Women in Business panelists share insights

A panel of accomplished executives will be featured in the BizTimes Women in Business Conference to be held on the morning of Thursday, May 17, at the BizExpo at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino.

BizTimes submitted questions to the panelists in advance of the program. The following are their responses.

To register to attend the Women in Business Conference, visit www.biztimes.com/women.

Kathi Siefert

Former executive vice president of Kimberly Clark Corp

Seifert retired as executive vice president for Kimberly-Clark Corp. after 26 years with the company. She is a member of the board of directors of Supervalu, Eli Lilly and Company, Revlon Consumer Products Corp., Appleton Papers, Lexmark Inc. the National Board of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

What were some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve had to face in your career path?

“Early on and throughout my career, I have needed to work in a male dominated environment with few, if any female role models/mentors. It took longer for me to figure out how to build on my strengths and build self-confidence.”

How do you balance life with work and how important is that to your success?

“You need to prioritize what is most important. You also need to surround yourself with resources that can help you balance life.”

Kimberley Crews Goode

Vice president of communication and corporate affairs at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc.

Goode joined Northwestern Mutual in March 2008. She has more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications with several global companies in diverse industries. She has spent the majority of her career in the financial services industry, where she held various leadership positions at Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, N.J., American Express in New York and Allstate Insurance Co. in Northbrook, Ill.

Who is your mentor/role model? What role did they play in your career success?

“I was lucky early in my career to be exposed to an African-American female executive in corporate America. Seeing her in action helped me envision how I could one day be a successful African-American female executive. She helped my career by instilling in me a strong work ethic focused on earning your way. She did not knock down doors for me or remove obstacles; she gave me insight into the skills she developed as she overcame obstacles in her journey and I soaked up all I could from her so I could apply the learnings in my own career.”

Julie Ledger

Vice president and general manager of Opus Development Corp.

Ledger has been with Opus Development Corp. for 16 years. She started there as part of Marquette University’s engineering co-op program. She’s moved up in the company and is now charged with managing the Milwaukee office of the Minnesota-based company.

What role should women play in mentoring other young girls?

“I think it’s important that women help young girls be aware of the opportunities they have, to expose them to professions and paths they may not be exposed to otherwise and to help instill the confidence that they can follow any dream they have.”

How do you balance life with work and how important is that to your success?

“The key to balance for me is flexibility and an amazing husband, and not in that order! There is a blurred line between ‘work time’ and ‘family time.’ Some days they are distinct with working time from 8-5 and family time at night. But some days it means leaving work in the middle of the day to watch a concert at my kid’s school and that may mean I have to work at home after my kids go to bed. No day is the same. And our flexibility and recognition that each day can have a different priority allows us to enjoy the great parts of raising a family but also have successful professional lives. My husband and I spend a lot of time and effort coordinating schedules since each day literally is different. We make it work because we both give 100 percent to our family, we wholeheartedly support each other’s careers and we have no pre-conceived notion as to “whose job is whose.” If it needs to get done, one of us just gets it done!”

Marie O’Brien

President and chief executive officer of EnterForce Inc.

Enterforce Inc. is a workforce management consulting and solutions provider that services a number of Fortune 1000 clients enterprise-wide including their operations throughout the U.S. O’Brien has 30 years of experience and expertise in the staffing and contingent workforce management industry.

What were some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve had to face in your career path?

“Being a woman – early on in my career I was told by two employers and one partner that I’m not promotable or partner material because I’m a woman. Some things I heard were ‘Too emotional,’ ‘I would never place a woman in a business development role,’ ‘

Women should be in supportive roles,’ and ‘It’s unfortunate but the world is not ready for women leaders.'”

Can you name a few strengths that in general women in leadership bring to a work place?

“Women have impressive leadership skills that have been touted slightly higher than their male counterparts as measured by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in their recent study and article in the Harvard Business Review. Some of the significant strengths that we see and we identify and agree with Zenger and Folkman were; taking initiative, practicing self-development, champion change, displays high integrity and honesty, driving for results, and develops and motivates others.”

What about weaknesses? How do women overcome them?

“Women get in each other’s way. We need to join forces in business and drive initiatives through sheer numbers – bringing all the ‘women organizations’ together.”

Marti Wronski

Vice president and general counsel for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School, Wronski joined Foley & Lardner LLP as an associate in the litigation department. She spent five years at Foley before joining Marquette University Law School as an assistant professor in 2002.

She joined the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club in 2003. She is now in her ninth season with the Brewers, her sixth as vice president & general counsel.

What were some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve had to face in your career path?

“This is a tricky topic for topic for me to talk about. In my career I haven’t really been faced with challenges simply because I’m a woman. I don’t doubt that there has been some eye-rolling or some laughing behind my back, but for me that’s part of winning credibility. At some point in everyone’s business career we all have to prove ourselves, we all have to win over skeptics and we all have to gain and earn credibility in our professions. The key for women is finding the balance between being aware and being hyper-aware that you are a female in business. Sometimes it’s dangerous to spend too much time focusing on how you’re being affected because you are a woman. It can force us to lose focus. Not to say there aren’t workplaces or environments where things aren’t right. That just hasn’t been my experience.”

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