Bellevue, Nebraska – At the onset of the new millennium, only about 10% of Union Pacific Railroad’s executive leaders were women. By 2023, this number has soared to 26%, a remarkable shift in representation at the helm of the company. At the heart of this change has been LEAD’s consistent efforts in creating a diverse and inclusive atmosphere for women in the railroad industry.
Pushing Boundaries and Changing the Narrative
This was the central theme echoed by President Beth Whited at the railroad’s 2023 LEAD conference held in Bellevue. Whited, a pioneer herself and the first woman president in Union Pacific’s long-standing history, noted, “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.” As one of LEAD’s founding members and its second president, her journey exemplifies the trailblazing spirit that the group embodies.
The organization, whose acronym stands for Lead. Educate. Achieve. Develop., was established in 2003 with the mission of empowering women and fostering opportunities for them within Union Pacific. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the conference drew 200 employees and featured some of the nation’s leading women executives.
Jim Vena, the company’s CEO, commenced the event with remarks praising the dynamic women at Union Pacific. He said, “The women I’ve met at Union Pacific are powerful, strong risk takers,” emphasizing that he envisions a culture at Union Pacific where employees are brave, dynamic, and unafraid to bring their unique ideas to the table.
LEAD’s executive sponsor, Jennifer Hamann, Union Pacific’s first woman chief financial officer, shed light on the substantial positive change that the group has driven over the past two decades. She pointed out how LEAD has cultivated an environment of belonging, promoting openness and collaborative conversations.
The conference also showcased an external panel discussion with notable industry leaders discussing the facets of being authentic, inclusive, and bold. Among the distinguished panelists were Carolyn Lee of the Manufacturing Institute, Dr. Joanne Li from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Aileen Warren of ICAN, Ada Walker from Nebraska Medicine, and Joni Wheeler of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.
Tamika Tremaglio, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, wrapped up the event as the keynote speaker, offering valuable insights from her career journey, underscoring the importance of networking, image, and exposure.
The day culminated with the 2023 LEAD Awards ceremony, celebrating the accomplishments of outstanding individuals. The winners included President Beth Whited, who received the inaugural Beth Whited Pioneer Award, and several others who have showcased excellence in their respective roles at Union Pacific.
As Union Pacific moves forward, it is evident that with organizations like LEAD, the railroad company is on the right track towards ensuring a more inclusive and diverse leadership landscape.