Locally, Gail serves on United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s Women’s Leadership Council – the largest network in the world with over 2,000 members raising more than $19 million annually. She also is on the boards of the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee Ballet.
In her professional life, Gail is a Senior Counsel at Dentons and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law School. She is also a Senior Fellow of the Governance Center of The Conference Board and presently serves as a director of Badger Meter, Inc and Sargento Foods Inc. Previously, Gail served as general counsel of three companies in three different industries. Most recently, she was EVP, General Counsel and Secretary of Harley-Davidson, Inc. and President of The Harley-Davidson Foundation.
In 2017, Gail was honored by DirectWomen with the Sandra Day O'Connor Board Excellence Award for serving with distinction as an independent director of public companies and for working to advance the value of diversity in board positions. We spoke with Gail about winning the award and her vision for the future.
What does winning the Linda T. Mellowes Women Leader of the Year Award mean to you?
Linda is a United Way rock star. Actually, she is an all-around rock star. She set the bar as a two-time chair of the citywide campaign and as the first female chairperson of the board for United Way. And she continues to raise the bar for all of us. She has been my inspiration for years; my role model. So, receiving an award in her name is a pretty incredible honor.
What drives your passion for giving back to the community through Women United?
Women United is a national force of over 75,000 women who are giving at leadership level. Imagine harnessing all that power for good in our local communities. If that is not inspiration enough, the results are what drives my passion. Together we can make change and provide greater opportunities for so many more women and girls.
What have been some highlights of your time with Women United?
Just look what we did in Milwaukee with reducing teen pregnancy. What we achieved in lowering the number of teen births was terrific. But as important was the increase in high school graduation rates for those same girls.
It is all about giving people opportunities and opening doors. So just think what happens when you have over 175 local Women United groups around the country working to provide such opportunities and open those doors in their communities. Each one has made an assessment of what will be transformative in their city or town and moved forward creatively to change their environment.
As chair of the Women United Global Leadership Council, I get to see this passion firsthand as I work with my colleagues to share best practices across the network and help grow those women affinity groups. It is heartwarming and empowering in a country that needs to hear positive stories about good people helping others.
What advice do you have for young women looking to advance their career and make a difference in their communities?
One of the goals we articulate in the strategy for the Women United Global Leadership Council is to develop our women leaders. Members of Women United all across our country are already leaders in giving, so it is important that we also give them opportunities to be leaders “in action” in their communities. That may be through volunteering time to mentor young girls on how to prepare a resume or through advocating legislative changes in our state capitals so women can accept a raise in pay without losing their government child care support.
We also focus on leadership development and increasing the number of women on United Way, nonprofit, and corporate boards. This creates a ripple effect, and we all know the power of moving water. So my advice is to get involved, for as much as you give you will receive even more in opportunities to participate and to lead.
What issue facing women and girls is top of mind for you?
We must continue our efforts to level the playing field for women in all aspects of our lives. This starts with the education of young girls in the classroom and on the athletic fields; it goes on to accessible and affordable college education; it continues to the workplace with the right to earn equal pay for equal work and with the right to be in environments free from harassment; it is complicated further with the dearth of affordable, quality childcare; and it is even more challenging in the upper echelons of our corporations and in their board rooms.
As they say, a woman’s work is never done. We have so much to do, but I am optimistic that the 75,000+ Women United members will figure it out and continue to advocate for positive change.
Learn more about Women United and watch our brand new Women United video.