3 local leaders offer their best advice for young women


Female Senior Leaders, Protective, advice for young women
Theresa Jones, Laura McDonald + Cary Wahlheim (Bham Now)

In honor of Women’s History Month, we sat down with three female senior leaders at Protective to learn more about their careers, community service and personal lives. Then we asked them for their best advice for young women. Here’s what they told us.

Meet the female senior leaders

1. Cary Wahlheim, Senior Vice President + Senior Counsel

Female Leaders, Protective, advice for young women
Cary Walheim (Bham Now)

Cary Wahlheim is a Mountain Brook High School grad whose whole family is in the Birmingham area. She met her husband, who’s from Huntsville, in law school. They have two grown daughters and soon will be empty-nesters. When she’s not working, she likes to garden, spend time in the North Carolina Mountains and travel.

She started working at Protective two and a half years ago during the pandemic after serving as a lawyer in healthcare for nearly 30 years. She loves learning new things and relishes the challenges that come with switching industries.

Wahlheim is a breast cancer survivor, and her mom died of cancer, so the work of the American Cancer Society of Alabama is close to her heart. Her main involvement has been raising money through their Hope Gala and serving in a number of leadership roles.

She’s also very active with Red Mountain Theatre and Kiwanis Club of Birmingham.

2. Theresa Jones, Director of Supplier Diversity

Female Leaders, Protective, advice for young women
Theresa Jones (Bham Now)

Theresa Jones grew up in inner-city Birmingham and is a Phillips High School graduate. She’s a military spouse with two grown sons and a little Beagle. She is a proud graduate of Stillman College, an HBCU in Tuscaloosa.

She joined Protective in 2019 because of her experience in leadership and procurement. She then had the opportunity to lead Protective’s Supplier Diversity Program, as part of their overall commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Jones is on the board for Bundles of Hope Diaper Bank, which helps families by providing diapers for babies and sanitary products for women and girls. This takes pressure off families who can’t provide these basic needs.

She is also on the board of Build-UP, a private workforce development high school that prepares students for careers in the trades. Students work toward their high school diploma while learning hands-on skills, and can purchase a home for 0% interest after completing the six-year program. This innovative educational program helps students change the trajectory of their families.

3. Laura McDonald, Senior Vice President, Chief Commercial Mortgage + Real Estate Officer

Laura McDonald, female leaders, Protective, advice for young women
Laura McDonald (Bham Now)

Laura McDonald grew up in Scottsboro, Alabama, before moving to Birmingham in 1990. She and her husband Burton have two children, ages 21 and 18, and two rescue dogs.

She is the Chief Mortgage and Real Estate officer for Protective Life, responsible for the originations and management of the company’s $12 billion commercial loan portfolio.

Living Protective’s core value to serve people, she’s deeply committed to community causes with an emphasis on cancer-related organizations in honor of her greatest influence and late mother, Karen York, who died of cancer at age 55.

For two years, she was the Board Chair for the Jefferson-Shelby County American Cancer Society Board of Directors, and currently serves as President-Elect of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center advisory board.

Want to work with inspiring leaders like these women? Protective is hiring.

Advice for young women

1. Career

Female Leaders, Protective
Jessica Poor, Millie Rutland, Theresa Jones + Natalie Melton (Bham Now)
  • Cary Wahlheim: There are times in a professional career when you may think about quitting. Really take the time to think about your long-term goals and make decisions based off of that, not in the heat of the moment. You may need to rearrange things at work or at home, but don’t give up on your own goals too quickly to meet everyone else’s goals.
  • Theresa Jones: Find a network of like-minded women who will challenge you to succeed and inspire you to be the best you. Find your voice and use it wisely—it’s been given to you so you can speak up and help the person behind you. Write your vision and think about the steps it will take to reach your goals.
  • Laura McDonald: Align yourself with people that inspire you, lead by example and want to invest in your success. You’ll scale gender barriers more easily if you have people ready to invest in your future and help guide you along the way.

2. Community—advice for young women

Female Leaders, Protective, advice for young women
Millie Rutland, Theresa Jones, Laura McDonald, Natalie Melton, Jessica Poor + Cary Wahlheim (Bham Now)
  • Cary Wahlheim: Get involved in an organization to learn about your community and to share your talents with others. At certain stages, it’s good to find ways to serve the community that dovetail with other interests such as your kids’ school.
  • Theresa Jones: Find the community mission that you are passionate about and get involved with an organization that is tapping into that passion. It will help you personally and professionally to be the change agent your community needs.
  • Laura McDonald: Spend your time and talents on causes that are personal to you and fuel your passion for change.

3. Personal

Female Leaders, Protective,
Millie Rutland, Jessica Poor + Natalie Melton (Bham Now)
  • Cary Wahlheim: Listen to your body and don’t ignore signals that something may be wrong.
  • Theresa Jones: Be intentional about prioritizing your health and mental well-being. Schedule time to take vacations, self-care days and mental refresh days. This should not be the last item on your to do list, but the first.
  • Laura McDonald: Spend your time, or personal capital, cultivating relationships that matter most—with your God, family, friends and business colleagues. Water and tend to them and your life will be a plentiful garden.

If you want to work with incredible leaders like these women, apply to work at Protective today.

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Protective refers to Protective Life Insurance Company and Protective Life and Annuity Insurance Company. Protective is a registered trademark of Protective Life Insurance Company.

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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