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What started as an idea from a group of local female leaders jotted down on a napkin has become one of the premier leadership opportunities in the entire region.
Stemming from a belief that our community needs engaged, dynamic female leaders, the United Way of Cass-Clay has led and coordinated the 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program since its inception a decade ago. Join us as we introduce you to a group of women who have been integral to the program’s success over the past 10 years and introduce you to the 2018 class.
Title: Managing Director, Office of Recovery Reinvented
Organization: North Dakota Governor’s Office
Perspective: 35 Under 35 alum (2015), program volunteer (2016-17)
Industry: State government
Since participating in the program, you’ve taken a big leap professionally. How did your experience in the program prepare you for the career change?
- Coming into the program, it was easy for me to get caught up in my own little bubble that consisted of home, work and family. This program opened my eyes to a much broader community view. I saw the needs, the opportunities, and the possibilities and just felt more connected. It’s healthy to intentionally step outside of our own bubble at times.
- I found a tribe of amazing, supportive role models. Being surrounded by these strong, inspired women day in and day out, it rubbed off on me. I found myself thinking bigger, more motivated to give back more and emboldened to take more risk.
After participating in this program, you made the jump from a technology company to a civic leadership role. Why did you decide to do that?
I recently took a one-year civic leave of absence from Microsoft to work with the North Dakota governor and first lady on their platform focused on erasing the shame and stigma of addiction and reinventing recovery. That was a leap that was never in the cards, nothing I could have seen coming and will be a life highlight for me.
The civic opportunity connected with me on a much deeper level and tapped into my desire to make a bigger impact closer to home and in the communities that I care about. The learning, empathy and understanding I have developed in just a short time is eye-opening, and I encourage more companies to consider civic leaves or loan-an-executive-type programs, as both private and public sectors can benefit by developing a deeper understanding between the two.
How do you think developing the leadership skills of just one person can cause a ripple effect throughout any company, regardless of size?
Leadership always starts with one person. I know that how I show up each day impacts many, some of whom are halfway across the world. If I role-model strong leadership, if I mentor others, if I show up with a positive attitude, it can shape the tone of entire days, events, meetings and teams. There are always people observing and learning from our behavior, whether we realize it or not.
Title: Construction Executive
Organization: Mortenson Company
Perspective: 35 Under 35 speaker (three years) and United Way board member
Focus: Construction management
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, do you ever feel a need to prove yourself to your male colleagues? Do you typically act on those feelings?
In the beginning of my career, I was always prepared to have to prove myself in every interaction and discussion. Over the years, I realized that I am at the table because of what I bring, not because I am a woman. The freedom to realize that allowed me to be myself and bring more thoughts and ideas to conversations and discussions. Contrary to what many believe, it also created several advantages for me throughout my career. This message is one I often share: Highlight what makes you different, and take advantage of those differences.
You were a major part of the building of the new Sanford Medical Center. Do you find there’s an extra layer of meaning in the work when you’re working on a project that will positively impact so many lives in our region?
Words can’t explain how it feels to be a part of something that will positively impact the delivery of healthcare throughout the region for decades to come. To think of the number of lives the facility will impact is overwhelming, but to know that I, along with thousands of others, had the opportunity to participate makes it extremely rewarding. Many people think that construction is just about sticks and bricks, but it is so much more when you think about the care that so many will receive inside of those walls. It truly hits home when those you love and care about are positively impacted by a facility you were a part of building.
There is an increased focus on how men and women approach leadership differently. Whats your perspective on the topic?
In the construction industry, conflicts arise often, and they are handled very differently between men and women. I will never forget one of my first arguments as a professional: The superintendent yelled at me, and I walked away and cried all the way home, very worried about how the following days were going to pan out and how I would face him. The next day, he acted as though nothing happened, and I realized I had wasted an entire evening. Thanks to the many men I work with, I learned quickly to get mad and then get over it; nothing is worth wasting that much time being angry. Leadership is much the same. The key is learning from your mentors — both men and women — developing your own style and adapting to the needs of your team while recognizing the unique strengths you bring to the table.
Title: Co-Chair & Associate Professor, Professional Management Department
Organization: Minnesota State University Moorhead
Perspective: 35 Under 35 speaker, presenter and mentor (since program’s inception 10 years ago)
Industry: Higher education
You were there in the beginning when this program started a decade ago. What’s it been like seeing the program grow in scope and influence?
When Judy Green and the magnificent team of volunteers — Tonya Stende, Chris Thompson and many others — called to have me speak at the first 35 Under 35 session on goals, it was clear it was a program with a mission, vision, strong leadership, purposeful curriculum, and a tenacious goal of creating a welcoming, lifelong community of strong leaders. It has been no surprise to me that the program has grown in size, scope and influence because its beginnings were captivating and filling a community need for connection, courageous conversations, and conviction for creating better leaders, better families, better communities, better friendships and better female-to-female relationships. The power felt in the room at the very first session left me, as a speaker, feeling humbled to be a part of the community and in awe of what it would become.
As a leader in higher education who has had the opportunity to impact the minds and lives of college students, why do you see this program as valuable?
I don’t’ see this program as valuable; I see it is as invaluable. Life is about your journey through relationships, moments and memories. As I tell my college students, learn as much as you possibly can in every situation, but more importantly, surround yourself with a group of people that allows you to authenticate yourself, lifts you up when you are down, pushes you when you are being short-sighted, and always always has your back and your best interest. The 35 Under 35 community sets that standard like no other program in the community. In years to come, I can’t wait to see how this group changes not just Fargo but the world. It reminds me of the Harvard Club of the North because no matter where these women go, they will have strong connections and commitments to each other in their lifelong journey to make a difference.
How have your unique career path and experiences shaped the way you see leadership development?
In three ways:
- Be a courageous learner. Learn all the time. Read all the time. Look for information in unusual places. Stay mentally sharp. Whenever I was stuck in my career, I consistently did one thing: I learned something new.
- Have a glass of wine with the most powerful group of girlfriends you have, and they will believe in you when you feel you can’t.
- Unplug, relax and rebuild endorphins that have been strapped and stressed. I binge watch “I Love Lucy” with a bowl of popcorn. Great ideas come to me when I am not forcing them.
Laetitia Mizero Hellerud
Title: Author & Cross-Cultural Leadership Consultant
Organization: UBUNTU Consulting
Perspective: 35 Under 35 presenter (two years)
Industry: Publishing, consulting
Focus: Social-justice advocacy
You often say, “We can all build on what unifies us instead of what separates us.” How does this program build unity in our community?
This program builds unity by first bringing together women from different backgrounds and providing them with the best leadership training to succeed in their respective roles in our community. An extra effort is made to ensure that each group is as diverse as possible, and each year gets better. Beyond the six-months span of the program, there is a strong sisterhood bond that is formed. Those relationships and the support the participants provide to each other are more likely to last a lifetime if they choose it to be. The program is strength-based, and the differences in these women are seen as added value. The choice and diversity of trainers is also deliberate, to foster a well-rounded experience for the participants and expand that circle of seasoned mentors they can look up to or contact, as needed, for support and collaboration way beyond the training.
Your book includes impactful stories of your struggles fleeing from several countries and your journey to find peace and a home. How do you create a connection with those who may come from a different background than you?
By keeping an open mind and understanding that my personal standards, culture, and experiences are not the only lenses through which I should look at and assess the world around me. The more we get exposed to the world through education — formal and informal — travels, and reading, the more flexible we become. What seems different ceases to become a threat and rather an object of curiosity, which is a good thing. We learn and grow by staying curious. The wider your worldview is, the easier it is to understand others and to change opinions. I connect with those who may come from a different background by respectfully approaching them. Avoiding them doesn’t help.
What are three active steps all of us in the Fargo metro could take as individuals to create a more welcoming and effective community?
- Understand that our exposures and experiences shape your opinions. Commit to working on your personal growth and challenging your own biases.
- Use your personal and professional power to help others understand the value of diversity and inclusion. If we want to successfully compete as businesses and communities in this diversely growing world, we have to understand that this is no longer optional.
- Be involved in politics at the local, state, and national levels and serve on boards, join committees, run for office, and support those who are in favor of more-inclusive communities and country.
Title: Community Engagement Director
Organization: United Way of Cass-Clay
Perspective: 35 Under 35 Leader (four years)
Focus: Leadership development, community engagement
What have you learned about leadership yourself by watching the participants experience the program?
Personally, I have struggled with, and am now working toward, seeing myself as a “leader.” I find it much more rewarding to lift up others around me and to highlight their gifts and impact. The title of “leader” or act of leading a group can be daunting for many, but I’ve learned that leaders don’t always need to be at the front of the room. Some of the most impactful leaders are those who lead by motivating others to achieve their greatest potential.
How does the program impact our business community more broadly?
Even in a company that employs hundreds of people, one person honing and developing their leadership skills makes a positive impact.
It may be easy for an individual to see the 35 Under 35 program and say “that doesn’t impact me,” but when more women are encouraged to develop their leadership skills, that truly does impact all of us. Businesses are stronger, workplaces are more cohesive and employees have stronger collaborative bonds, which often impacts the bottom line and overall success of a company.
Although only 35 participants participate each year, those 35 women go back to their workplaces more energized, more confident and willing to adapt their leadership styles with a passion to impact others.
As the leader of the program, what do you hope the participants’ biggest takeaway is?
Recently, Pam McGee talked about the true value of “sitting still” and the act of being present in your current role to ensure that you are focusing on the opportunities that surround you. If we, as leaders, are always seeking the next opportunity or role, we may run the risk of not fully experiencing and appreciating the leadership opportunities that are around us every day in whatever role we play in a business or in our community. A common misconception about the program is that participants experience the program and then seek a different role, but one of the most valuable parts is what they will take from the program and bring back to their current teams and organizations.
INTRODUCING THE 2018 CLASS
What’s something you’ve learned that you think others could benefit from learning as well?
Marqelle Albrecht: Even though Dr. Seuss has been saying it for years, it took me a while to fully embrace that no one else on this Earth has the combination of quirks, personality, experiences and skills that I do. It does nobody any good to be a lesser version of myself or to try to conform to someone else’s idea of acceptable, happy, pretty, perfect, whatever. I am exactly who and where I am supposed to be — so are you.
What are some of the challenges of being a professional creative?
Alexandra Floersch: While creative drought and writer’s block do exist, perhaps the most challenging part of working in the world of ever-changing media means I must be adaptive and open-minded in how my job is defined. In fact, my current role didn’t exist 10 years ago. As technology changes, so does what I do for a living. Learning to produce video, weave in photography, and utilize new apps and platforms is imperative not only to stay afloat but to thrive in this industry. We must continue to brainstorm wild ideas, dream into the future and think bigger than we ever have. With change comes innovation, and with innovation comes brilliance.
What is a unique perspective you bring to your workplace?
Alyssa Walker: I worked in higher education for seven years, where I worked primarily with college students. My work with students has helped me to better understand other people’s perspectives and allows me to see their point of view. This skill has allowed me to look at company issues or client pain points from a different perspective, and I use this information to help put out-of-the-box ideas into action or create a unique solution.
Where, if at all, do you see the effects of having a female CEO?
Sarah Busse: Our CEO (Tammy Miler) is an extraordinary leader — not because she is a woman but because of the characteristics she embodies. She truly cares about the success of the company and, more importantly, its employee-owners. I think a larger influence on the culture of the company is employee ownership. Being an employee-owner, we are empowered to make decisions to best serve our customers, and our executive leadership continually encourages and empowers this value.
What does leadership mean to you?
Erin Hagen: Leadership to me is about being a servant leader, giving your best and living out your values every day — in all that you do. A strong leader is someone who influences change and encourages and builds up their team. By leading authentically and with transparency, a leader is someone you can count on and trust.
Why do you think it’s important to network and learn from other female leaders in the community?
Sara Lau: As women, we need to do more to lift each other up and challenge each other to become our best selves. Women, in general, are too hard on themselves and have a tendency to judge themselves quite harshly. One thing I’ve learned from watching the great female leaders in our community is that they are all unapologetically themselves and proud of who they are and what they do. By surrounding ourselves with strong female leaders, we are building our own confidence and learning how to live unapologetically as ourselves too. Empowered women empower women.
What do you hope to pass on to the next generation of female leaders?
Becky Torkelson: Spend time figuring out who you are, what your passions are and how you get the most out of your life. I would then tell them to, unapologetically, be that version of themselves every single day. Never change who you are or how you act to conform to others’ standards – to quote musician Dave Grohl: “No one is you, and that is your power.”
Being a teacher, what is one thing you want our community to know about our local school districts?
Brittany Olson: School districts in this area are very fortunate. Families, schools and the community all work together to help students be successful. We have high-achieving students with a drive to do well. There are strong family values at home and high expectations at school. Unfortunately, our local school districts also have students who don’t even have hot meals at home or work to support their family, and family values toward education are lacking. Schools recognize this problem and have implemented programs to help students in need such as free and reduced meals, on-site hybrid food pantries, mentoring and after-school programs, and partnerships with community services. We must not forget that we are one community built to help and support one another.
How can we inspire all people to work toward developing their leadership skills, and why is this important?
Shelby Cochran: To me, leadership skills and “soft” skills are almost synonymous. No matter your role, there is so much value in becoming self-aware about how your communication, organization skills and behavior impact those around you. I think inspiring others to take that next step is a daily practice. It’s getting your head out of your work and taking the time to listen and learn about those around you. Find the areas in which they have interest or untapped potential and push them toward those activities. That’s the best way to lead by example and help get someone on the right track for growth.
In your role, you work with students transitioning to college. How do you hope to impact them?
Amanda Pieters: Transitioning to college can be an equally exciting and overwhelming time for students. I hope the work I do can help new-to-college students feel empowered and ready to succeed. There are four main things I hope students walk with during their college journey:
- You are not alone in your struggles or your successes.
- Everyone’s a little bit awkward; embrace the awkward.
- You can do anything but not everything.
- It doesn’t matter if you screw up or fail; it matters so much more how you choose to act after.
How does your role at the YMCA impact the larger community?
Casey Sanders: I strive to ensure that people feel welcome when they walk in the door. Our team will meet people where they are at in their wellness journey in order for individuals to conquer their goals. In order for people to do that, we need to create a positive and nurturing environment that is welcoming for all individuals, regardless of their religion, race, color, creed, sexual orientation or economic status. One of my greatest joys is when a family is able to use the Y regardless of their ability to pay.
You work for one of the largest employers in our community. How can one person make an impact in a larger organization?
Lisa Richter: How you interact with each person you come in contact with during the day is crucial to your impact in an organization. Working for a large organization provides the opportunity to interact with numerous patients, staff, and visitors each day, and striving for kindness, competency, professionalism and a positive attitude in each interaction allow a single person to have an impact — even in a large organization.
There’s been a big push in recent years to encourage more young people to learn to code. Why is this personally important to you?
Michelle Schumacher: Studies show that kids who learn to code are better at solving problems, become stronger analytical thinkers and are life-long learners. Coding is a universal language that allows communication across countries and cultures. As our world becomes more global, these skills will not only allow us to unlock unimaginable possibilities as a society but will allow these young learners to become some of the most highly sought-after individuals in the future job market. I am passionate about investing in our future, and it’s exciting to see an increasing focus on technology in our community.
What are some things companies can do to encourage and help the development of their female employees?
Allie Morth: I love where I work because we encourage the development of all our employees, and I’ve never felt singled out because I’m a woman. I also know I’m not given preferential treatment because I happen to be female. I’m treated as a person, and I know my leaders genuinely care about my professional growth. Some key areas include: allowing for flexible schedules, servant leadership, mentorship and personal career growth. This is a wise business model because it allows both women and men to excel at what they do without having to climb the proverbial ladder.
How, specifically, will you take what you’ve learned from the program and apply it to your job?
Kendra Goette: In our second session, I took pages of notes about leadership skills and goal-setting. Out of everything I wrote down, something Pam McGee said really stuck out to me: “Do something so awesome that it changes someone else’s life.” In order to serve our community with the best possible service, my plan is to be intentional with all of my daily tasks: productivity, reaching goals, taking ownership, and ultimately, my purpose.
As a sergeant for the Cass County Sheriff’s office, how does leadership play a role in your day-to-day job?
Carrie Gress: As a sergeant in the corrections division, I oversee the daily operations of the Cass County Jail as a shift supervisor. This includes several duties, ranging from managing the on-shift team to helping resolve an issue that comes up with an inmate. I try to lead by example and don’t ask anything of the team that I’m not willing to do myself. I will be by their side to help complete a task or simply provide guidance.
Why do you think vulnerable leadership is important?
Chelsea Hanson: A vulnerable leader meets challenges with all of who they are. It doesn’t mean emotionally or without boundaries but instead with honesty and authenticity. Finding courage to take off your armor and connect with your team on a level that empowers everyone can be daunting. When we own our vulnerabilities, we stop negotiating with our fears.
What do you think is the greatest challenge women have to overcome in the workplace?
Robyn Gatz: Owning and speaking your authentic voice. It’s being strong in your strengths, thoughts, and ideas and bringing those to the table. Pam McGee taught us to own our voice and, if needed, lean in and let them know what you have to say! I currently work with a team of all men, so I consistently face this challenge. I want to be a strong team member and own my voice, but at the same time not come off as too harsh or overbearing. In the program, I’m learning that being authentic can be a great way to form connections with coworkers. People are more likely to respect people who are honest and open to communication in the workplace than those who come in “hot” and not ready to listen.
What advice would you give the next generation of aspiring female leaders?
Kayla Leier: I’ve recognized that fulfillment comes from pursing my passions. In 2013, along with three other family members, I helped start Pink It Forward, a nonprofit organization with a mission of enriching the lives of those affected by breast cancer. Starting a nonprofit isn’t for the faint of heart, and I truly believe that without the leadership experience I’ve gained at my job, we wouldn’t have grown to where we are today: providing free care packages to more than 1,200 women across the country. My advice to the next generation of aspiring female leaders: Don’t be afraid to aim for more. You are smart. You are strong. You are capable. Find your passion, and do it to the max!
How do you see your experience in this program having a ripple effect?
Sydney Boschert: By providing me with the mentorship and leadership abilities to make impacts locally. This program offers a chance to make connections with different people and organizations, and the amazing group of women within the program help each other become the best versions of themselves by supporting each other, connecting with local organizations in the community, and by learning to give back to the community we call home.
Which leadership lessons do you hope to share with your coworkers and teammates?
Tasha Barrett: One of the first things I learned about myself in the program is that I’m a harmonious person with strong execution skills. Relating this to my work in real estate, I am able to bring a deal together by negotiating in a non-confrontational way and doing so in an efficient manner. I’ve learned that focusing on developing one’s strengths is as, if not more, important than improving upon one’s weaknesses.
What unique perspectives do women bring to the table?
Emily Finley: Women, in general, impress me. Their ability to recognize the talents of others, their understanding of how others are motivated, and their capacity to lead with their hearts are admirable. Daily, women are charismatically juggling their job(s), children, family relationships, leadership roles, philanthropy, faith, social lives, social expectations, work competition, health and wellness, personal struggles and all the wild things life throws at us.
How has being a woman in engineering changed? How has it stayed the same?
Merideth Bell: Engineering is still a male-dominant profession, however, as more specialized engineering fields emerge, women may find these new opportunities more appealing and with less of the typical stereotypes attached. Engineers don’t sit behind computers or crunch numbers all day; they utilize computer modeling and virtual reality in design and interact with customers across the globe. I’m passionate about promoting engineering as a prospective career option for women at a young age. Employers are interested in hiring women engineers as they are typically strategically minded, multi-tasking turnaround experts, and they possess strong organization and communication skills.
Workforce development is a top priority in our community right now. What challenges do you face when working toward meeting the needs of our current and future workforce?
Teri Winkelman: In times like these, it’s crucial for employers to be creative in strategizing ways that will bring value to their employee’s work-life balance. Whether that’s offering flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, or offering incentives for picking up shifts, the value will look different to each company and employee. It can be challenging to think outside the box when it comes to employee retention, but it’s extremely important to keep our workforce in North Dakota while attracting new talent to the area.
Discovery Benefits is known for its employee-centered culture. From your perspective, why is this important?
Emily Carrow: What makes Discovery unique is that the core values of leadership, integrity, open communication, continuous learning and teamwork are on display every day. We invest in developing leaders at every level. The culture is fun, and it’s unique compared to any other company I’ve worked at. Having an employee-centered culture is what keeps employees actively engaged. When employees are actively engaged, they are willing to go above and beyond to provide the best experience possible for anyone who works with us. Culture is a big reason for the company’s success.
As a writer and professional communicator, what advice do you have for others looking to improve their communication skills?
Meredith Williams: Read! One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from Stephen King: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Read whatever you can get your hands on, especially anything written by other professional communicators. It doesn’t have to be books (though that helps, too). It could be tweets, emails, e-blasts, or newspaper and magazine articles. Reading others’ work will make you a better writer.
What’s something you wish the community knew about higher education?
Puja Sharma-Husmann: Even today, many people think that in order to be successful and have a job, one needs to have at least a bachelor’s degree. There seems to almost be a stigma against degrees that are not the typical four-year education. I wish our community knew that there are varieties of different majors and degree options that people can attain in less than four years — at a more affordable cost and that have higher job placement and pay people very well.
How do you envision this program impacting both your personal and professional life?
Chelsea Burns: I envision this program and the people (in it) to be my future lifeline. I’ve never had a formal mentor, I work in a male-dominated industry, and I rarely get the chance to be surrounded by strong female women in the workplace. This program is enabling that. The inspiration from the speakers and leaders is so intentional and refreshing. I have already built some incredible relationships from the program, and we’re only a few months in. I have found help and support for both personal and professional issues. This program, these women … this is my tribe.
Why is it important for women to come together in a setting like this?
Katie Bertsch: This program allows women who share many overlapping aspects in life, to engage in important and candid conversations and act as sounding boards for one another. Everyone brings a different perspective to the conversation, which creates thought-provoking growth and evolution. Through this evolution, these women bring positive change to themselves, their families, their organizations and the community as a whole.
What’s one piece of advice you have for achieving a good work-life balance?
Brandi Hedin: Broadly speaking, I don’t think there’s a good answer for this, but there is a great answer for each of us as individuals. It’s likely that you’ll need to tailor your balance from time to time as life happens. Being open to modifying the idea every so often will likely save you from a lot of stress in all aspects of your life. And if that doesn’t work, try a glass of red wine!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to develop their own leadership skills?
Ashley Halvorson: It’s important to recognize that everyone has different viewpoints and opinions. A good leader can step aside to consider other people’s opinions and empower them to achieve a common goal. You must be authentic, understanding and encouraging to others. Lead by influence rather than authority.
What is a unique perspective you bring to your workplace?
Nicole Rousar: My clients are not an account number to me. I know them, I know their families, and we have great conversations to talk about their needs, wants and dreams. It’s not just a debit card or online banking; it’s about the financial logistics that ensure people can pay for the things they need in their life. I enjoy being their go-to problem-solver and figuring out how things work the way they do.
How has the reality of owning your own business differed from your expectations?
Karla Wolford (Solum): (It’s) much harder than I expected. I work twice as many hours and make half as much as I used to, but the fact that I see a direct impact on the health and well-being of athletes and patients who I serve is unmatched. You definitely find out how to do a number of things that you never actually thought were possible because you have to. You quickly learn what your strengths and weakness are and when and who to ask for help with those weaker areas. For me, that’s finance, accounting and marketing. They don’t teach those in chiropractic schools very well!
How does the development of female leaders make an impact in our greater community?
Lindsey Little: This program unites women of all different paths down a road of learning and discovery. The experience cultivates relationships built on respect, acceptance and support of one another. Individuality and vulnerability are celebrated — rather than discouraged as a sign of weakness — which results in authentic, meaningful connections. This type of environment inspires confidence, creates possibility and fuels action. Equipped with renewed desire and vision, a ripple effect is created, enriching the community as each of us seeks to fulfill our purpose.
What is one leadership lesson you have learned that you hope to put into action right away?
Mindy Hogness: To not only have an “attitude of gratitude” but to show it and make it known to those who have impacted me. As Millennials, we tend to rely on technology to communicate, and we don’t always remember to connect without it. An old-school, tangible thank you card, coupled with the human interaction of delivering that card, can show real authentic leadership and appreciation. Thank you notes can be for much more than physical gifts; they’re about letting people know they’ve made a positive impact on you and sharing your appreciation for that impact. Attitudes are contagious, and gratitude is a great one to spread.