Paula Penebaker to retire as YWCA Southeast Wisconsin president and CEO

Has led the organization since 2005

Paula Penebaker, president and chief executive officer of YWCA Southeast Wisconsin, will retire this year after 20 years with the organization.

The organization said it has launched a national search for Penebaker’s successor.

Penebaker joined YWCA Greater Milwaukee in 1999 as chief human resources and facilities officer. She was named executive director in May 2005 and, shortly after, president and CEO.

She will stay on with YWCA until the appointment of the new president and CEO and serve as an executive advisor during the immediate transition.

“I am humbled to have had the opportunity to devote two decades of my career to this extraordinary mission and am confident my successor will enjoy working with a talented leadership team and actively engaged board of directors,” Penebaker said.

During Penebaker’s tenure, the organization extended its service area beyond metro Milwaukee, into the broader southeastern Wisconsin region. The organization serves about 12,000 people annually.

She also oversaw growth in YWCA’s adult education services, including the HSED program, and expanded the organization’s reinvented racial justice programming, including the Unlearning Racism: Tools for Action course.

“When Paula approached the board of directors about her retirement, we committed to in-depth succession planning,” said Lois Smith, board chair of YWCA SEW. “We are well aware that YWCA SEW’s future service to the region is possible because of Paula’s distinctive service. She has established YWCA SEW as one of the premier YWCAs in the nation and has firmly established the organization as a key regional leader focused on racial justice and access to economic opportunity for women with limited resources.”

Prior to her work at YWCA, Penebaker worked for The Procter & Gamble Company in Cincinnati. While there, she worked for 13 years in the Management Systems Division.

Penebaker moved to Milwaukee in 1991. She began her career in Milwaukee at First Wisconsin Bank as a member of the human resources department’s training and development staff in 1992 and later became vice president and diversity manager.

She served as board president for YWCA USA from 2013 to 2016. In her retirement, she will continue to serve on the boards of Rotary Club of Milwaukee and Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., and as a trustee of the Public Policy Forum and Milwaukee County Federated Library System.

Penebaker was recognized as the BizTimes Woman Executive of the Year Award in 2016.

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