For Wisconsin Women in Government, encouraging girls and women alike to be leaders in whatever they do takes center stage.

The 30-year-old organization traces its humble beginnings to the pier at Madison’s Edgewater Hotel. Wisconsin Women in Government President Karalyn Kratowicz said a small group of women met there to talk about how to “give back” to women interested in government careers.

“[They wanted to] create a place for these women to connect and network,” Kratowicz said. “That’s how this organization began.”

Kratowicz said the group offers scholarships to encourage girls to be leaders and take charge in the state government. It also holds leadership training programs every 18 months for women already pursuing careers in government. This is in partnership with University of Wisconsin’s La Follette School of Public Affairs, she said.

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Many of the organization’s scholarships target female students studying at UW System schools and Wisconsin’s technical and independent colleges, Kratowicz said. One is the Badger Girls State scholarship, which is awarded to cultivate an interest in government for students as long as they attend a Wisconsin school. Another program the group offers is the Bonnie Reese Legislative Internship, which is for women who want to work at legislative service agencies, she said.

Kratowicz said Wisconsin Women in Government has strong ties with its local community and always tries to redirect funding efforts to scholarships. It also uses funding to run professional development events and open new branches around the state. She said a new committee in Wisconsin’s southeast region is working on helping women in that region, and the organization is working to establish more committees like it.

Women often face disparities in not only government leadership positions but also in similar positions in other fields. Kratowicz said more people, including members of Wisconsin Women in Government, are making concerted efforts to help women gain the right skills and mindset to succeed as leaders. While there could be more efforts like this across the state, she said women are pursuing leadership roles more frequently overall.

“There is genuine interest in having women represented at all levels in Wisconsin, and this is something that shouldn’t be overlooked,” Kratowicz said. “I can’t speak for what men think of women advancing, but it’s happening, even if it’s not happening as quickly as it could be.”

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Unlike many organizations of its type, Kratowicz said Wisconsin Women in Government is bipartisan. With the current, relatively politically divided climate, she said it is imperative people on both sides have “deliberate dialogue” and support women in government.

Kratowicz said she and Wisconsin Women in Government encourage female students to consider leadership as an option even before they start their professional careers. She said they should work toward gaining experience and know that nothing can stop them from achieving what they want to, inside or outside government.

“I think any young student who’s planning their career should think about leadership as an option,” Kratowicz said. “The earlier women start thinking about becoming leaders, the more prepared they’d be when the opportunity to apply for a job comes along and they’d have mentally thought about what it means for them to hold that position.”

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