An interview with Brenda Mainwaring, Vice President of Public Affairs
Union Pacific Railroad
BY: NATALIE PICHA
Brenda Mainwaring is an Iowa native and earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Anthropology at the University of Iowa. As Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs for Union Pacific Railroad in eight southern states, Ms. Mainwaring leads political and community outreach and has responsibility for the fastest-growing region of Union Pacific’s 23-state network. In addition, she mentors and supports her team, as they connect with hundreds of communities and organizations along Union Pacific’s rail lines. In 2016, she was recognized by the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce as a “Breakthrough Woman,” which recognizes achievement in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
PICHA: Why did you choose to study Anthropology and how has it contributed to your current position?
I have always had an interest in why people do what they do on a global level. Specifically, how people make choices based on their culture and interests. Surprisingly, my education has really informed the way I have, and continue, to approach my career. I may not be working as an anthropologist, but I am thinking about how people, both individually, and as a group, are influenced by their environments, how they make decisions, how they behave, and what they want from a company or a government. This insight helps me understand their perspective, which allows us to find a mutually successful path between their interests and my company’s interests.
PICHA: What advice would you like to share with the individuals reading this magazine?
If you get to a certain point in your career when you’ve reached a certain level of success where you can make a conscientious choice to either continue focusing on your own individual success and advancement, or begin to focus your energy and attention on the advancement of those around you, then that is an opportunity you can’t pass on. Over the years, I have realized that I have a responsibility for the careers of those around me, and that has become one of the most important functions of my job. I sit down with every person that joins my team, and I tell them I have two jobs – one is to help the company succeed, and the other is to help them succeed. Because if I’m successful at making those people around me succeed, then that is also indicative of my success.
PICHA: What is the biggest challenge you face, while helping the individuals on your team succeed?
The biggest challenge is determining whether the people on your team are truly receptive to being coached. Not everybody is willing, or ready, to learn. You must work together to identify the right path for their growth. Everyone learns differently. So, when you find a team member who is not open to hearing new ideas, it is very difficult to coach that individual. Then the next challenge is presented – leaving that person alone. If they are happy with where they are, sometimes you should just let them be. Otherwise, you’re beating your head against a wall, and you’re making them miserable. You may unintentionally be making them feel that in some way you believe they are not good enough, and maybe they are, but they just aren’t ready for the next step. It could also be possible that they are comfortable with where they are and aren’t looking for advancement. That is okay too. You have to align yourself with where they see themselves and be open and supportive of their decisions.
PICHA: I think we are all guilty at times, of being so focused on a goal, that we don’t realize how our words or behavior may be interpreted by others. Would you agree?
One of the big lessons I’ve recently learned is that my words matter more to the people that report to me, than they may matter to me. For example, I may voice an opinion on something or make an off-handed comment, and weeks later someone that reports to me will come back and say, “well a couple of weeks ago you said this,” and they really internalized it even though I didn’t mean for it to be taken that way. I have learned I need to be more mindful of my comments.
PICHA: What are your current goals, and what do you consider your success habits?
My personal goal is to influence women into leadership roles. I’m most focused right now on getting women on corporate Boards. California recently passed a law that requires diversity on boards of directors. As a result, the opportunity for women to be considered for openings on Boards is better than it ever has been in the past. But women are very reluctant to raise their hand. So, I’m participating with various groups to get qualified women to volunteer. Because if we don’t get ourselves on the policy setting level of corporations, we can’t ever expect policies to reflect our interests and diversity of thought. It is up to us, as women, to put ourselves out there and not wait until somebody asks. We are seeing more Board opportunities for women. The struggle is convincing qualified women that they should promote themselves. I would say my success habit is that I’m relentless. I don’t let anyone off the hook. If they are an executive or own their own business, this is how they can pay it forward. They need to get themselves onto a board of directors, so that they can pave the way for the next generation.