The Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership at Texas Woman’s University was originally created as the Center for Women in Business and funded by the Texas Legislature with $2.2 million in 2016.

Believing the center could do so much more for the women of Texas, especially housed at Texas Woman’s University, state Sen. Jane Nelson and former chair of the TWU Board of Regents Sue Bancroft assisted in broadening its scope. Their efforts helped transform the existing center into the Center for Women’s Leadership in Business, Politics, and Public Policy in 2017, when the Texas Legislature expanded the mission of the center to include leadership training for women in the areas of business, public policy, public service and scholarly research and provided $7.25 million in funding.

“My vision when we originally discussed creating a center focused on business, politics and public policy was a place where women of all backgrounds could aspire and be inspired to become leaders unafraid of change and ready to take on the challenges to make the world a better place,” said Nelson.

Bancroft herself also donated $2 million to the center to help young women succeed and inspire young girls to dream big.

“When we started this endeavor, one of our guiding principles was to produce more opportunities for women to flourish and leaders who bring about more prosperity for others,” said Bancroft. “Texas has a bright future ahead, and women will be an essential part of that.”

In order to further the university’s mission of providing more opportunities for women’s leadership, the university’s existing Leadership Institute—founded in 2006 with a focus on developing students at Texas Woman’s into leaders—was brought under the center. They became the new Institute for Women’s Leadership in May 2018 with three distinct centers: 1) Center for Student Leadership, 2) Center for Women in Business and 3) Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy. Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mary Saunders, a Texas Woman’s alumna and the founder of the previous Leadership Institute, was named executive director and led the new institute until retiring in February 2020.

An Advisory Council comprised of prominent women leaders from across the state was formed, with Bancroft serving as founding chair, and work also began on an interactive history exhibit hall that would be the only one of its kind in the state of Texas.

In June 2019, the Texas Legislature authorized $10 million in new funding for the institute to help expand its programs and better position it as a premier center for women’s leadership in the state. In August of the same year, the Center for Women in Business became the Center for Women Entrepreneurs to more clearly reflect the work the center does to facilitate economic growth among women entrepreneurs across Texas.

After a recommendation from the Advisory Council, the Texas Woman’s Board of Regents unanimously voted in November 2019 to name the institute in honor of Nelson, the first woman in Texas history to chair the Senate Finance Committee, because her long-held vision had come to fruition. They also voted to name the exhibit hall the Sue S. Bancroft Women’s Leadership Hall in honor of Bancroft’s tireless dedication and support.

In February 2020, Mary Anne Alhadeff, an award-winning broadcasting executive with a history of forging strong partnerships among businesses, institutions, foundations and public-service entities, was named executive director and chief officer for the institute.

The Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership officially opened its doors in Old Main in November 2021. The Sue S. Bancroft Women’s Leadership Hall, an interactive history exhibit that showcases the contributions and leadership legacy of Texas women in politics and public policy with a focus on inspiring the young women leaders of tomorrow, also opened.

Today, the institute, housed at Texas Woman’s University, is dedicated to preparing more women to take on successful roles in business and public service. Its three specialized centers—Center for Student Leadership, Center for Women Entrepreneurs and Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy (now the Center for Women in Government)—ensure women have the education to establish careers as successful C-suite executives, the skills for building entrepreneurial businesses and the framework needed to run for public office.

The institute and its centers provide multiple platforms for women to advance their leadership skills and experience through education, mentoring and networking.

The institute also sponsors a variety of leadership projects and programs across all disciplines of the university, as well as research into the role of women in politics and public policy. In addition, it is host to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, and it will serve as a repository for women who have been leaders in the areas of business, politics and public policy to donate their archives for future scholarship and exhibits.

Page last updated 3:01 PM, November 21, 2023