“I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.” Ginni Rommety – former chairman, president, and CEO at IBM
Indeed, to get to where they are today, each of the Leading Ladies on our 2022 roster have had to boldly move forward in their own way and do something they had never done before. They do not fear taking their place at the proverbial table. They work hard and set the bar high on the measure of success. Collectively, they have impacted the lives of countless people through their professions, families, and community involvement. The Leading Ladies on this year’s list work in a wide variety of occupations – banking, healthcare, real estate, energy and petro-chemical industries, and non-profits. Read on for inspiration and advice from these exceptional leaders.
Paula Duhon McCain
Senior Manager – Environmental, Westlake Corporation Lake Charles S/N facilities
Paula McCain earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Lamar University in 1984 and began her career in Industrial Water Treatment with direct account responsibility in the Orange, Beaumont, and Port Arthur, Texas areas. She took a six-year career break beginning in 1990 and was primarily a stay-at-home mom with only some part-time work in water treatment. In 1996, Paula applied for a job at the school where her children attended, hoping for a preschool position. When they saw her credentials, they offered her a high school chemistry/physics position instead. “I loved teaching, and between Runnels in Baton Rouge, St. Louis High School, and Bell City High School, I taught for 16 years.”
During her teaching years, Paula earned a MA in Teaching from McNeese State University. In 2012, she applied for and accepted a position with PPG Industries, now Westlake Corporation. “I began as a Compliance Engineer and have held various positions related to environmental compliance. In 2021, I was promoted to Environmental Manager for the Westlake Lake Charles S/N facilities.”
Paula says she works with a team of talented professionals – subject matter experts in their roles – and she never stops learning. “The biggest challenges for me and my team involve navigating the ever-changing regulatory climate associated with environmental compliance.”
And she adds that preparation is key. “Being prepared allows you to be confident and to project that confidence in professional situations. And take your seat at the table! When I was first promoted to a supervisory position that entailed attending leadership team meetings with management, the room was arranged with a long conference table and chairs, and overflow chairs were around the perimeter of the room. My first day attending, I sat in the overflow chairs, even though when I arrived there were seats at the table. My boss at the time – a strong woman who is now a plant manager – corrected me and offered the following advice that has stuck with me. ALWAYS confidently take your seat at the table [figuratively and literally].
On finding balance: You accept that sometimes you need to make sacrifices – both personal and professional – to meet goals. I am fortunate to have had a supportive husband of 34 years (and counting) with whom to navigate the ride and share the load.
Best advice: Make time for things you love outside of work – that helps you stay professionally energized and avoid burnout. Hobbies are great diversions. I participate in community theatre, and although juggling schedules when I am in a show can be a real challenge, the reward is totally worth it.
Who most inspires you? That is a tough question. There are many. But close to home and inspirational in my current career I will say Esther Liggio. Esther was the Environmental Manager when I first started at PPG, and her class, polish, and professionalism are second to none. I was lucky enough to work with and for Esther before her retirement and learned a lot about what a smart and strong leader looks like.
Executive Director, Calcasieu Community Clinic
Kayla Rigney has served as the Executive Director at the Calcasieu Community Clinic for the past 14 years. She says she started working at age 15 and studied at the “School of Life.” Prior to her current position, she worked as an administrative assistant, office manager, and a marketing representative.
The Calcasieu Community Clinic strives to keep people healthy so they can be productive in the workforce. They offer medical, lab, diagnostic, medication, dental and vision services to working citizens who for any reason don’t have health insurance. Kayla appreciates that her role at the Clinic provides opportunities to help people in our parish. “Our biggest reward is serving those hard-working citizens who are the backbone of our community.”
Kayla says there have been numerous challenges over the past two years to provide continuity of services. Located in Hardtner Hall on the campus of McNeese State University, their services were interrupted in 2020 when COVID-19 closed the campus. But she and the Clinic staff formed workarounds to ensure patients continued to receive their medications. Then just when they were nearing the reopening the Clinic, Hurricane Laura had other plans. “We were out of the building until mid-March 2021,” Kayla says. “When we resumed regular Thursday evening clinics, we quickly realized that many of the patients we served in the past were no longer in the area. Rental properties across town were badly damaged, requiring many residents to relocate. Even now, two years after Laura made landfall in Southwest Louisiana, rental property is slow to be rebuilt, impacting our residents who depend on it and limiting the numbers of people we can help; however, our staff and Board of Directors are committed to serving those in our community who need us.”
Navigating these challenges has taught Kayla to be flexible and open to change. “Often, change promotes growth,” she says. “Remaining flexible and finding creative solutions to providing patient care has been crucial. We defined a process should we ever need to work this way in the future.”
On finding balance: There have been times in my past work life when I had to travel for work. My husband, Bruce, kept the household running. My daughter, Kelsey was in college at the time. It would have been impossible to manage if our family had been younger.
Best advice: Show up, be on time, have a positive attitude, believe you can do anything you set your mind to. And most importantly, be flexible!
What woman inspires you most? I am most inspired by the attitudes and spirits of strong women who have been successful in our community. Those who decide what they want and work until they achieve their goal. Women who aren’t afraid to make material sacrifices to achieve what makes them happy in their work-life. Those women who, when faced with a bump in the road, find ways to go around it and come out on the other side better for having gone through the experience. Hopefully ever woman reading this will identify and know that they are an inspiration, whether they feel that way or not.
Faith Sylve Hooks
Executive Director, Alliance for Positive Growth Senior Consultant, Empowerment BSC
Faith Sylve Hooks began her career path at age 15 in New Orleans when she was awarded a two-part paid internship. The first portion was at a maritime law firm in New Orleans, followed by an assignment to the public relations officer at the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Faith graduated from high school at age 16 and went to work the next day in the hospitality industry to earn money for college. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Loyola University. Over the next two decades, she worked in a variety of areas, including positions in other legal and court systems, non-profit, and as a researcher for a private firm. She also gained extensive experience in the commercial construction/development field in Atlanta, Georgia before returning to Louisiana to serve as a director of education and then campus director in post-secondary education across the state for a family-owned allied health institute.
“The positions I held through this point in my career required extensive performance evaluation, along with adherence to very specific federal and state reporting regulations,” says Faith. “I discovered I thrived doing this type of work, but then faced a rude awakening. I created a department performance tracking system that was going to be presented at a national conference. I was told I would not be listed in the credits because I only had a bachelor’s degree. That pushed me to pursue a graduate degree.”
Faith earned a Master of Science degree in Leadership and Human Resource Development with a concentration in Workforce Development from Louisiana State University. In 2019, she founded Empowerment Business Solutions & Consulting, offering data and performance analysis to help organizations make informed decisions and present their stories in dynamic ways to key stakeholders.
Later that year, she joined the Alliance for Positive Growth (APG) as Executive Director. In this role, Faith Advocates for regional economic development.
“I really enjoy working to build bridges between groups of people from the private business sector and governing bodies to promote strong, beneficial growth in Southwest Louisiana.”
Like anything in life, her work does not come without challenges. She says the biggest is the “expectation of time.” “In project-based work, it is always a fight against the clock or what is feasible within the time given,” she says.
On finding balance: I’m still working on this one! My husband says I “crash” for a day or two after a major project completion. My daughter writes me notes every week that say, “You’re the best mom ever!” So, I must be doing something right.
Best advice: Define what success is for you and don’t compare it to what others are doing. Always present yourself as coachable, open to learning from both superiors and subordinates. Seek out strong mentors and integrate them into your life journey, not just the one avenue where you met them.
Who inspires you most? Dr. Dawn Greay (career educator), one of the earliest representations of an educated black professional woman in my community.
Awards & Recognition
Christy Papania Jones
Founder & Executive Director, St. Nicholas Center for Children
Christy Papania-Jones founded the St. Nicholas Center for children in October 2008 and has held the position of Executive Director since. She graduated from McNeese State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education, a Master of Education degree in Guidance and Counseling, and an Education Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision.
She began her career at Immaculate Conception Cathedral School where she taught for one year before moving into the counselor position for the next 17 years. During this time, she had a son who was diagnosed with Autism. There were very limited resources and no true Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services in Lake Charles. By her son’s third birthday, she and her husband, Chris, had traveled the country seeking specialists to provide him with the best future possible. That’s when they decided to bring a therapy center to Southwest Louisiana. St. Nicholas Center for Children transforms the lives of children with Autism, delays, and disorders by providing family support and therapy—ABA, speech and occupational—all under one roof. In addition, the non-profit provides registered line technicians at local schools, parent/staff trainings and free workshops for teachers and daycare providers through its outreach services. “Seeing children make progress in ways that are truly life changing is the most rewarding aspect of my vocation,” says Christy. She attributes their clients reaching their fullest potential to the efforts of the talented and dedicated professionals she works with daily.
Christy says the greatest challenge right now is the temporary facility they are operating out of due to Hurricane Laura destroying their Ryan Street location. “We currently don’t have adequate space for all the children who need our services. It’s difficult seeing children who need our help on the waiting list. And we’ll continue to get creative and make strides at securing a bigger space for those families.”
On finding balance: Balance is something I am reevaluating all the time. I don’t know any woman who feels like they have a perfect work/life balance, and we all tend to be hardest on ourselves versus giving ourselves grace. I love to surround myself with people who lift each other up, pray for one another, and step-in where there is a need. I am blessed and thankful with a supportive family and friend group, and I know my children have a village they can turn to.
Best advice: It is more important to leave an impact on someone by how they feel after they have worked with you, rather than any measurement on a chart or a bank account. Someone will always come behind you and do it better; that’s ok. The best legacy is one where it was never about you in the first place.
Who inspires you most? St. Teresa of Calcutta. She showed through humility and charity what it means to love your neighbor. She said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” It is easy to feel powerless in a world where so many things seem to be going wrong. We might feel too small or ordinary to make a difference, so why even try? Mother Teresa’s words remind us small actions have value, too. We only need to have a willing spirit and love in abundance.
Awards & Recognition:
Vice President, Chamber SWLA
Paula Ramsey is a Lake Charles native who studied nursing at LSU-E for three semesters but realized healthcare wasn’t her thing. She moved to Houston and embarked on a 20-year career in property management, consecutively working for two of the largest apartment property developers and management companies in Houston. She began as a leasing agent for Harold Farb Investments; three years later she was promoted to Leasing Supervisor, managing over 3,300 apartments. When two executives left Farb to start their own management company, Allied Realty/Bradley Apartment Homes, they brought Paula with them as their VP of Marketing. “Being there for 13 years from the very beginning and working alongside them to create one of the largest and most successful management companies in Houston was exciting and very rewarding,” she says. Paula was active in the Houston Apartment Association and earned certification as an Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS) for Property Management by the National Apartment Association in 1994. In 1999, she received the first award given to a marketing professional by the Houston Apartment Association. “I enjoyed my career in property management because I loved working with people. During the 1980s, Houston was a boom town. I met people from all over the country and the world. Living in Houston was some of the best times in my life.”
In 2004, Paula returned to Lake Charles and realized there were no large apartment complexes, management companies or jobs even close to what she had done in Houston. In 2005, she joined the Chamber SWLA as a volunteer, serving on the Ambassador Committee and chairing the Member Relations Committee. She was hired by the Chamber in 2008 as the membership salesperson. Paula was promoted to Vice President of the Chamber in 2011. “Working to grow our organization by bringing in new members and retaining current members are my primary responsibilities. I also enjoy working on member events.” Paula received her U.S. Chamber Institute for Organization Management certification from Southeast Institute at the University of Georgia in 2012. She served on the Board for Louisiana Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (LACCE) for five years and as President in 2019. She says she enjoys seeing the difference the Chamber makes in our region and community. “Helping businesses succeed, especially small businesses, and often doing work behind the scenes for our community is exciting!”
On finding balance: Having a supportive husband and partner is one of the secrets to being happy at work and at home. Sharing responsibilities of running your home and raising your children (or in my case, child) is so important.
Best advice: It’s cliché, but true. Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Don’t set your expectations so high that you only see negatives and shortcomings. Look for the good, the positive, in everything and everyone and you won’t be disappointed.
Who most inspires you? Barbara Bush. In any situation, she was “real.” She was honest and straightforward while being a loving, affectionate wife, mother, and grandmother.
Dr. Ollie Normand
Senior Manager of Research and Development (R&D), at Sasol Lake Charles
Dr. Ollie Normand was passionate about math and science as a child and fell in love with chemistry in high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Trinity University in San Antonio and found her niche in research. Dr. Normand went on to earn her doctorate in organic chemistry from Texas A&M University, and afterwards began working for Sasol in the Analytical R&D department, which later led to a role with the Industrial Applications Research Team. “I led a team and developed new applications for Sasol’s products and worked with new customers to solve their technical issues. Some of the most exciting work I did in this role was developing sunscreen for crop protection and water washable crayons.”
In 2020, Dr. Normand assumed the role of Senior Manager in the Sasol Lake Charles R&D department. “I lead a team of scientists and chemists to deliver creative customer-focused solutions to technical challenges in a safe, profitable and sustainable way,” she says. “I work with smart, driven people to discover the latest technologies. I love problem solving and innovating but being able to lead and empower this team to technical success is inspiring and I love what I do because of them.”
Dr. Normand has published scientific articles and patented five inventions. Through her various roles, Dr. Normand says she’s learned the importance of building relationships by being honest and having integrity. “Hard work will get you far but being able to work with others will get you farther.”
The past two years have been challenging for Dr. Normand, with the pandemic, a global financial crisis, and two hurricanes hitting our area. “Managing peoples’ safety over the past two years has been a complex situation to handle. But Sasol is a great company that truly cares about their employees and our employees are resilient. We have come out of these trying times stronger. Now we can focus on the work and have fun doing it.”
On finding balance: Balance is a constant struggle because the demands of being a perfect mother, employee, spouse, and taking care of yourself are more than time allows. I have learned to be compassionate with myself. I will make mistakes, there will be dirty dishes in the sink, too many nights of take out, and I will miss things in my children’s lives that I wish I didn’t. I don’t strive for perfection, but strive to be happy, to love my family with all I have, and to be a good role model for my children . . . this is my balance.
Best advice: Don’t wait for someone else to tell you when you’re ready for the next step. Women tend to wait to apply for higher level positions until they check all the boxes on a job-posting. Don’t wait until you’re perfect for the job. Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and believe in yourself.
Who most inspires you? Ruth Bader Ginsburg was undeniably one of the most accomplished women’s rights activists in modern history, ensuring women could get access to state colleges, buy a house, and receive equal pay at work.
Danette McManus Brown
Real Estate Professional/Realtor/Home Matchmaker, Flavin Realty
Danette McManus Brown, a Lake Charles native, began her career journey in education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Education, a master’s degree in Educational Technology, Master’s Plus 30 in Instructional Technology and a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership all from McNeese State University and taught in Calcasieu Parish schools for 12 years. But real estate runs in her blood, she says. “My grandparents and parents were all brokers/realtors. After receiving my license in 2011, I fell in love with everything about it and ultimately decided to leave teaching behind and focus on my real estate career 100%.” Danette has worked in real estate for 12 years and is currently employed by Flavin Realty.
Buying or selling property is NOT for the faint of heart, but it can be so rewarding, Danette says. “What better feeling than seeing the faces of new buyers light up because they have found HOME? Or better yet, witnessing the emotional, bittersweet ‘Goodbyes’ of childhood homes or memories or the exchanging of keys and a lifetime of memories from a seller’s hand to a buyer’s hand?”
As a former educator who enjoyed teaching a classroom of 30 children, Danette says she feels like she can teach anyone anything. “Education plays an integral part of the real estate industry as the market changes daily. As a realtor, it is my obligation to seamlessly explain the real estate process to my clients and help them navigate through the journey.” Danette coaches her clients through each step, from pre-approval, house hunting, and gathering lender documents to the home inspection, appraisal, and finally the closing. “Whew! What a ride!”
Danette has been elected to the 2023 SWLAR Board of Directors. She’s been recognized as a Top Producing Agent, an ABR Representative and serves on the Community Involvement Committee.
On balance: I definitely feel torn sometimes. Due to the demands of the job, prioritizing is essential. Allowing myself permission to take time to relax and not work is something that I work on daily.
Best advice: We are all SUPERWOMEN! But even the infamous Superwoman had to take her cape off sometimes! Let your hair down and REJUVENATE often. Our worlds rely on us to keep them moving, no rest for the weary.
Who most inspires you? My mother, Dixette Williams, was and continues to be my inspiration. She was such a beautiful person inside and out; but what baffles me to this day is no matter the situation, she remained calm, cool and collected. Her greatest asset was her ability to show love and compassion towards others, stay poised, strong and passionate. If I shoot for just a few of these qualities every day, I call it a great day!
Kay C. Fox
Vice President of Marketing and Member Services, Beauregard Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Kay Fox is the VP of marketing and member services and manages the communications and billing department at BECi. Her goal is to serve the community with integrity. “We focus on great customer service while providing a local face to our cooperative,” she says. “As an electric cooperative, we are owned by the members we serve, and they are our number one priority.”
Kay began her career at McNeese State University, where she holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in education. She says, “I enjoy working with the public and never meet a stranger.” Soon after graduation, she was hired by McNeese and worked there for six years until she and her family moved back home.
Kay was hired by BECi in 1995 after the cooperative created a public relations position where she served in that capacity until she was promoted to vice president in 2007. She finds her role rewarding because she never works the same day twice. “My job does not allow me to sit behind a desk for eight hours – and I love it! I educate electric cooperative members in positive ways to reduce their energy usage, explain rates and billing options, work through natural disasters, and communicate to our members how power restoration works.”
It is during times of natural disasters that Kay faces the greatest challenges. “With uncertainty, it is imperative to inform the community of our restoration efforts and to let members know that we will work diligently to restore power to all. I’m always honest, even if the results are tough. If you are honest, people learn to trust you which is important in a job like mine.”
Kay is currently the SWLA Chamber Chair. She also serves on several committees and boards and has been selected Rotarian of the Year.
On balance: I don’t allow my personal life to suffer because of my work. I believe you can be a successful mother and wife if you work hard and dedicate your life to your family. Fortunately, I work for a company that puts family first. My husband, Nick, and I have three children and two grandchildren.
Best advice: Love what you do. Don’t fear hard work or get discouraged. At times you’ll need to keep an open mind; and when you do, you’ll be rewarded. Don’t get stuck in the same routine and be ready for change – change is good and healthy sometimes.
Who most inspires you? Years ago, I admired Sandra Day O’Conner because of her tenacity and strength to survive among a predominantly male workforce. But I look back now and realize that my mother made the greatest impact on my life. I developed my public speaking ability, my work ethic, strength, and aggressiveness to make right decisions from her. Even after losing my mother in 2010, I have never lost her traits and her ability to lead others, care for my community, and love my family.
Optimization Manager, Phillips 66 Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex
Nikole Walston grew up mostly in West Texas, the daughter and granddaughter of mechanical engineers who worked in the oil business. She followed suit and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Texas A&M University in 1995. While in college, Nikole worked several internships in a variety of petro-chemical settings that afforded her hands-on experience. She later earned a master’s in international business from the University of Texas at Dallas. After college graduation, she worked as a maintenance reliability engineer and subsequently, a project engineer. Over time, Nikole worked at three refineries with three different companies where she built expertise and drove improvement through positions of increasing responsibility on projects, operations, and business planning. “Each job piqued my interest to learn more about the process and the business, leading me into planning, economics, and operations,” Nikole says. She has served as Optimization Manager at Phillips 66 since May 2021.
Nikole says she loves the variety and complexity in refining. “No day or year is the same and there are endless opportunities to make a difference. I enjoy working with teams to make changes that improve the way we do things through more efficient or effective processes, or new and improved facilities.”
Of course, she admits, things never go exactly according to plan. “That’s why our jobs are needed! Our focus then is on mitigating the risks and finding solutions. In operations, that often means working through equipment issues to run safely, reliably, and adjust associated feed and product forecasts. In projects, that means juggling people and financial resources to meet the goal.”
Out of necessity, Nikole has learned much about decision making over the years. “I collect stories and data from a variety of perspectives. I ask others for their ideas on improvement. Of course, as an engineer I like to see charts and graphs of data to support decisions as well. And I trust my gut.”
On balance: You CANNOT do it all. Choose the most important things and let go or let others do the rest. Disconnect from work for a bit every day to connect with your significant others and take time for yourself to recharge. Embrace your time off and take vacations away from work.
Best advice: Work hard but also focus on connecting with those around you – employees, peers, superiors, and industry colleagues. Be authentic. Sit AT the table not the back row, and confidently speak up. Address conflicts head on, diplomatically of course. Bullies will not stop until you stand up to them. And don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, but also ask what your employer wants from you and be open to alternate career paths.
Who most inspires you? I found the author Sheryl Sandberg inspirational in her book Lean In. Not only is she insightful on the ways women unintentionally sabotage their success, but she offers advice to present your best foot forward. She also offers practical tips to balance demands of both home and work.
Vice President & Director of Human Resources, First Federal Bank of Louisiana
Mallie Bowers began her banking in 2004 as a teller at a small community bank in Natchitoches, La. She mastered her role quickly and was promoted to supervisor. After getting married, she and her husband moved to St. Augustine, Fl. so he could finish graduate school. During this time, Mallie worked at another community bank. Two years later, they moved back to his hometown of Sulphur, La. and Mallie accepted the position of Branch Supervisor at the First Federal Bank Sulphur Branch in 2008. A few years later they opened a new branch in Carlyss. “I was honored to help open that branch and learned so much about building a new branch and the operations involved. Along the way, I learned the lending side of banking, and grew as a leader and banker. In 2014, I applied for an internal recruiter position in the human resources department. I was promoted to my current role as HR Director in 2018.” Mallie was selected for Banking on Leaders of Tomorrow in 2017; attended the Louisiana Banking Leadership School in 2018; and was awarded the 2021 Young Bankers Impact Award.
Mallie says working in Human Resources can be stressful, especially these last few years considering all we’ve we been through in SWLA. “The silver lining is having a front row seat in being there to support people. Some days, we just push paper but other days we get to speak into people’s lives, provide guidance, support and help others with their careers and in their life. The most rewarding part of my job is supporting young bankers and watching them grow through their journey. I was once in their shoes and if it wasn’t for the men and women who helped me along the way I wouldn’t have the career I do today. Empathy is a key to being a great leader. To take yourself out of a situation and focus on someone else’s perspective is important in any position, whether dealing with a customer, an employee, a boss, etc.”
On finding balance: I’ve worked in banking my daughter’s entire life. Banking is a great industry for working parents. Management at First Federal Bank understands the importance of family and raising children. My husband and I were present for various school functions. It wasn’t always easy. I missed a few events; but I used them as teaching opportunities. I taught my daughter that with responsibility comes sacrifice, and if you’re striving for something bigger and better, the occasional sacrifices are worth it in the end.
Best advice: Have confidence, support other women, be empathic, and be yourself. I’ve been told I’m too emotional. But the more I think about it, I realize my emotions are who I am – a byproduct of my passion. I can’t change that.
Who most inspires you? My Aunt Julie Hebert grew up in Berwick, La. and attended Nicholls State University. After college, she moved to San Francisco to pursue her love of theater arts. She’s made an amazing career for herself doing something she loves.