By Shelby Deering | Photographed By Hillary Schave

Recently, the BRAVA team posed a thought-provoking question: “WHAT MAKES A COMPANY A GREAT PLACE TO WORK?” Between a survey, interviews with experts and chats with local businesses, we found our answers.


There’s an undeniable fact in today’s world—our work lives and our personal lives are intertwined. The stresses of work can carry over to home, and vice versa. Responsibilities abound. And it’s not as simple as compartmentalizing your job apart from your life. We’re all human. Our concerns, worries and everyday tasks ebb and flow between our personal and professional existences.

A workplace that “gets” those intrinsic things about people is paramount to keeping employees happy. Benefits, a pleasant atmosphere, flexibility— there are several moving parts involved when creating a “great” place to work.

So, we cast our net to discover those must-have components of an ideal workplace, wrapping in the insights of three local HR experts and a few local companies with exemplary workplaces, benefits and opportunities as well as BRAVA readers’ thoughts gathered from a recent survey.

Whether you’re content or considering a change, the bottom line is that these findings are empowering, especially to women who tend to experience added frustrations, double standards and a lack of equality in the workplace. We hope that you will use this as a starting point to consider what you need and what your company offers, and to not only advocate for yourself, but for other women, too.


There are many reasons why it’s important for employees to have access to leave, whether it’s paid or unpaid—vacations, sick time, maternity and paternity leave, bereavement, adoption.

Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek is a vice president of contracted leadership and president of DisruptHR Madison/Milwaukee, an idea forum to invigorate the HR field. Her experiences, particularly around leave, motivated Woodman-Holoubek to move on from her previous employer, which led to her current role.

She says, “I watched my female peers in high-level positions and the experiences they had during their pregnancies and after their very short 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandated maternity leave in which they only received 60 percent of their usual salary, which was capped at the maximum amount. My peers saved up their vacation time over the year and used it on top of their FMLA and short-term disability (STD) to support themselves and their families, supplementing the salary being lost during leave.”

She notes that unfortunately, the U.S. is at the bottom of industrialized countries in terms of the funded parental leave that is provided. Woodman-Holoubek also believes that the “short term disability” associated with maternity leave carries stigma.

“In my mind, alluding to pregnancy and maternity as ‘a disability’ in our workplace only furthers the inequality and the uphill battle women face in the world of work.”

So, what’s the solution? Woodman-Holoubek applauds “forward-thinking organizations” that are “starting to fund maternity leave outside of the state and federal FMLA-mandated and STD-funded leave.”

Janet Johnson, COO and VP of sales and marketing at The QTI Group, says that some cutting-edge companies are doing away with vacation and sick time altogether, and reflects on the positives of that.

“Work when you need to work and be off when you need to be off,” she says. “Meet your goals. Deliver on your responsibilities. Trust your team, and a good outcome will happen.”



Equal pay is a hot-button issue in today’s society. And it should be [see gender pay gap sidebar]. Johnson puts it simply, saying, “It is best for organizations to have a compensation strategy that reflects consistent practices regardless of gender.”

“Many women don’t feel empowered in the workplace,” says Laura S. Gmeinder, president of Laura Gmeinder Coaching & Consulting and a DisruptHR organizer.

Although Woodman-Holoubek says that “great workplaces are those organizations that are equitable and transparent in their benefits,” there’s still much work to be done. In the meantime, the experts recommend being your own advocate.

Gmeinder says, “While women are making gains in the board room and in leadership positions, many even at the highest levels in their company still struggle to move past impostor syndrome and to advocate for their best interests. [Companies should offer] professional development focused on building up and harnessing a woman’s inner leader.”


Professional development aids in helping an employee to feel well-rounded, more knowledgeable and it can better place her on the path toward advancement. Gmeinder says, “For those motivated by growth, companies should make sure to find development opportunities with a clear path for career advancement or skill attainment.”

Gmeinder believes that a workplace is great when it focuses on helping employees to feel whole and confident, which is something women can struggle with.

She says, “A great workplace is one where the leadership team focuses on developing employees by providing and supporting professional development: creating a coaching culture and provide ongoing feedback. It’s important to create a culture focused on continuous improvement. What does that look like? Offering learning opportunities tailored to your employees and including an educational assistance plan as part of your benefits package.”




Benefits not only attract employees to a company; they encourage them to stay. Great workplaces are “transparent in their benefits” says Woodman-Holoubek.

Although many companies offer an array of benefits, Woodman-Holoubek believes there is room for improvement.

“Organizations need to work on providing employees benefits and perks that are a reflection of the modern-day ‘synchronicity’ of work and life. Benefits need to be based more on life stages, and not seniority.”

One trend that Johnson has noticed is dual benefits—leave time and work-life balance options—for both women and men, to address the stages in their lives as new parents.

“We are seeing more and more organizations offer dual benefits to both women and men, as there are many fathers that take on family needs and balance work and family.”


Wellbeing is frequently something that’s cast by the wayside for women, in the interest of fulfilling their responsibilities at home and at work. Many progressive workplaces have embraced fostering healthier employees through extensive programming.

Gmeinder says, “Forward-thinking companies are trying to encourage wellness in the workplace, whether they bring in speakers, have organized walks or enhance work environments, like for example installing standing desks or onsite workout facilities.”

Woodman-Holoubek thinks companies can go even further in their basic wellness offerings.

“I have visited a number of companies in Madison that are now offering on-site athletics, meditations and yoga during the lunch hour and breaks for whole-body wellness and stress reduction.”

The bottom line is: In order to cultivate employees who are content, even at peace, workplaces should embrace the idea that their employees aren’t just employees—they’re whole people.

Gmeinder sums up this idea, saying, “A key element of a great workplace is one where employees don’t have to leave their hearts at the door.”



It’s not every day that a nonprofit can provide three months of paid leave to new mothers. But at the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, they’ve made it a priority.

Sara Finger, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit which employs five paid staff, says, “Our vision is that every woman in Wisconsin—at every age and every stage of life—is able to reach her optimal health, safety and economic security.”

This advocacy carries over to the nonprofit’s employees as well, offering maternity leave with pay.

Finger explains, “We don’t believe someone’s financial security should be compromised when they take some time away to care for themselves, a newborn or another loved one. We value the wellbeing of our staff and support structuring our workplace in a healthy way that leads to employee satisfaction and work-life balance.”

Policy Director Mike Murray says, “As the staff person who is responsible for promoting paid family and medical leave public policies, it is incredibly powerful to be able to show that WAWH ‘walks the walk.’”

Chelsea Aeschbach, PATCH program development manager, recently went on maternity leave and is very grateful for it.

She says, “I have been able to create a positive connection and emotional bond with my son, physically recover from the birthing process and emotionally and mentally adjust to a major life event. We thankfully have not had to sacrifice our income as part of the process. Instead, we’ve been able to enjoy this precious time. I have felt empowered to be a mom without the constraints of time or finances.”

Amy Olejniczak, associate director, echoes this, saying, “We’ve been able to grow our family without fear of instability and without pressure to choose between nurturing my newborn and rushing back to work. I truly don’t ever want to work anywhere else.”

ALLIANT ENERGY: A Network for Women

Alliant isn’t just supplying energy solutions throughout the Midwest—it’s creating a palpable energy among its female employees as well through an impactful women’s group.

Paula Steinhorst, strategic project manager and team lead, serves as the chair for the Wisconsin chapter of the Women’s Network. Open to all employees, the group focuses on helping women develop in their careers and make personal and professional on-the-job connections along the way.

With over 700 employees at the Madison office, the network creates an environment where female employees can bridge gaps, especially women who otherwise may not have other chances to meet due to working in varying departments and locations. It also provides ways to harness knowledge.

Steinhorst says, “The Women’s Network allows members to learn topics that can help them build leadership and soft skills. It gives members the opportunity to network and connect with fellow employees and our leadership team [comprised of] company executives.”

The group upholds Alliant Energy’s values.

“Respect is one of our core values,” says Steinhorst. “Alliant Energy continues to build the kind of workplace where women can lean in without getting pushed back. Our Information Technology Services department has women in 40 percent of leadership positions, including the two senior managers.”

Tammy Bartels, joint facilities coordinator, has benefited from the group socially.

She says, “I work in a department of two, so getting to know other employees was challenging. I’ve made new friends, folks I can say hello to in the halls. I can also ask for guidance or direction when needed.” Steinhorst’s life has also been enriched through Alliant’s inclusive workplace.

“As a woman and a minority, Alliant has offered me many opportunities during my 20 years of working here. I am glad to work for a company whose leadership team and executives support and care for their employees.”

PROMEGA: Focus on Wellness

It’s simple: a healthier employee is a happier employee. Promega Madison leaders have not only embraced this idea—they’ve run with it.

With over 850 employees on its local campus, it’s no surprise that the genetics pioneer puts health on the top of the list. Onsite, you’ll find an on-site wellness clinic, which is free to all employees. Physical therapy. Acupuncture. Reiki. Emotional and social intelligence programs. Bikes. A garden managed by a culinary team. They even have something called “Third Spaces,” which are “softer” work areas that allow staff to work in a fresh environment for clear minds. There’s an on-site Perennial Yoga studio that holds prenatal yoga classes. And the offerings go on and on.

Heather S. Gerard, Promega’s intellectual property manager, says, “What is not to love?” adding, “The offerings allow the opportunity to meet others in the company. Playing volleyball or attending a group fitness class can help build relationships, both work and personal.”

Darbie Miller, director of HR organizational development, says that “the number of benefits offered on-site helps promote work-life balance to balance the demands of home with work without sacrificing wellness,” something that women can particularly relate to.

What it comes down to is that wellness at work promotes a balanced life at home, and Promega is nurturing that for all its employees.


American Family is a company that’s proved to be innovative—its DreamBank space located on the Capitol Square is an example of this, a place where entrepreneurial spirits and families can learn and grow. This dedication to betterment can also be witnessed through its corporate board of directors. Recently, American Family was recognized as “W” Winning Company by national organization 2020 Women on Boards, for its commitment to increasing the percentage of women of its board.

Jessie Stauffacher, chief operating officer, says that the board’s diversity is a strength.

“We believe our board of directors is a source of competitive advantage for us. Not only does our board provide good corporate governance, but they also provide leadership for our strategic plans and corporate vision. They are able to do this through their strong diversity of thought. Our board members have various backgrounds, experiences and personalities which ensures a balanced perspective. While we strive to have gender and racial diversity, we also strive to have diversity in experiences and expertise.”

The 13-member board, which is currently on an active search for new members, is representative of the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. “It’s critical to have diverse experiences and perspectives for effective decision-making,” says Stauffacher. “Diverse perspectives enable us to better identify business opportunities and risks, ask the tough questions and innovate. Our customers benefit when our board is able to make thoughtful decisions to formulate and achieve our company’s strategy. We will continue to do more to expand the diversity of our board.”

Stauffacher says, “We encourage employees to be their true, authentic selves at work, where they can take risks and feel supported. That’s one reason we’ve got such a strong focus on diversity and inclusion.”

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