Breaking the glass ceiling
Pierce County women thrive in leadership roles
While Pierce County is unique in countless ways, some don’t realize that many of the leadership positions in the county are held by women. As the nation progresses toward gender equality, women are taking the opportunity to become leaders in their communities and change the stigma of only men achieving and keeping these roles. Pierce County is no different in this instance.
Differing from surrounding counties, Pierce County leaders who are women include Public Health Officer AZ Snyder, Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Rohl, Sheriff Nancy Hove, District Attorney Halle Hatch and Human Services Director Julie Krings.
Hove has been the Pierce County Sheriff for 16 years. She went into law enforcement on a whim and became one of the first women to be an officer at the county level and the first woman sheriff in Pierce County. “I started with Pierce County in 1999, I started as a jailer dispatcher and worked my way up to Sheriff in 2007,” she said.
She sees this as a huge accomplishment for herself and for the county, considering there are less than 60 women serving as sheriffs in the United States.
“I was the only female sheriff for many years in the State of Wisconsin and recently we have gained three more. We are kind of the minority, but we hold our own I think,” she said.
In a male-dominated field, Hove has to face a stigma and stereotypes about being a woman leader in law enforcement.
“In today’s day and age there shouldn’t be those obstacles but there are, and there is that mindset out there that women can’t do this job as well as men,” Hove said.
Hove has come a long way from being an officer at the Ellsworth Police Department when she first started on this career path.
“When I started in Ellsworth Police Department, I was the first female officer in the county and that was a shocker for a lot of people. The chief at the time wouldn’t let me work night shifts because he was afraid I was going to get hurt, but I proved I could handle it and I moved on,” she said.
Having confidence and a positive mindset is a way that Hove overcomes those challenges and ignores outside opinions.
“I am the longest standing sheriff in this county; we’re all in this boat together and yes there are hard times because of that mindset and it can be frustrating, but I’m very lucky and my staff here is amazing and supportive, but there is that external stigma,” she said.
Because this field may be intimidating to go into, she urges people, especially young women, to go for it if it is something that they are passionate about pursuing.
“Going into this field, if it is something you want to do then go for it, take on the challenges and make it a challenge and an adventure because that is what it is. It’s been a heck of a year in law enforcement but I just keep going and I keep calling it my adventure,” she said.
Snyder also has strong ties to the county. Growing up in the Twin Cities and moving to River Falls as a teen, becoming the county health officer was a full circle moment for her.
After travelling to the East Coast for her work in international health, she came to a realization that she wanted to explore working in local health and it was something she was very interested in.
She worked for a local health department in Baltimore and a position here in Pierce County opened up so she decided to apply.
“This job opened and I thought ‘I could do this same thing and I could do it back home,’ and they took a chance on me,” she said.
She has held this position for three and a half years and feels like it was meant to be. Her career has taken her all over internationally and within the United States. She has worked in South Africa, Tanzania, and Myanmar, Asia with several large nonprofits and universities. She was always drawn back to local health here in the United States.
“I decided that local health in the United States is actually so interesting. I know it sounds less glamorous but you get to do a little bit of everything,” Snyder said.
Snyder has set the goal for herself to attain a doctorate degree in the future.
“My current job is plenty; it intellectually stimulates me and challenges me and I am very satisfied in my position, especially during the past year; however, I do want to pursue a doctorate degree part-time,” she said.
This is something that would set Snyder apart from other county health officers, she said.
“There are very few health officers who have a doctorate degree but for the benefit of my own experience and the residents of Pierce County, I would love to achieve that someday,” Snyder explained.
When it comes to challenges she has faced within her field and career, she always chooses to be confident about what she does.
“I’ve had to approach my work differently. I always want to be the most prepared person in the meeting because I want to prove to people that I am serious,” she said.
Working hard and doing her job at her highest and best ability allows her to exude that confidence and helps her as a woman in leadership.
“I think my work speaks for itself and I’ve always made sure that my work is the highest quality that it can be so that I’ll be judged by that rather than my gender,” she said.
As an established and experienced leader in her field, she offers advice to young women who want to grow into leadership positions.
“One of the things I learned in my career and still continue to learn is how to listen very carefully and authentically. Another thing is knowing when to speak up, when you know that you are right and what you say is going to matter, that is when you should speak up,” Snyder said.
Another Pierce County woman leader is District Attorney Hatch, who recently ran for election to this position and won. Hatch is originally from Ellsworth and still lives in Pierce County today. She attended UW-River Falls for her Bachelor’s degree and then attended Mitchell-Hamline School of Law in St. Paul to obtain her law degree.
She worked at a private firm before becoming the district attorney (DA). When she decided to run in the primary election, she won and was officially sworn in earlier this year and fulfilled her dream of becoming a DA.
“I’ve held this position for eight full months now. I had not really been thinking of doing this but when the opportunity presented itself, I knew I wanted to be in the public sector and in prosecution and thankfully I won,” she said.
Acknowledging that the field she is in is mostly male-dominated, she highlights what Pierce County is doing to achieve more gender equality.
“It is a pretty male-dominated field for sure, but Pierce County is unique. All the clerks are female, our office is mostly female, we have a female sheriff and judge and that definitely lends itself well to having more equality within the court system in our county,” she said.
Hatch gives encouragement to other young women wanting to go into law.
“Confidence is really key and going into a conversation with confidence and a reason behind all the decisions will help. There is definitely a shift right now of women going into leadership roles in this field and I think that is needed and it brings a new perspective into courtrooms,” Hatch said.
Krings, the Human Services Director in Pierce County, received her Bachelor's degree from UW-Eau Claire in Social Work and Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Krings is from Pierce County and has lived here for most of her life.
“One of my passions with social work is working in a rural community because sometimes resources are really limited, especially for those who have mental health needs, and that is what draws me to working in smaller communities,” she said. “I’ve primarily worked for county government my whole life, all within human services. I started out in child protection and I have had several different social work jobs since. Social work has great diversity and I’ve started to focus into macro practice which is a broader perspective and allows for more leadership and management position which is what I am interested in.”
She has worked in St. Croix and Polk counties previously, in the human services field working in child protection, adult services and youth justice. She has been in leadership positions for about 15 years and becoming a director of human services at the county level has been her dream job for many years. She started her position here in Pierce County as the director in May.
“This has been my goal, to become a human services director and really taking a look at systems and macro practice in social work, so this really has been my dream job and I’m very excited to be in this position,” she said.
Recognizing that women are stepping into leadership positions, she is happy to be a part of the many leaders here in Pierce County.
“Something really cool about Pierce County is that our entire leadership team in human services is female and this is the first time that we have had this, so I have six managers under me and they are all women,” she said.
Although the social work field tend to be dominated by female professionals, men hold many of the leadership positions and there is still that stigma towards women as professionals and as leaders that follow women in any field.
“There may be some implicit and explicit bias toward women in leadership just in general in our country,” Krings said. “Something I have to laugh at is, I remember I was in a meeting before in my career and it would get to be later in the day and people would look at me and say ‘oh, do you need to get home to your child?’ Meanwhile, there were men in that meeting also with children the same age but no one would ask them that.”
She acknowledges that she has had some amazing role models that have helped her get to where she is and shares the importance of finding good mentors to help lead to success.
“I do have to say that throughout my career I have had some fabulous mentors who helped me grow professionally who were both men and women, and to them it did not matter whether I was male or female,” she said.
Gov. Tony Evers appointed River Falls native Rohl to the Pierce County Circuit Court judge position when Judge Joseph Boles resigned.
According to an Evers press release, Rohl was an assistant corporation counsel for St. Croix County, where she represented the county in court and performed a variety of transactional work. In this role, she represented the county in involuntary mental commitments, termination of parental rights cases, child support enforcement matters, and public records compliance. Rohl previously was an assistant district attorney and worked in private practice.
“I am honored and grateful that Gov. Evers has selected me to fill Judge Boles seat,” said Rohl in December. “Judge Boles is irreplaceable, but I am looking forward to serving the people of Pierce County and doing my best to live up to that legacy. I am committed to upholding a judicial system that is fair and unbiased and will strive to make a positive impact on our community.”
Rohl graduated from River Falls High School. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and her law degree from Michigan State University College of Law.
The leadership gap in the United States has improved in recent years but there are still substantial differences. It is difficult for women to achieve high leadership positions and even more difficult for women of color. According to data from the Pew Research Center, in 2020 the percentage of women heading Fortune 500 companies reached a record high of 7.4 percent.
The many accomplished women leading in Pierce County, while unique, is helping to close that gender leadership and achievement gap.
“Pierce County is sending the message that we will hire women and we will hire them in leadership roles,” Krings said.
Creating space for women to grow and delegate is outside of the societal norm and the county is ahead on the road to achieving gender equality across the board.