By Katy Macek | Interviewed by Marni Mcentee | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun
As the Wisconsin State Treasurer prepares for maternity leave at the end of 2019, she isn’t only thinking of her personal life. She’s setting the bar for how all constitutional officers after her will be able to take paid maternity or paternity leave.
Winding down her first year of office, Eau Claire native Sarah Godlewski is the first constitutional officer in Wisconsin to have a baby on the job. The Family Medical Leave Act, which provides guidelines for expecting women, doesn’t cover elected officials.
“I want to make sure I set a really good model so the next woman—or even dad—knows how to navigate this,” Godlewski says. “Because it’s not an issue of if this happens again. It’s more about when it happens.”
She and her team are working with a lawyer to outline policies and planning for her to take off December and return in 2020. Meanwhile, she’s got big plans to support women-owned businesses, return funds to taxpayers and turn the treasurer position back into the financial authority it once was.
Godlewski is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite, but it was her journey around the country that landed her in the state treasury.
Godlewski lived in Eau Claire until she attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where she completed her undergraduate degree in peace and conflict resolution.
At 22 years old, she found herself the youngest woman working for the undersecretary at the Pentagon. She stayed for almost a decade, ending at the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Godlewski also worked with UNICEF, which is where she met her husband, and co-founded MaSa, which invested in companies focused on making a positive environmental impact. Around four years ago, she co-founded WE Capital, an investment fund that invests in women-owned businesses.
That’s where she met Jenny Abramson, who runs venture capital firm Rethink Impact. It invests in female leaders in technology, including WE Capital. Abramson is excited to see where Godlewski takes the treasurer’s position. “While we’re breaking down barriers in the venture capital space, Sarah’s doing that as well in office,” she says. Godlewski never intended to be state treasurer, but when she moved back to Wisconsin in 2015, she saw small businesses she loved suffering. “The Wisconsin I grew up in was not the Wisconsin I was seeing, and it made me really sad,” she says.
Motivated to help, she started re- searching and learned other states’ treasurers were helping small businesses by partnering with local banks. She wanted to help Wisconsin’s treasurer do this. So she called … and no one answered.
“Come to find out, the person in the position was actively trying to remove the office, and I just didn’t think we wanted to lose our chief financial officer,” she says.
She found herself cofounder of a bi-partisan ballot committee to save the treasurer’s office. Voters saved the position with a 61.75% majority in April 2018.
Teri Jacobson, Kenosha County treasurer, has served 16 years in a county treasurer role, and says she has been impressed with all her interactions with Godlewski.
“Sarah has brought a level of energy and insight that we haven’t seen in the state treasurer’s office in a long time,” Jacobson says. “It’s a breath of fresh air to see someone so genuinely excited to serve the people of Wisconsin to the best of her ability.”
Godlewski has returned more than $200,000 in unclaimed property—when employees don’t claim their funds and the money is returned to the state—to taxpayers, mostly with nonprofit organizations and local government entities.
With a baby on the way, she wants to show you can raise a family and be an elected official. She worries women think too much about the reasons they aren’t “ready.” But she knows they are.
“Following through, being authentic and representing your communities—I think women worry that’s not enough,” she says. “And it is. That’s what an elected official should be.”