She has also collaborated with faculty members and other university leaders to seek out feedback from the business community and Mount Mary board members in terms of skills they desire in employees. The conversations have resulted in five leadership competencies that form the leadership philosophy behind the institute. Competencies include agility, experimentation and exploration, imagination, open-mindedness, and management of complexity.

“The competencies are what we believe it takes to be a creative leader,” Wnuk said.

While the mission and new program structure within the Women’s Leadership Institute is still in the early design stage, Wnuk said the university plans to develop workshops and programs that support the professional development of women, no matter what stage of their career they’re traversing or what generation they belong to.

Mount Mary’s view of leadership is less positional and more about initiatives women are taking and impact they’re making, according to Wnuk.

The “Voices of Leadership” speaker series and forum is one componenet of the reimagined Women’s Leadership Institute.

“Wisconsin women continue to make a significant impact in the workplace,” Wnuk said. “At the entrepreneurial level, the state has seen a 36 percent increase in women-owned businesses over the last 16 years, and these businesses contribute $23 billion annually to the economy. Business leaders have told us there’s a need for this same kind of ‘intrapreneurial’ energy within their organizations. We believe women leaders can deliver on this. Wherever women serve in leadership positions, they have opportunities to develop and use creative leadership.”

As the leadership institute has been evolving internally and continued to branch out into the community for the past 15 years, its focus areas have centered on inspiration, education and support.

To inspire, the institute launched a “Voices of Leadership” Speakers Series and Forum earlier this year. The series brings nationally-recognized female leaders to Milwaukee to share their stories with women leaders in the area. Through this program, Mount Mary has welcomed Jessica Jackley, co-founder of along with Nina Vaca, founder and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Technical Resources Inc. and Cheryl Perkins, founder and chief executive officer of Innovationedge.

Support and sponsorship for “Voices of Leadership” has come from business entities like Ixonia Bank and business leaders like Dan Westrope, president and chief executive officer of the bank.

Westrope characterizes the leadership institute and its new direction as “unique.”

“I don’t think there is any program like this around, and it all goes back to trying to tap an underused resource that’s just vast,” Westrope said. “Just think of all of the leadership and ideas that we’re missing out on in southeastern Wisconsin because there’s not an effective use of women in leadership positions – in the business world anyway.”

To expand on its focus area of education, the leadership institute has built up the “New Leadership Wisconsin” program, an annual summer seminar that gathers up to 25 college students from a variety of disciplines and colleges for discussions about leadership with professionals.

Additional internal education efforts have brought Milwaukee-area leaders from companies such as Brady Corp. and agencies such as the FBI to classrooms on campus to familiarize students with subjects such as business analysis, nonprofits and law.

In terms of support, the leadership institute collects articles, research and thought leadership resources from Mount Mary’s faculty on women’s issues. These resources are made available to the community so that women can better understand the ways women leaders are contributing to the state, region and world.

Moving forward, the institute’s five leadership competencies will be woven into these three focus areas – inspiration, education and support – through speaker series, workshops and faculty resources that place creativity at the focal point.

Mount Mary will also make a conscious effort to fit the Women’s Leadership Institute into its implementation of the “Creative Campus,” a larger-scale movement to infuse creativity throughout the entire university. The “Creative Campus” mindset, which has been in development for the past year and a half, exists with the same five leadership competencies as the Women’s Leadership Institute to better prepare students for the demands of employers.

The Women’s Leadership Institute will act as a bridge and become the gateway to engage the community in the conversation behind the Creative Campus, Wnuk said.

“We’re giving women the tools and the education to go with confidence to make (an) impact so that they own their voice, they can own their own power and take initiative to create change,” Wnuk said.

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