Penebaker is BizTimes Woman Executive of the Year



Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:21 pm

Paula Penebaker, president and chief executive officer of YWCA Southeast Wisconsin, is the recipient of the 2016 BizTimes Woman Executive of the Year Award.

She will be presented with the award at the Women in Business breakfast at BizExpo on Wednesday, May 18, at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.


“It feels great,” Penebaker said of receiving the award. “I was just very surprised. I had no idea.”

Penebaker started her career with the YWCA in 1999 as the organization’s chief human resources and facilities officer and quickly rose through the ranks. She was appointed executive director in 2005 and later, president and CEO of the agency. She has also served on the YWCA USA board of directors.

“The fact that I was able to stay with the organization through a really difficult time financially and work closely with a really good, dedicated group of staff that were eager to see the organization rebound, and with a board that was dedicated to the turnaround and the organization, is something I feel really good about,” Penebaker said of her 17 years with the YWCA. “The fact that we were able to be successful in the last 10 years with that background makes me feel really good about my time with the agency.”

Before coming to the YWCA, Penebaker worked for 13 years in the Management Systems Division at Procter & Gamble Co. in Cincinnati.

She moved to Milwaukee in 1991 and began working at First Wisconsin Bank as a member of the human resources department’s training and development staff in 1992. By the time she left the company, she had been promoted to vice president and diversity manager.

Penebaker is a member of the Milwaukee Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., the Milwaukee Chapter of The Links Inc. and the Rotary Club of Milwaukee. She serves on the board of directors of Professional Dimensions and as a trustee for the Public Policy Forum and the Milwaukee County Federated Library System.

Penebaker said her leadership philosophy is built around honesty.

“I just believe in being honest and forthright in dealing with people and in my interactions,” she said. “And from being led by others, I can see that it helps when people feel that you have confidence in what you’re trying to do, but yet, the humility to ask for direction when you may not.”

Previous recipients of the BizTimes Woman Executive of the Year Award have included: Dr. Eve Hall, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin; Nanette Gardetto, founder of Baptista’s Bakery Inc.; Maria Monreal-Cameron, former president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Wisconsin; Gail Lione, a former Harley-Davidson Inc. executive; and Cynthia LaConte, president and CEO of Dohmen.

In response to Penebaker receiving the award, LaConte praised the choice.

“In a city facing systemic issues with racism, poverty and segregation, there is a quiet force doing something about it – Paula Penebaker,” LaConte said. “Paula has dedicated the last 17 years to advancing the YWCA’s mission of ‘eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all’ … Paula may fly under the radar to some, but I have not met a more inspirational and influential member of this community.” 

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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