New group seeks to bring women in public finance together

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Dana Lach knew the national Women in Public Finance organization had helped her throughout her career.

“It really helped me personally build stronger relationships with the other women in public finance,” said Lach, an attorney at Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee, noting she learned a lot from WPF’s events and seminars. “It created a sense of community.”

Founded in 1997, Women in Public Finance is a national professional networking organization aimed at advancing women’s leadership opportunities in the public finance sector.

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However, Lach realized that many public finance professionals in Wisconsin did not have access to the resources she received from WPF.

“(We) thought it was time to bring the national organization here locally so that women have a closer access point,” said Tatiana Graver, manager of finance at the Wisconsin Health & Educational Facilities Authority.

Lach and Graver worked together to start a Wisconsin chapter, the 20th for the organization nationwide. The state group officially launched Aug. 6. Graver now serves as the president of the chapter and Lach is secretary and vice president for education.

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To get the chapter off the ground, the duo worked the phones, went on road trips and mined their contacts to find sponsors and members. Graver said they had to go and talk to people in person to share their excitement for the Wisconsin chapter.

Those efforts paid off. Sponsors at the launch event included Baird, Clifton Larson Allen, Foley & Lardner LLP, Kaufman Hall, PNC, Quarles & Brady and Stifel.

“We had just pretty much every investment bank you can think of in Wisconsin to support WPF, which is exciting beyond words,” Lach said.

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The kickoff event also included a panel discussion featuring Sherry Gerondale, chief financial officer of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA); Cathy Jacobson, president and chief executive officer of Froedtert Health; Laura Lenhart, vice president of finance and administration of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts; and Milwaukee Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd.

“Our overall goal is advancing and supporting the careers of women in public finance and we’re going to have relationship-building activities and educational activities and forums,” Lach said.

The national Women in Public Finance organization originally focused on the Midwest, but it grew over time and began spawning regional chapters and affiliates. The idea was professionals in a particular state could have more regular contact with each other and hold events that complement the national organization’s activities.

The Wisconsin chapter plans to hold similar events and programing to what the national organization does, including professional relationship-building, educational outreach, mentoring and offering scholarships. A point of emphasis for the chapter is bringing opportunities to professionals who might not have a chance to attend otherwise.

“There may be public finance professionals in northern Wisconsin who would never think or have the opportunity to attend a national conference put on by the Women in Public Finance,” Lach said. “But if we were able to put something on locally, we would be providing a much closer to home access point.”

She added the chapter is also focused on being “all-inclusive” and “all-encompassing” by not requiring membership fees to join and welcoming both men and women. The goal is to reach every municipality and county in the state.

“There’s a growing spotlight on diversity and inclusion and we thought of that as an opportunity to point that spotlight at the state of Wisconsin,” Lach said.

With the Wisconsin chapter’s official launch complete, Lach and Graver are looking ahead. They would like to hold a similar event to the launch in Madison while also developing webinars on ever-evolving areas such as tax and security law, Lach said.

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