Feaster creates spaces, opportunities for women in southeastern to succeed

Lauren Feaster may not have always known exactly where her career pathway would take her – growing up she dreamt of becoming a pediatrician and now she leads a professional women’s association – but no matter what role she has taken on, it has been about cultivating leadership, addressing inequities and making spaces more inclusive.

She is committed to seeing Milwaukee thrive for all its residents and since 2020, she has been working exclusively on advancing equity on behalf of the area’s female professionals. As CEO of Professional Dimensions, Feaster works to activate, support and amplify the voices of its nearly 350 members who range in age from 25 to 80, represent more than 35 industries and come from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds. She is the second CEO and first woman of color to lead the 44-year-old membership association.

Professional Dimensions had been ahead of the game in terms of its diversity and inclusion focus, Feaster said, which impressed and inspired her to explore the opportunity to lead the organization when invited. Its racial equity initiative began in 2007. Nearly half of its board and one-third of its members are women of color.

“It’s known for having a stake in the ground around what it takes to be a leader as a woman – being a continuous learner and having the ability to be bold and courageous,” Feaster said. “Servant leadership is a big part of its identity.”

Servant leadership also has characterized a big part of Feaster’s career. She had spent a decade in education, working first for City Year for five years before moving over to Teach for America for another five. Both AmeriCorps-funded programs work exclusively in urban education settings. 

“Education to me is the main route to liberation,” said Feaster, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied pre-med and Spanish. After graduation she spent more than a year as an emergency medical technician to gain the practical experience necessary for a career in medicine. However, it did not take long for her to realize her calling lie elsewhere.

“Life took a significant pivot when I started being exposed to a lot of inequities head on and really understanding systems for the first time,” Feaster said. 

Over the past two years, Feaster has strengthened the quality and inclusivity of Professional Dimensions’ programming to help its members not only become stronger leaders but also help advance racial equity in their spheres of influence. Two months after her start, Feaster convened a monthly virtual safe space for Black members to be vulnerable and be heard. She helped the organization rebrand its annual awards program, launch an online professional development series, sponsor an ideation summit focused exclusively on racial justice and add 67 new members and 10 corporate partners. 

“We don’t want to be all things to all members but want to make sure all members have all things,” Feaster said. “How can we be an advocate, connector, sponsor and put women at tables and spaces that will allow them to thrive.”

She also has continued her mission toward advancing equity in education by serving as co-leader of the MKE Civic Action Team’s K-12 group, a collective action group that has worked over the past two years to allocate funds and resources to address issues in education brought on by the pandemic. 

No matter what space she is in, Feaster said what motivates her as a leader is the knowledge of what is possible.

“I’ve had the privilege to see what true collective action looks like and yields,” she said. “I’m constantly on a journey to bring people into the work – leveraging all the trust and relationships I have to convince people that it is possible to create the world we want.”

Past Doug Jansson Leadership award recipients

2023 Greater Together award recipients

William C. Frye Award

Ted and Mary Kellner

Frank Kirkpatrick Award

Ernesto and Olivia Villarreal

Doug Jansson Leadership Award

John Daniels III

President’s Leadership in Racial Equity and Social Justice Award

Lupe Martinez