Iconic Women Leaders: The Experiences and Achievements that Helped Define Them

There is no short supply of accomplished business and community leaders in the Midlands who just so happen to be women.

These leaders are not stingy in sharing their talents and experiences — lifting other women and emerging changemakers. Here, we highlight five local women who are breaking new ground and transforming their industries and our communities.

Chanda Chacón
president & CEO, Children’s Nebraska

Chanda Chacón currently serves as the president and CEO of Children’s Nebraska. She has been both a fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives, and a court-appointed child advocate serving children in custody.   

She also maintains active membership in several influential spaces including Women of Ten, Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Children’s Hospital Association, Greater Omaha Chamber board of directors and Project Harmony board of directors.

Formerly, she served in leadership roles at Arkansas Children’s and Texas Children’s Hospital — one of the nation’s top pediatric health care institutions.

“Most recently, my proudest professional accomplishment is Children’s Nebraska’s intentional focus on improving mental health for children and adolescents in our region,” Chacón stated. “There has been a significant increase in mental health disorders in youth in recent years, including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation and the statistics are sobering.”

She noted how, in any given year, one in five children and adolescents will experience a mental health condition.

“Of those facing mental illness in their lifetime, 50% begin experiencing symptoms by the age of 14; however, an average of 11 years pass before treatment begins,” she said. “While mental health challenges in children, adolescents and young adults are real and widespread, they are treatable and often preventable, too.”

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Between the groundbreaking of its Behavioral Health and Wellness Center statewide initiatives, Chacón continued, Children’s is working to transform the quality of — and access to — care in behavioral and mental health for the children and families.

“Doing the right thing is not always easy and I am honored to be a part of a community and organization that takes this work to heart,” she said.

Her advice on leadership:

“Leadership can be challenging and having both grit and grace have been my guideposts along this journey. The grit is around working hard and being willing to tackle big challenges with courage. Grace is about having it for yourself and the people you lead. You are not a leader unless you inspire people to follow and caring about them as individuals is essential.”



Jay Warren-Teamer
Director of Diversity and Inclusion,
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska

An Omaha native, Jay Warren-Teamer has spent her personal and professional life serving the community. In August 2020, she was appointed director of diversity and inclusion at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, where she drives the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

Formerly, she co-founded I Be Black Girl with childhood friend Ashlei Spivey. She leads the group’s giving circle, IBBGives, which has invested more than $150,000 in projects supporting Black women, femmes and girls in the metro since its launch in 2018.

“When I joined the company in 2020, there was already a commitment to DEI and I had the opportunity to build and execute a more comprehensive strategy,” Warren-Teamer said. “Since then, according to surveys we’ve conducted, the percentage of BCBSNE employees who agree the company values diversity and inclusion has increased steadily from 85% in 2020 to 93% in 2023.”

She also isolated BCBSNE’s Human Resources Association of the Midlands (HRAM) Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) award.

“The survey results and award are among my proudest accomplishments, because it’s a reflection of the time and dedication that not only I’ve put into building our DEI program, but that our leadership team and employees have as well,” she explained. “Our employees having a sense of belonging is at the core of this work. So, I take great pride in the fact that Team Blue feels the impact of those efforts and that it’s improved over time.”

The HRAM award was a standout moment, because Warren-Teamer said she was able to celebrate it with so many other leaders.

“I’m the only full-time employee dedicated to DEI at BCBSNE, so I rely heavily on our six, soon to be eight, volunteer employee resource group leaders, our Diversity and Inclusion Group and so many other key internal business partners to help it all come to life,” she said.

Her advice on leadership:

“Lead from where you are … Leadership is not a title; it is an action. It’s the everyday moments where we can empower others, bring life to a vision, or solve problems. That’s leadership in action. I began to focus on the impact I could have by raising my hand for internal workgroups, building deeper relationships with my colleagues and spending a significant amount of time volunteering in the community. It’s through those things that I really honed and sharpened my leadership skills – and set myself up for the role I’m in now.”




Joanne Li
University of Nebraska Omaha

Following a national search and unanimous approval from the University of Nebraska System Board of Regents, Chancellor Joanne Li became UNO’s 16th chancellor in July 2021. She made history in two ways; as the first woman of color to serve as UNO chancellor and as the first Asian-American in the history of the University of Nebraska System to hold an executive leadership role.

Since joining UNO, she has positioned the university and Omaha as a workforce development engine through innovative approaches to teaching, learning, working, research, affordability, partnerships, and student retention and support. A highly engaged leader and scholar, Li formerly served as the dean of the Florida International University (FIU) College of Business in Miami. In part, she is a member of the CNBC’s Financial Wellness Council, the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) Global Network Americas Advisory Board and a founding member of the International Advisory Council of the Lisbon School of Economics and Management in Portugal.

In 2024, she was recognized by publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and its 13th annual Women’s History Month as one of the 40 leading women in higher education.

For Li, her proudest accomplishment is pursuing higher ed in the U.S. She earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Finance with a support discipline in econometrics and a Bachelor of Science (Summa Cum Laude) from Florida State University. She also holds a Chartered Financial Analyst designation, is a protégé in the Class of 2016 Millennium Leadership Institute co-sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and graduated from Harvard University’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education (MLE).

“As a first-generation student, earning a degree in the United States changed [my] life,” Li said, adding that she is “committed to pay this forward by creating accessible pathways to change the trajectory and mobility of others in the community.”

Her goal is to empower students and improve social and economic mobility, a commitment embodied by Li’s leadership in serving as a partner to strengthen the development of the future workforce.

Her advice on leadership:

“Build a strong circle of advisers and leaders who will help uplift you and your business. Step up when necessary and have no fear when doing so.”




Carmen Tapio
founder & CEO,
North End Teleservices

As CEO of North End Teleservices (NET), Tapio heads the largest African-American-owned business in Nebraska. Under her leadership, NET has landed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for the past four years, injecting more than $302 million into the state’s economy since 2018.

The economic impact overshadows accolades, as Tapio is focused on job creation and community revitalization; she also established Forever North Real Estate, the largest private mixed-use development investment in North Omaha.

As Tapio humbly tells it, she made  “a few phone calls” to ignite the launch of Nebraska Black Women United, an 800-strong organization empowering Black women across the state and beyond. Among numerous other leadership accomplishments, Tapio is the founder of The NET Work Spot, a coworking space in North Omaha; serves as chair of the Greater Omaha Chamber’s board of directors; is a 2022 Omaha Business Hall of Fame inductee; and was named Woman of the Year by Inspire Awards and USA Today Nebraska Woman of the Year in 2023 and 2022, respectively.

“It’s gratifying to have a culture where many of our employees are experiencing first-time success, and reaching personal and professional goals they previously may have thought were not possible,” she stated. “Their success is the driving force that compels us to forge ahead. Their success is my success.”

The work, she continued, is all about the sustained betterment of the community for many years to come.

“What I am doing today is the culmination of everything I have done and experienced in my life to this point,” she said. “My life’s journey is what enables me to do the work that I get to do. Nothing in life is ever wasted.”

Her advice on leadership:

“Never be afraid to lead with your heart.”

“One of the best ways to change the world is by creating jobs.”

“You should be able to master the art of an effective, seven-minute meeting.”




Linda Lovgren
Strategic Counsel,
Emspace + Lovgren

Getting her start in marketing in 1971, Linda Lovgren has made her mark in the Omaha marketing and public relations industry. Starting Lovgren Marketing group in 1978, she led the firm until 2018, when she sold it to Emspace Group, owned by Elizebeth Murphy. The firms would merge to create a distinctive branding, marketing and public relations blend. In fact, the now Emspace + Lovgren was named Marketing Agency of the Year in 2020 by the American Marketing Association Omaha Chapter.

Her commitment to the profession is demonstrated by the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) counselor designation and, in 2020, she earned certification International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) as a public outreach facilitator.

Lovgren has also demonstrated leadership in a wide array of civic and community causes, not limited to making history as the first woman elected to chair the Greater Omaha Chamber board of directors, and as a 2012 inductee of the Omaha Business Hall of Fame. Following a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010, Lovgren organized the Nebraska program of Casting for Recovery with the help of 14 other women volunteers. This program has since served 270-plus women with breast cancer with a three-day retreat focused on the healing power of nature via fly fishing and physical and emotional support.

In addition to her induction into the Hall of Fame and leading one of the “most effective chambers of commerce in the country,” Lovgren is most proud of her work on some of the region’s most-watched projects: the bond issue for the convention center and arena, the CSO water quality program, and the Storm Chasers Triple-A baseball stadium.

She also highlighted the continuation of her business through a woman-owned branding and marketing firm, Emspace, that as she puts it, “embraces the legacy of community enhancement and philanthropy.”

Her advice on leadership:

“I believe that leaders emerge when they recognize a need, can visualize a solution, speak up and energize the talents of others to accomplish the goal. The gift and desire to lead is about creating community, respecting diverse talents, believing in yourself and pursuing shared goals.”