University of Wisconsin–Madison

Feature: Shana Ullsvik

Shana Ullsvik

Shana Ullsvik

Title and Total Compensation Manager, OHR

How did you come to work in the field of compensation, and at UW?

Maybe it’s my husband’s fault? I met him when we were both working in Manhattan.  I have a BA in economics and was working in economic consulting, primarily dealing with securities litigation and labor economic cases. He’s a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, so when he chose to move back to Wisconsin, I came too.

I took some time off of work as we grew our family, but by the time my daughter was almost two years old, she found me uninteresting and wanted new playmates! I also missed being in a traditional work environment and having conversations beyond the topics of Daniel Tiger and Dora the Explorer. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to consulting and its 12-hour days, and didn’t see any familiar firms unless we relocated to Chicago (which was not an option), so I was at a bit of a loss as to where to apply.

At the time, we lived in an apartment downtown, and can still remember my husband pointing out the window to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) building and asking, “How about that place?” Through a stroke of fate, they were looking for a compensation analyst—the first time they’d ever recruited for a full-time employee solely dedicated to its compensation program, including its high quartile incentive compensation program. Although my background is not strictly compensation, compensation is rooted in economics. I applied and got the job!

After five years, I was getting antsy and wanted a new challenge. Through another stroke of luck, and a bit of déjà vu, UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) was looking for its first compensation professional. I applied and got that job as well!

UW is such a dynamic, diverse, multi-faceted macrocosm. The fact that its compensation program hasn’t been reviewed in 30 years was not a deterrent for me. I find the challenge exciting!  I feel honored to be part of the Title and Total Compensation (TTC) Project.

What compensation credentials do you have?

I’ve had the enormous privilege and task of being the sole compensation professional for organizations. That means I felt pressure every day to do flawless work and provide excellent customer service. This has also fast-tracked me to experience exciting periods and projects. I’ve built new base pay programs, redefined highly competitive incentive compensation programs, been part of several compensation program reviews, drafted new policies and procedures, created HR Analytics packets and dashboards, and more. I’ve had my hand in everything from multi-regression analyses to stuffing and hand-delivering envelopes.

I’m a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) and am one exam away from earning my Global Remuneration Professional designation (GRP). Cross fingers!

What do you love most about your work? What motivates you?

I vividly remember my professor projecting a chart that shows how gender pay gaps occur and how it’s not just a “point in time” assessment but an impact that affects women throughout their entire careers and across lifetime earnings. The root cause? Childbearing and the need to take time off from work for labor and recovery; later too, women may make decisions (through much ingrained social constructs) not to pursue certain higher level positions due to time commitment or familial obligations, or they may not return in a full-time capacity (or even at all) to the workforce. What can be done about that? Do we stall the continuation of the human species and let birthrates decrease? What can we learn from other countries that allow for paid maternity and paternity leave? Why is the gender pay gap still cited at 80 cents to the dollar (the same as more than 15 years ago)?

These bigger, economic questions and issues are what interest me most about compensation. Consider social movements like #metoo, who we vote for, and what products we purchase. To think these have no influence on market movement negates the importance of human choices and influence. Taking frequent pauses to reflect how my work and suggestions can lead to positive changes that resonate across and beyond campus and far longer than my time here is what motivates me the most.

Currently, the uptick in the number of cities and states enacting salary privacy bans is really exciting. I’d love to see future studies on its impact in compensation and recruitment.

You participated in the 2018 SMPH HR Competencies Cohort. What did you take away from that experience? What advice would you give to others who are interested in joining the cohort?

The greatest takeaway was gaining insight into the perspectives of all the participants in my cohort. SMPH is very large and we did not all sit in the same area—we could be buildings and miles away from each other. Only so much can be conveyed through email! Being able to share stories and perspectives face-to-face increased my level of understanding and empathy towards others. It was exciting to go on the multi-prong journey of the cohort with colleagues in a safe, supportive environment.

My greatest advice for anyone interested in the cohort is to put in the time and effort to be fully immersed in it. You’ll only get as much as you give, put away your phone at the meetings and do the homework! The skills and tools you learn can benefit you throughout your career.

What do you do for fun or joy?

I really enjoy music and love discovering new artists as well as listening to familiar ones. I have also practiced yoga for the majority of my life (I’m a certified teacher) and meditation for over a decade. I have been very fortunate to meet and study with teachers during my time in New York who fundamentally shifted the way I experience and engage in life. They helped me build the internal tools to deal with periods of negativity and hardships, as well as build habits of self-reflection and self-awareness. There are great resources near Madison for this, such as Deer Park. They have an upcoming Day of Meditation on April 27 that I highly encourage people attending.

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