LEAD Marks 20 Years: The Women of Union Pacific Are ‘Powerful, Strong Risk Takers’

Past LEAD presidents attending 2023 conference | LR

Past LEAD presidents attending the conference included, from left, Lori Loschen, general director, Marketing and Sales; Carrie Powers, assistant vice president-Financial Reporting, and current LEAD president; Polly Harris, vice president-Human Resources; Jill Bazzell Stenstrom, general director-Real Estate; Beth Whited, president; Beth Steele, general director, Marketing and Sales; Jennifer Hamann, executive vice president-Finance and chief financial officer; and Jennifer Sedlacek, senior director-Engineering Capital Budget.

When President Beth Whited was promoted to Union Pacific Railroad’s executive ranks in 2000, about 10% of those leaders were women – today, that percentage has climbed to 26% and continues to grow.

“This progress is a testament to LEAD’s efforts to attract more women to Union Pacific,” said Whited, speaking at the railroad’s 2023 LEAD conference in Bellevue, Nebraska. “For all of the women coming next, this is fantastic – you need to keep taking bold chances, learning and doing what it takes to advance in your career.”

CEO Jim Vena shares at 2023 LEAD | LR

CEO Jim Vena shares with the conference’s 200 attendees the important role bold leadership plays driving UP’s success.

LEAD celebrated bold leadership – and its 20th anniversary – during an Oct. 3 conference featuring appearances from some of the nation’s top women executives – including Whited, the first woman president in Union Pacific’s history. She is one of LEAD’s founding members and served as the employee resource group’s second president.

Supriya Deshmukh leads an external panel at LEAD 2023 | LR

UP’s Supriya Deshmukh, general director, Tech, left, leads an external panel featuring some of the nation’s top women executives sharing leadership insights.

Founded in 2003 to empower and foster opportunities for women, LEAD stands for: Lead. Educate. Achieve. Develop.

Two hundred employees attended the conference, which opened with remarks from CEO Jim Vena.

“The women I’ve met at Union Pacific are powerful, strong risk takers,” Vena said. “That’s the culture I want to build here. Bold people have to understand they can’t follow the same path as everyone else – they have to be courageous, dynamic and push their ideas.”

Among the bold women Vena cited as examples were Whited; Jennifer Hamann, executive vice president-Finance and Union Pacific’s first woman chief financial officer; and his wife, Karen, who he shared was one of only a handful of women working in transportation at Canadian National Railway in the 1970s.

“She has a long history of family being railroaders, but she crossed a bridge being a woman,” he said. “These are the people who have set us up to where we are today – these are trailblazers.”

As LEAD’s executive sponsor, Hamann reflected on the group’s impact throughout the last two decades.

“I see LEAD driving real change and a sense of belonging at Union Pacific,” she said. “We’re all better together, and LEAD brings us together with openness so we can hear what others might contribute to the conversation.”

The day featured an external panel discussion with leaders touching on what it means to be authentic, inclusive, impactful, empowered and bold, including Carolyn Lee, president and executive director of the Manufacturing Institute; Dr. Joanne Li, chancellor of University of Nebraska at Omaha; Aileen Warren, president and CEO of ICAN; Ada Walker, vice president-Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer for Nebraska Medicine; and Joni Wheeler, executive vice president of Talent and Enterprise Solutions at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.

Keynote speaker Tamika Tremaglio, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, closed with the top lessons she’s learned navigating her career, including building your network and focusing on image and exposure just as much as performance.

Congratulations to the 2023 LEAD Award winners:

  • Inaugural Beth Whited Pioneer Award: President Beth Whited
  • LEAD Award: Rebecca Kalskett, manager-Sales, Omaha
  • Educate Award: Dana Brummund, senior manager-Real Estate, Omaha
  • Achieve Award: Robyn Hiatt, manager-Shop Operations, North Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Develop Award: Balaji Veeramani, director-Tech, Omaha 
LEAD 2023 conference planning committee | O

LEAD’s 2023 conference planning committee included, from left, Lindsey Becerra, manager-Org Development; Cindy Otten, senior consultant; April Podraza, manager-Marketing; Carrie Powers, assistant vice president-Financial Reporting; Katie Novak, senior director-Passenger Operations; Kurt Blodgett, senior manager-Risk Management; Kelly Paulson, senior consultant-Logistics; Balaji Veeramani, director, Tech; Kia Patterson, manager-Safety and Reporting; and Nicole Perry, manager-Shipment Quality Engineering. Committee members not shown include Rebecca Kalskett, manager-Sales; Erica Lewis, analyst; Darice Limpp, systems engineer; Karen Lofgren-Anderson, systems consultant; Trudie McGavock, analyst-Leave Management; and Kelsey Ruggles, manager-Joint Facilities.

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