APPLETON (NBC 26) — Once a year, Northeast Wisconsin’s female business leaders gather to share their stories in hopes of inspiring others. The annual Women You Should Know Luncheon is put on by the Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce in celebration of National Business Women's Week. Each year the event is led by a panel of local women from diverse professional backgrounds.
This year's panelists were:
- Pam Seidl, the executive director of the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Polly Olson, the assistant chief of police at the Appleton Police Department
- Bridget O'Connor, the president and owner of O'Connor Connective
- Joey Reader, the president and owner of A-mazing Events
"This year we really looked into our Heart of the Valley Chamber membership, our businesses that are a part of our community," said chamber executive director Nicci Sprangers. "We really want to shine a spotlight on our local business and some of the local female leaders in those businesses so we put our heads together and selected a group that represented a diverse group of industries."
Polly Olson is the Appleton Police Department’s first female assistant chief. Over her last 20 years at the department, she learned how to fight for promotions despite being one of very few women.
"Currently I think we have 10 women out of 113 officers that I work with. So it was rare and it still is rare when you have women submit to move into some of the supervisory roles," Olson said.
Olson says during her time at the department she learned to build confidence by using her differences to her advantage.
“I learned early on that I'm not going to be the same physical person as a male would be for instance," Olson said. "So I had to focus more on what I can do or what are my strengths. What can I bring that maybe my male counterparts can’t bring?“
Now, Olson uses her voice to try to bring more diversity to the department.
“Pushing for having women and certainly minorities apply for us is something we’re trying to increase as much as we can," she said. "We certainly want our diversity in our department to match the diversity we have in the community.”
The panelists discussed some of the challenges throughout their careers that have shaped them. Bridget O’Connor says her biggest challenge came during the shutdown at the start of the pandemic. As she looked around at the empty businesses in her community, she felt compelled to take action.
“There was just this voice that came on in my head that said we have to tell this story. We have to tell the story of the people behind those closed storefronts," O'Connor said.
That’s when she started Downtown Faces Forward, an initiative to share the stories of local business owners in order to garner more support for local business amid the pandemic.
"There no question that the pandemic was the most challenging experience of my professional career," O'Connor said. "Particularly as a business owner, wanting to maintain our company's client base, making sure all our employees were safe and secure and had their jobs on Monday. I'm so grateful that everyone really held together and we've come out stronger."
O'Connor says leaning on fellow local business owners is what has helped her through the past year.
“I’m surrounded by other women in business in De Pere. We have over 70 women who have consulting firms and bakeries and various different shops," O'Connor said. "To be a part of an environment that supports one another is really special here in Northeastern Wisconsin”