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Giving back is important to Mary Strickland, a vice president of private wealth management at Robert W. Baird & Co. who is one of YWCA Madison’s 2016 Women of Distinction.

She walks the talk.

Not only does she host seminars as a certified financial planner that empower women to take control of their finances, she serves on A Fund For Women’s advisory board and is involved with local politics. Issues affecting women and children are high on her list of priorities.

That was also true in the 1980s and 1990s, when Strickland worked for the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce, helping to raise money to start the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation. It’s not surprising, either, that she’s passionate about getting more young women interested in careers that involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Strickland sees community service as an obligation. She’s involved with The Kids Fund of The Capital Times, which raises money from readers to benefit nonprofits that serve local children, and is chair of the board of the Madison Development Corporation, which provides quality, self-sustaining jobs through loans to small businesses. It also provides affordable housing for Madison and Dane County residents.

Strickland loves to travel and has visited all seven continents. Later this summer, she plans to walk the Camino de Santiago route in northwestern Spain. Learning about other cultures unites us all, she says, and fosters greater understanding. As our differences start to fade, diversity gets embraced. Here is more of what she has to say:

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

That networking is really the most important aspect of career development, and it’s good to join one women’s organization and a mixed organization in your community. Then use those organizations to develop your networks and grow your career. This gets back to that whole point of it’s who you know. In some ways, unfortunately, that’s true.

In the two decades that you’ve worked in the field of finance, how have things changed?

Well, the issues for women investors are more complex. Women have historically been in and out of the workforce so their retirement plans’ balances are lower. Women historically have also been more cautious investors. I think that’s changing in this generation, but this is the first generation of women to really develop significant earnings and because of that they’re more cautious about how their savings and retirement accounts are invested.

So what I see is women being more aggressive recently in their investments and therefore building their retirement accounts up higher. But the issue is that women still do the majority of child care in their families and that impacts their ability to save and invest and grow their investments.

What advice would you give young women today?

Learn about networking to grow your career. Start saving early. Pay yourself first and if you develop good savings habits when you’re younger, it will be automatic as you get older. Maximize your retirement plan contributions as much as you can or invest in Roth IRAs when you’re younger because the sooner you get started in growing your retirement plan, the more retirement funds you’re going to have later.

Besides that, it will help you financially if you can get your career launched before you start a family.

Any other advice for young women?

I think it’s very important that women have access to all varieties of careers. Unfortunately, women are particularly less prevalent in the STEM area, which has very high-paying jobs. It’s important early on to develop women’s confidence in math and science so that they pursue some of these higher-paying careers. My sister was an engineer. She had a master’s degree in electrical engineering. So I think that the STEM area is very important, and it’s important that women feel like they can pursue any career. I often see a lack of confidence in young women today. If that confidence improves, then all types of career doors begin to open for them, including business, medicine and law.

To help in this effort, my family established a scholarship fund with the UW Foundation for women in electrical engineering at the UW. It’s my understanding that it was the first endowed fund set up for female engineers at the UW.

How do you handle stress?

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I work out regularly. I’m an avid cyclist. I enjoy sailing and I love to travel. I’ve traveled to all seven continents, and recently I’ve done a lot of hiking and adventure travel. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and trekked halfway up the Matterhorn last summer. Traveling allows you to meet people from different cultures and different regions, and this leads to a better understanding of the increasing diversity within our own community here in Madison.

Can you talk about your involvement with politics and how that’s important to you?

Yes. I’ve been very involved in Democratic politics particularly, and I’ve worked on many political campaigns to help elect women to public office. I was very involved in helping my friend Tammy Baldwin get elected from the County Board to the Wisconsin State Assembly to the U.S. Congress, and recently to the U.S. Senate. I believe women politicians carry the water for women’s issues, whether it be pay equity, reproductive rights, closing the income equality gap.

What are some of your future plans?

I want to travel the world more widely and to continue to do financial planning seminars for women in the community. I want to help people match their values with their investments, so one of my future goals is to work more with clients who are interested in socially responsible investing. 

What are your thoughts on community service?

I think community service is an obligation, particularly for women who have time and resources to give back to their communities. Women need to be involved more with philanthropy. My involvement with A Fund for Women is very important to me because I know that all of the monies raised and donated from A Fund for Women go to helping women and children in our community. Over the last couple of years, I’ve worked closely with Melinda Heinritz from A Fund for Women at Madison Community Foundation. She is the strategic partnerships director at MCF and a strong advocate for women.

Who has been an important role model to you?

One of my biggest role models has been my mother, Muriel Barrett Strickland. She was a feminist ahead of her time. She traveled the world and worked in Europe after college. Then she got married at age 30 and had six children before going back to work to help pay for all of our college educations. She was very involved in her community and with her college. She went to Trinity College in Washington, D.C. She really kind of did it all in many respects.