Women of Industry 2018: Servant leadership on display

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Register for the 2018 Women of Industry award program here.

With an impressive number of candidates to choose from, it’s no small feat to be selected as a Women of Industry winner. That’s especially true when those selected have demonstrated the kind of servant leadership, both to their organizations and their communities, as the 2018 winners.

When we launched this awards program four years ago, we did it to honor executive women who’ve made significant impacts in their respective industries, whether that industry is in the private sector or the nonprofit sector.

In this year’s program, we honor women who have excelled in senior social services, biotechnology, Boys and Girls Club and children’s museum programming, and information technology. One of them even doubles as a clown, and proudly so.

They join a list of prominent, accomplished people from our past Women of Industry programs. As you read the stories of this year’s selections, you’ll understand why they are so highly regarded by our Women of Industry judges.

On a recent rainy day, they took part in a photo shoot on the “floating” steps in the atrium area of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. It might have been pouring outside, but their examples shine a light on the many contributions women have made to Madison and Wisconsin business and nonprofits.

Legacy Winner

Christine Beatty

Redefining senior living

Photographs by Shawn Harper  

Christine Beatty was surprised to learn of her Woman of Industry honor. Her sneaky staff definitely has something to do with it, but they told a story that needed to be told about how Beatty, senior center and senior services director for the Madison Senior Center, has impacted senior social services here and elsewhere.

For her nearly 40 years of helping elderly Americans live more fulfilling lives, Beatty was selected as the legacy winner in this year’s Women of Industry awards program, joining past winners such as branding pioneer Marsha Lindsay and financial services trailblazer Betty Harris Custer.

The mission statement of the Madison Senior Center really captures her legacy of involving older adults as leaders, teachers, and learners, and providing balanced, diverse programs that act as an ideal model for aging. Thanks to Beatty, it’s a national model that has its roots in Madison.

“That’s actually in the mission statement of the Madison Senior Center, and it very well articulates what senior centers around the country are trying to do in terms of supporting older adults in the latter years of life,” Beatty notes. “Before we get to the fragile era in anyone’s life, we want older adults to be engaged in our community and active, and indeed they are.”

Of all the groundbreaking initiatives she’s had a hand in — changing mindsets, getting seniors more involved in the community, and improving services for LGBT seniors — Beatty is most proud of national senior center accreditation. Like the seniors they serve, senior centers have gone about the task of re-inventing themselves, but when Beatty set out in this professional direction 40 years ago, the perception of older adults and their quality of life was much different. Before she could change minds in the general public, she had to convince the elderly themselves that they had more to offer.

Despite a host of elderly stereotypes that seniors themselves once bought into, it’s now rare to see a retired person who is idling away, glued to a rocking chair. “If you ask them about what they intend to do in retirement, it’s very clear that they have certain roles and that they have a plan to contribute to their community as a volunteer or with their faith group,” Beatty says. “I love to see that.”

Beatty also loves the fact that nonprofit organizations receive due consideration in the Women of Industry awards program. She’s also appreciative of winning the legacy award, given the impressive number of Greater Madison women who have excelled in leadership positions. “I was so pleased that In Business magazine considers nonprofits and people in the social services field to be a part of the industry, so the idea that I could be chosen in this capacity was a surprise but also quite an honor because I know that here in Madison, we have so many remarkable leaders who are women. I’m delighted.”



Deborah Gilpin

Arresting arrested development

Deborah Gilpin’s career has been based on a simple premise: that too many parents of children under three years of age are missing opportunities for critical brain development in their children.

Gilpin, president and CEO of Madison Children’s Museum, is being honored with a Women of Industry award because her outreach gives economically disadvantaged parents of very young children enriching learning opportunities. Unfortunately, some parents don’t realize the vital connection between those learning activities, many of them involving physical activity, and future cognitive performance.

Gilpin knows that research into early childhood development demonstrates that very young children learn through their bodies, and later on it converts to brain strength that allows them to think clearly and in context. She wants parents to know that, too, and understand that in an age where computing machines are driving too much inactivity, the children’s museum offers the very kind programming to arrest any arrested development.

“Some of the data shows that 90 percent of a child’s brain is wired up — meaning the neuro networks are laid — during the first three years,” she explains. “Anything we can do to enrich their experience during that time period is connecting all the parts of the brain, across the two sides.

“Later on, we prune these down, so it’s really important to initially put that in while the child is in such a fast-growing period. The variety of activities and things we expose them to in that time frame is really critical, and what it provides is the context for later on to help with judgment and decisions and critical-thinking skills.”

To prevent these missed opportunities for intellectual development, Gilpin and her staff have designed a first-time parent program that is getting better-than-expected results — 2,000 participating families in less than a year — and based on feedback received from the outside, it has a real opportunity to become a state or national model. Not only are young children benefitting from the enriched learning environment of a children’s museum, parents are connecting to a network of resources and support.

For 30 years in her work in museums, Gilpin has heard people saying: “I’ll take my baby to the children’s museum when she’s 3 years old because there’s probably nothing in there for them yet.” This not only means that young children were not benefitting from the enriched learning environment of a children’s museum, but also that parents are not connecting to a network of resources and support.

“Basically, I said to my staff, ‘Let’s find a way to crack this.’”

Crack it they did. There are roughly 6,000 babies born in Madison every year and the museum staff logically felt that a fair proportion of those are first-borns. The program they designed gets the ball rolling at 18 months because by that time, children are typically walking.

In the past, some of Gilpin’s ideas have met with resistance, so the Women of Industry award offers some validation. “I’ve been in our industry for a very long time,” she notes. “It means a lot to me to have it looked at as a whole body of work. Some things were specific to the way I lead, as a woman, and it’s nice to be recognized for things I had to prove to other people.”

Teri Bruns

Rare IT role model

Looking back, Teri Bruns laughs about the kind of computing machines that were dominant 35 years ago, when she began her information technology career. At that point, she was a computer operator while in school to learn how to be a programmer, Apple Computers was still in its formative stages, and the internet still was being developed by the military and in American universities. Like everyone else, inside and outside of IT, she had no idea what would happen once the World Wide Web was introduced into the private sector.

“It’s funny because I think about when I was a third-shift operator, there were these two huge physical boxes [mainframes] that made loud noises in this glass room, and they had less computing power and less storage than what I have on an Apple Watch today,” notes Bruns, now vice president of global partner solutions for VMware.

No longer is the IT department buried down in the basement in a cordoned off area of most companies, at least those where the CEO and the CIO are smartly joined at the hip. In those days, Bruns would attend a party or a picnic and tell people what she did for a living, and they would declare they don’t understand computers and walk away. In 1983, who could have envisioned the way computing technology would evolve? “I continue to be amazed day after day,” she remarks, whether it’s the relentless advances in computing speed or the 3-D printing of a heart valve.

Her career has taken her all over the world, but it’s been centered in Madison at companies like National Guardian Life, Core BTS, and now VMware, a virtualization software company that is a subsidiary of Dell Technologies. Today, she leads a team of solution architects that is well versed in all aspects of technology, especially for the Fortune 500. Asked about her own accomplishments, she changes the subject to a highlight reel of accomplishments by people she’s worked with, mentored, and led. Not only have former team members forged successful careers in the IT industry, they have led their own teams across very large IT firms and moved on to become entrepreneurs and run successful startups.

“What truly makes me smile is the women IT leaders I have helped to shape along my 35 year journey,” she states. “They are role models on their own and, blazing their own trails, and truly a force to bring change in a traditionally male-centric industry.”

The disappointing part, however, is there still isn’t enough of them. In 2014, women held 26 percent of computing occupations, and despite the growing number of programs focused on STEM education for young girls, this number has only increased 2 percent in the last six years. Meantime, women ages 25-34 are reporting greater dissatisfaction with their tech career prospects, citing a lack of inspiring role models, and 56% of them leave the industry at “mid-point” in their careers.

Bruns believes that until more diversity is achieved, professional women must leave their comfort zones and be willing to forge careers in male-dominated industries. As for being a Women of Industry winner, it’s humbling to her. “I’m deeply touched and also proud. I’m kind of humbled by the amazing women who received the award, with Christine and Karen and Deb and Lisa. I looked at the [IB] website and saw the winners from past years, and it’s an impressive crowd to be a part of.”



Karen DeSanto

Rural champion

Karen DeSanto loves her side hustle as a professional clown, but there has been no clowning around when it comes to improving the lives and the prospects of young people who live in rural areas.

DeSanto, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Wisconsin, is cited as a case study in how to run clubs in rural communities, so much so that the national organization of Boys & Girls Clubs uses her strategies and development structure to teach other clubs in the Midwest region how to be successful, youth-serving organizations. “In our industry, rural clubs can be overlooked,” she explains. “When I say overlooked, I mean not as much attention is given because they are not in a big city area.”

To be on the forefront of an emerging part of an industry is one thing, but to be recognized by the national organization for making an impact in rural communities is a kick. The West Central Wisconsin club has presented its innovative programming before the Midwest consortium of clubs, including healthy lifestyles and arts programming. The former incorporates boxing and the latter features a high school competitive show choir that is supported by but not directly attached to local high schools.

Both enable youngsters to build skills and confidence while functioning as part of a team. “I know of other clubs in the country that have taken on that model to include that as part of their regular curriculum,” DeSanto notes.

Intellectual development also rates considerable attention. Concerned with increased dropout rates in schools, the West Central Wisconsin club established a Strategic Academic Success Initiative, or SASI, that has produced a 100 percent graduation rate among club members. “It’s a combination of everything we do at the club,” she explains. “It’s not only academic; it’s also social behavior. It’s healthy thoughts, so mental wellness, as well as physical activity and a focus on good character and leadership, so being a good community servant. To us, that’s the model.”

In DeSanto’s view, the club has created a way, especially for teenagers, to not only be socially accepted but also support one another. The thinking is that the academics will come when young people feel good about themselves, start to connect with adult mentors, choose a career direction, and investigate colleges and universities. The goal is to create a consistently supportive culture that enables kids to graduate on time with their class, with some career development or college opportunity involved. “We’re just that supportive entity that may or may not be in their home or otherwise be available to them,” she explains. “Not every kid has the parents that kind of push them along, so the club can often serve as that person in their lives.”

The former circus performer still likes to entertain as a clown at hospitals and before groups and clubs. DeSanto finds “clowning” a joyful thing to do because when you perform for someone, it feeds the performer as well as the audience. “It’s very gratifying and very humbling to be recognized for something I would normally do without any bells and whistles. I am very honored to be in a capacity where you can make such a difference, and to be affiliated with these other women who have been making amazing strides in their industries is really quite honorable.”

Lisa Johnson

New energy for biohealth

In her chief executive role at BioForward Wisconsin, Lisa Johnson has an appreciation for what biohealth businesses confront on a daily basis. She’s been there herself.

Johnson’s experience in the industry with Novagen, Semba Biosciences, and Merck KGaA, a German-based multinational health technology company, gives her a unique perspective, especially now that she leads an organization representing many of the same businesses. She is credited with bringing new energy to biohealth industry members and ensuring their voices are heard on both a local and state level.

Whether it’s attracting and retaining talent or marketing or other business functions, she’s tried to translate that private-sector experience into supporting this life-giving industry. “I’ve worked to build companies, and I’ve worked globally,” says Johnson. “I have an appreciation for what businesspeople go through.”

Johnson is especially in tune with what women in biohealth go through, which is why BioForward, under her direction, has launched Women in Biohealth-Madison. Simply put, she knows what it’s like to feel somewhat isolated in the executive suite, and as the industry works to diversify its executive suite and its overall workforce, it’s important to provide support. Another benefit could be a reduction in the pay gap between men and women in general because jobs in the so-called STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math are among the highest-paying in the economy and they are dominated by men. The more we can do to diversity them, the smaller the pay gap is likely to become.

In this endeavor, Johnson teamed with people at UW–Madison and women-led companies such as Stratatech. The organization has grown to more than 300 active women and features professional development workshops, networking opportunities, and a coaching circle program that allows women in the industry to seek and offer advice, build connections, and grow in their careers. All the stakeholders “recognized that we need to support women, especially women in leadership positions,” Johnson says. “That was important to me. It was about paying it back. We don’t have enough women in leadership roles, and we need more diversity in our workforce.”

Johnson continues to grow BioForward by taking full advantage of business development and legislator and university engagement opportunities. Leveraging a career full of national and international connections, she works to tell the industry’s story locally, regionally, and globally, and she works closely with industry partners to build connections that enhance local innovation. With workforce development in mind, she’s also collaborating with industry leaders to develop a national marketing campaign to attract biohealth talent to Wisconsin in order to sustain the industry’s growth.

Another part of Johnson’s mission at BioForward is legislative advocacy. In recent years, that has meant protecting university research and educating the public about its importance.

For Johnson, the importance of winning a Women of Industry award means being in very impressive company. “It’s certainly an honor to be recognized. I know of so many amazing women who I admire myself.”

The 2018 Women of Industry awards is supported by:


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