Editor’s Note: We celebrate International Women’s Day by highlighting women leaders who’ve changed our world. Join us and share your #PressforProgress story on social media, from bosses who offered a leg up to mothers who broke boundaries. Women United members gathered at International Institute in St. Paul on Thursday to explore how we’re empowering women in the Twin Cities.
Advancing Women Locally, Every Day
By Shelly Schwane, Women United Leadership Committee Member
I have had the distinct privilege of being surrounded by strong, driven women my entire life.
My family is dominated by females. I attended a college dominated by females. My first job after graduation was with a nonprofit that had five employees—all women.
Our entire team at that first job was collaborative and supportive, but it was one woman in particular, our Executive Director, Pat Davenport, who gave my career a singular boost. She gave me my first professional leadership opportunities, and my first chances to build skills, confidence, and self-awareness.
Fresh out of academia and new to a 9-to-5 professional life, this leader sensed potential in me before I saw it myself. She encouraged me to hold my own in rooms where I was often the youngest—or the only female. She taught me that failure is okay and how to have candid discussions that lead to growth.
From her I gained a sense of independence, an ability to trust my smarts, and a willingness to try new approaches and create different solutions (even when they fail).
These skills have led me where I am today: a professional able to earn the trust and respect necessary to lead an agenda with credibility and authenticity.
Empowering moments like these are dignities all women should be afforded in the workplace.
When these moments come from other women, we can truly do our best work. This is why I choose to contribute my time and earnings to GTCUW’s Women United, a group of committed, professional women supporting women right here in the Twin Cities. Since 2005, we’ve invested over $6 million dollars—all donated by champions in the Twin Cities—to create job opportunities and financial stability for our neighbors.
Recently, this dedicated group awarded Innovation Grants to support new and expanding programs in the 9-county metro region. Our agency partners are creating first-of-their-kind job training programs, advancing women in nontraditional careers, and supporting families by creating pathways out of poverty for thousands here in our hometown.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, I will be appreciating Pat’s part in developing my career, and I’ll focus on how I can extend the same act of kindness and support to women in our community.
I’ll do it for the woman who may not yet believe in herself. For the woman who thinks her contributions are worth less than a man’s simply because she doesn’t earn his salary. For the woman who is struggling to afford child care. For the woman who flees an abusive household and misses an important job interview.
The list of barriers to economic stability for women is long, but the tenacity and impact of women supporting women is strong. I hope you’ll join me, and Pat, March 8 by celebrating the women in your life and passing along the power of Women United.
- Contribute to Women United.
- Follow GTCUW on Facebook and Twitter to participate in our International Women’s Day conversation.
- Meet one of our Innovation Grant recipients: Catherine left her home in West Africa to pursue her American dream of becoming a teacher. Read Catherine’s story.
- Learn more about United Way’s Jobs for All initiative.
Shelly Schwane is a manager in Wipfli LLP’s nonprofit and government practice where she helps clients infuse viability into their missions and thrive as community leaders through her blended background in data analytics, program management, and operational planning.
Shelly is a longtime supporter of Women United, joining Greater Twin Cities United Way in 2016 as a committee leader after supporting United Way of Dane County in Madison, WI earlier in her career. When she’s not creating change in her community, she also presents at conferences on a variety of human resources, leadership, and organizational development topics.