Electrician, welder, technician. These are all jobs traditionally held by men, although that is starting to change slowly.
Last week, influential women leaders led a keynote panel discussion entitled “Women Can Build: The Power of Transportation Investment” at the Women’s Transportation Seminar annual conference in New York.
The panel focused on the catalytic impact that transportation investment can have in creating and expanding good jobs, workforce and business opportunities for women and other historically underserved groups and high-needs communities.
Women and minorities remain underrepresented from the boardroom to the shop floor.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, there will be 533,000 good jobs available in the manufacturing sector in the next decade, and only 7 percent of workers in these jobs are currently women.
A whopping 1.3 million good jobs will be available in transportation, distribution, and logistics in the next decade and only 9 percent of the current workforce in this field are women.
The diverse panel gave various examples and strategies for how to develop the public policies, programs, strategic alliances and partnerships needed to level the playing field, sustain the workforce and create business opportunities for women and minorities.
Panelists included the Mayor of Syracuse Stephanie Miner, NY MTA Interim Executive Director Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, Dr. Beverly Scott, CEO of Beverly Scott Associates, Amy Kenyon, program officer for the Ford Foundation, former AFL-CIO Director of Organizing Elizabeth Bunn, former New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald of JMM Strategic Solutions, as well as Jobs to Move America Executive Director Madeline Janis.
Mayor Miner said, “Women can be a catalyst for progress in transportation infrastructure. Whether engineers, tradeswomen, or policymakers, women can help make a positive difference, setting the right priorities and getting the job done.”
Others, like McDonald, did not start in the transportation field. “Transportation was not my first career, but it is my lasting love. I fell in love with transportation as a legislative budget analyst in the late 1980s on a New York City bridge tour under the 59th Street bridge!” An English major with a master’s degree in public administration, her advice to women in transportation is to follow the “zig-zag path.”
“Zig and zag in your career to take on new challenges and be open to anything. There is room in this field for engineers, architects, planners and English majors. I believe the field has changed by opening up more opportunities for women — but there is still far to go,” she said.
As for Scott, who started her career in transportation in the 1970s, almost everything was a first. “Being an operator, superintendent, manager, cleaning a facility — just name it. So, from that vantage point, women have advanced.” Scott went on to serve as general manager/CEO of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, the Sacramento Regional Transit Authority, and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.
Even with these successes, “40 years later, we are still celebrating firsts,” Scott continued, “Today, women represent fewer than 10 percent of employees in STEM-related careers like transportation and the other critical infrastructure sectors. Achieving gender equality is one of our best strategies to lift all boats and achieve shared prosperity — which is key to improving lives today and securing our future. We need to focus on leadership development and pipelines for millions of positions in the transit industry.”
Janis, whose organization focuses on procurement and the power of investing our tax dollars in good jobs for women, people of color and other underserved communities shared her vision for how things can change
“Women are essentially excluded from the factory floor, construction site and front line in the transportation industry. The good news is that we can change this by adopting inclusive public procurement practices that ensure that contractors include more women in all jobs and create an environment where there is zero tolerance for "locker room talk" and other forms of discrimination,” she said.
Recent studies are proving that having more women in leadership is a good move for company profits and the economy at large. Women need more opportunities on the factory floor and more training so they can advance in their careers. Community groups, business, and labor need to come together and be deliberate in planning, driving change and providing women with the tools necessary to succeed in these male-dominated fields.