A Conversation with Diane Duren

Summer 2014

Executive Vice President and Corporate Secretary, Union Pacific Railroad

Fourth in a series of interviews with Omaha’s top female executives.

 

BY ELLIE ARCHER

Diane K. Duren is responsible for strategic planning, administration and human resources for Union Pacific, in addition to serving as corporate secretary. She has held a variety of positions since joining the railroad in 1985. Prior to that, she was a certified public accountant with Deloitte Haskins & Sells in Omaha.

Duren has been a Women’s Center for Advancement Tribute to Women honoree, a Creighton University College of Business Alumni Merit Award winner, and in 2008, she was recognized by Pink magazine as one of the Top 15 Women in Business. She has served on boards for the YWCA, National Grain Trade Council, Farm Foundation, Arthritis Foundation, Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska and as chair of the Heartland Chapter of the American Red Cross. Duren currently is a member of the board of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, and the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA). She and her husband, Drew Collier, have four children—Devin, 29; Drew, 26; Derek, 23; and Dustin, 20.

TOW: Have you had mentors during your career, and if so, who had the most impact on you?

Most of my mentors were actually my bosses who were both mentors and advocates—and they were all men. As advocates, they guided me and helped me consider alternative career paths. Taking those paths, which were not always traditional, allowed me to advance within my company.

TOW: How can women most effectively mentor other women?

It is imperative to bring other women along with you as you advance in your career. Hiring women, developing women and promoting women is our responsibility. Being honest and direct with the people you are mentoring is critical. Providing them perspective and alternative views to consider is important.

TOW: What attributes make a great mentor?

Candor, willingness to spend the appropriate amount of time, being available, being a good listener.

TOW: How can young women best position themselves for success in the corporate world?

First of all, they need to excel in their current jobs. Great job performance will get you noticed. That in and of itself won’t necessarily get you promoted. You need to ask for opportunities to grow; take on additional responsibilities and tasks when something needs to be accomplished. Young women need to communicate well and speak up! Contribute your thoughts, ideas and perspectives when you have knowledge of the subject.

TOW: What is the most important trait a woman needs to be successful in a senior leadership position?

There are so many traits that are important. You need to have self-awareness and understand your strengths and opportunities for development. You need to have courage—the courage to express your opinions. You need to take on big tasks and deliver results.

TOW: What is the biggest mistake you made in your career, and what did you learn from it?

I wouldn’t say that I made any critical mistakes, but I made lots of little ones. I always saw them as opportunities for improvement—as opposed to failures. I guess that’s the optimist in me! The real lesson I learned was that when something went wrong, I needed to step back, analyze the situation, and figure out how to correct the problem. I identified whose help and advice I would need and then worked as hard as I could to set us on the right path.

TOW: How do you balance work and personal/family responsibilities?

It’s a bit easier when your children are adults—but you still need to balance all of your responsibilities and relationships. When my children were little, I made the decision to spend a very significant amount of my salary to have a nanny. We had to sacrifice other things, but the support of our nanny allowed me to focus on my career. I think you constantly have to understand your priorities and sometimes you have to focus on work, sometimes you have to focus on your family. There are cycles in life that adjust your priorities. Even today, I have to balance work, philanthropy and home. One thing I do know is that communicating—especially at home—is critical.

TOW: What is the best way for women to network in Omaha?

The best way I have found is by becoming involved in the community. Philanthropic work, especially participating on boards of charitable organizations, has allowed me to meet and interact with talented and influential women (and men). Committee and volunteer work is a great way to begin and helps prepare you to ultimately participate as a board member.

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