Women Empowering Emerging Leaders

Thank you so much to Pacific Life for hosting our panel discussion featuring Cathy Jo Borgman of Pacific Life, Tracy Madden-McMahon of Methodist Hospital Foundation and Shawna Forsberg of United Way of the Midlands.

This event, organized by the Emerging Leaders Professional Development Events committee, was created to inspire emerging female professionals to become strong leaders in the workplace and community. Panelists discussed their efforts to foster leadership in young professionals and shared specific challenges and opportunities they faced as a woman in their chosen sector.

Special thanks to Emerging Leaders committee members Derek Brandt for locking down such a beautiful space, Whitney Sandusky for moderating, and Kelsey Haswell, chair of the Professional Development Events committee!

Meet the panelists

Cathy Jo Borgman 

is a Sales Desk Director at Pacific Life. Cathy is passionate about personal development within her teams and organization. With more than 20 years of experience in her field, she has helped Pacific Life launch multiple initiatives within the Life Insurance Division.

Tracy Madden-McMahon 

is the President and CEO at Methodist Hospital Foundation. Prior to joining Methodist Health System in 2011 as a director of development, she was an award-winning anchor/reporter with WOWT-TV. She is a board member for the Rotary Club of Omaha and serves on the Advisory Council for Assistance League of Omaha.

Shawna Forsberg

is the President and CEO at United Way of the Midlands. She previously led marketing departments at The Durham Museum and Conagra Brands. She serves on the board for the Greater Omaha Chamber and the Omaha Community Partnership, and is a trustee of the Business Ethics Alliance.

Q: What or who were the greatest influences in your decision to pursue leadership opportunities?


Tracy: I was fortunate to work in a place where leadership was seen in me and developed…I think some of it is luck and some of it is aligning yourself with a company that mirrors your heart and values. My career path has not been a straight line, and your career is open to revision too. You can’t plan it out. That’s ok. That’s the beauty of life.


Shawna: My family instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I think it’s been a series of people and great opportunities. If you asked me 10 years ago if I thought I would be doing this, I would say no – I grew up in corporate America growing marketing teams.


Cathy Jo: I’ve always been an athlete and early on I was selected to be the captain. I was growing leadership skills even in those early situations. When it came to work, I asked my boss what should I do – a highly technical path or a leadership path – and then the next year she gave me my first supervisory position. Having that pivotal person give me that advice helped accelerate that for me.


Q: What advice would you give the audience on how to prepare to take on a leadership role?


Tracy: I absolutely adored my previous career until I didn’t and it didn’t work for my life my family and my priorities. Sometimes we’re our own worst evaluators. It can be hard to identify if you’ve always aligned yourself with one vision. That’s why it’s important for us to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Something I’ve noticed among female colleagues is this idea of “I have to be perfect before… [I take on x, y, z]” and I don’t typically see that with my male colleagues. You’re never ready. There is always going to be a learning curve. Sometimes you have to take a leap and go.


Shawna: I strive to be a continuous learner, so I think it’s important to never be fearful of asking if you need help or have questions or are new. I came into this role in a difficult way because our director passed away. I was humbled because our team asked me to fill in as interim. I always thought I was a marketer and am really comfortable in that role. I had to go from being a content expert to asking for lots of help from people. I think sometimes we have this belief that as a leader you’re always going to have all the answers and it’s just not like that. You have to be able to recruit and pull in people who can meet the needs at that given time.


Cathy Jo: In my family, “sales” was a four-letter word – we did not do that. When I realized I had that skill gap I realized I was going to have to solve that. You might see in your job that you aren’t going to get everything you want filled there. So, I got a side hustle, and Mary Kay taught me those things. I was willing to do the work that others weren’t doing.


Q: How are you mentoring young women who may be potential leaders in your organization or community groups? What is the greatest lesson you have learned from a mentor during your path to leadership?


Tracy: I don’t think there’s any substitute for passion. The best leaders know when to step forward and when to step back and let others lead. I’d rather have a rockstar for two years than an average person who’s going to stay there forever. A lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes the real strength is vulnerability, and that is just hard for me. You don’t have to have all the answers. There is a real strength in just owning a situation.


Shawna: I’ll reach out to my network to step up in a more formalized mentor role so that an employee can feel more comfortable asking questions they may not feel comfortable asking in the office or of their supervisors. You don’t get one mentor and say “done.” There will be formal and informal ones. I think your decision making is stronger when you welcome others to the table. People love to be asked. Don’t be shy about it.


Cathy Jo: It’s my favorite part of the day when someone asks me for my insight. We’re really excited about the number of people we’ve been promoting. We don’t care what’s next for you – if you’re doing a good job and you want to do something else I will help you do that. There’s something called the upper limit problem. This is when you’re working in your natural genius, and we will limit ourselves internally. It’s this idea that we only deserve so much success until we do something to sabotage that. That’s you sabotaging you. Worry is a good sign of that.

If you’re going to grow in your career, seek out an advocate who can make a difference for you. You need to find someone who’s your champion. It’s healthy to have more voices helping you.


Q: Any other advice you want to share?


Tracy: Raise your hand. No one is a mind reader. Even if there isn’t an opening, do it. I think it’s important to develop those great interpersonal skills. There is no substitute for a face to face conversation. I think that’s probably one of the most undervalued skills.


Shawna: I would be really thoughtful about letting those in your organization know what your goals are. There’s something to be said with sticking with something for a while. I’m not saying don’t jump if it’s great and it will make your life better, but make sure you’re letting your organization know your plans because they might be able to help and foster that.


Cathy Jo: Get ready before the job is posted, not when it’s posted. Get really good at telling your story. Especially in an interview situation, people may not feel comfortable sharing their skills and talents. Make it easy for someone to say yes to you.


Hover over the images below and click the white arrows to go through the gallery. 

About the Author

Kylie is the Manager of Digital at United Way of the Midlands. Whenever you see a social media post or something new on the website, chances are she was behind it! She loves finding new ways to share stories online that inspire people to give back. Her favorite things in life are her family and friends, her pets Maisel and Bunny, and nachos.


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