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Powerful stories from women who are driving change in South Louisiana

Mar 8, 2021

Shining A Spotlight on Strong Women In South Louisiana

Powerful stories from women who are driving change in South Louisiana

In celebration of Women’s History month, we’re spotlighting female leaders who embody the spirit of South Louisiana. This interview series shines a spotlight on the strong women who are finding success in our nine-parish region by innovating across industries, driving change, and leading by example.

We asked a few inspiring women in our community to share their experiences, advice, and insights that can help encourage women and girls to be leaders in their lives, in our communities, and beyond. Join us in celebrating each of these amazing female entrepreneurs as we learn what it means to be a strong woman in South Louisiana.

Carlee Alm-LaBar | CEO, United Way of Acadiana

What lessons and experiences can you share as a female leader?

I really believe in the old saying that 80 percent of success is showing up. Especially earlier in my career, I would find the activities that I was interested in and really engage. I would follow through if I made a commitment. To learn new things, I would try to listen to what was happening around me and not be afraid to ask “stupid” questions.

I haven’t usually focused on being a woman, though as I have advanced in my career, I have found that being a woman sometimes causes people to doubt my abilities. I don’t dwell on that though – there are plenty of people who are willing to believe in me as a woman, and I focus on that.

How do you engage with and empower other businesswomen in South Louisiana?

For the work that I have done for most of my career, focusing on helping people think about their commitment to the community is usually how I am engaging with them. Almost always, people want their community to be better and stronger – we all want great schools, great public services, engaged and informed citizens. But people are also busy – with homes, and lives, and families. When I am doing community work, I am always trying to make it as accessible as possible for people to make a positive difference. Making community change and helping the community seem easy – seem like something we can all achieve. Because we can.

What makes South Louisiana a great home for you and your family?

I’m not actually a Louisiana native, but this question is so easy to answer because there’s

no doubt that Louisiana is my adopted home! Louisiana’s culture and sense of family is the best I’ve ever been a part of – people in Louisiana prioritize what’s really important in life, and that has always made me feel at home.

Marcelle Fontenot | Anchor, KATC TV-3

As a South Louisiana native, what anchors you here—no pun intended.

Family and culture, it’s that simple. The two go hand-in-hand in creating the fabric of this beautiful quilt we call South Louisiana.

As someone who is so ingrained in the ins-and-outs of our community, what is one thing you’d like to see for the future of South Louisiana?

Gosh. There are so many things: better schools, a stronger economy, more jobs that allow for a sustainable living, less crime.

However, what I want more than anything is for people to be more patient and accepting of others. Our differences don’t make us enemies. Opening ourselves up to someone who doesn’t look like us and whose background or lifestyle is different than our own is a small effort that can make a huge impact. The experience could be life-changing and foster a deeper appreciation of “community.”

Why do you believe it is important to support women in our lives, in business and, in everyday life?

Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

Women are powerful beyond measure. We navigate the obstacles of our days no matter how tired, broken, or battered we might be and get it done. We are doers, caretakers, supporters. Only another woman can understand what it’s like to be everything for everyone. When we support each other—look out, world—we’re a force to be reckoned with.


Mary Ellen Henry | CEO, JohnPac

What is the single most important bit of advice you would give to other female leaders?

Never think in terms of being a “female” leader; rather, just be a leader.

How has South Louisiana influenced you personally and professionally?

The people of this region are very open and friendly, they work hard, and they have a strong sense of family, so I try to model the same behaviors. I am surrounded by local, outstanding talent, which makes me look good!

What do you think is the biggest advantage that women leaders bring to the table?

I think a willingness to be more collaborative especially in tough situations. We are often more totally engaged with our co-workers and have a willingness to show vulnerability.


Allyson Pharr | Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer, Acadian Companies

What makes South Louisiana a great place for female entrepreneurs to live, work, and play?

I love South Louisiana for the same reason I believe so many people do—with few exceptions, you are treated like family. That means that women are respected as a pivotal member of the family and that bleeds into the workplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I have often been called “Darlin” but rarely in an offensive way…more often, in a “Whatever you want, Darlin!” way, and that vernacular is beginning to go away as more women join the workforce. It’s not such a shock for men to see us leading families and businesses! I have had instances where assumptions were made as to my role versus a male counterpart’s role in the company, but when the error was made known, I have felt very respected and think that it was a learning experience for the person making the assumption. If that one instance made them think twice the next time they encountered a female in business, then it was worth the minute of inconvenience for me and embarrassment for them! Culture and behavioral changes take time, and as long as people aren’t being intentionally degrading, I am patient and happy to provide insight.

I also love to spend time with family and friends—the feeling of everybody in your crew being family (whether by blood or not) brings a sense of comfort when raising kids, living in a community, and playing there. We put a lot of importance on relationships and that increases collaboration in business and in our desire to create great communities.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge for future female leaders here in South Louisiana?

I think sometimes women feel that there are only a few spots for them in business and so we feel too competitive toward other women. We don’t always support each other like we should, so I think the challenge will be to encourage and support other women, their goals, their successes, and their futures.

What words of encouragement would you give to the next generation of women leaders?

BE YOUR WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL, CREATIVE FEMALE SELF, and always strive to do the right thing! Women are extraordinary people and multitaskers, and we don’t need to think like, dress like, or talk like men to get ahead. BE YOU and be confident in who you are and what you stand for—be authentic and be honest.


Missy Rogers | President, Noble Plastics

What does being a businesswoman in South Louisiana mean to you?

South Louisiana is home to me, and in 20 years of starting and leading a company here, I know a huge part of our success is the creativity and tenacity of the people of this region. We are able to achieve so much because we work hard, side-by-side, to get difficult things done, and the culture is such that we get to relax and play together, too. This fosters team trust and a spirit of cooperation that goes beyond what other parts of the world experience.

How do you manage self doubt?

I get to enjoy the shared confidence of my team and what we do together, so there’s less time lost to self-doubt or isolation of management from the rest of the staff.


Leading A Legacy In South Louisiana

What’s clear from these leading ladies is that there’s no right or wrong way to become a leader—but it always starts with passion, courage and a little South Louisiana spirit.

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