Op-Ed: Building a Pipeline of Talented Women in Transportation

Op-Ed: Building a Pipeline of Talented Women in Transportation

March 29, 2018  | Jannet Walker Ford

Diversity in the workforce is a multi-layered conversation that both the public and private sector industries must address in their actions, policies, and inclusivity. It is an ongoing conversation involving many contributors and participants within and outside most organizations.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, this article focuses on issues around women in the workforce; but many of the same principles, strategies, and discussion points apply across the board regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or religion.

With more than 20 years in different areas of the transportation industry, in both the public and private sectors, I have emerged a leader with strong views on why it’s so important to continue the advancements we have made in building diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and in parallel, address the challenges and solutions. I have experienced the care and feeding not only of my own career trajectory, but also those of other women in transportation who have benefited from diversity and inclusion programs, as well as leadership development – which is crucial to any operation’s bottom line if they are to develop workforce talent among diverse groups – and retain it.

To develop future leaders, women need exposure to a wide cross section of business ideas, cultural values and development opportunities. I was fortunate early in my transportation career to have been accepted to the 2005 Leadership APTA class offered by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In this yearlong program, we had exposure across all transit modes through our participation in all the major APTA conferences – from Legislative, Bus and Paratransit, and Rail conferences to the Annual Meeting. This immersion broadened our professional networks and cemented mentor-mentee relationships, both formal and informal, with individuals of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. The guidance has been invaluable throughout my career.

In building upon this experience, I was fortunate to have been selected for the highly prestigious and competitive Eno Transit Senior Executive Program. The course is centered around an intensive week-long seminar in various locations in the United States. As a graduate of the 2006 class, I gained invaluable insight from the participants, hearing from distinguished lecturers including the most respected guest public sector transportation CEOs in the industry. This program – affectionately known as the “boot camp” for future CEOs – left an everlasting impact and positive influence on me and the shaping of my career as a result of their candid sharing of perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned in dealing with topics ranging from workforce including diversity, labor, navigating the media, effective management of boards, crisis management, media relations, ethics, community involvement, and many other relevant topics as part of their respective journeys to the top executive ranks. These discussions, which typically begin with the tone of “so you think you want to be a CEO,” were inspirational for all us attendees representing the private and public sectors as we delved into executive problems and rigorous problem-solving across a range of issues common to transit agency leadership. It was a sequestered and structured week that forged lifelong bonds with colleagues – once again creating a network of relationships across the industry.

As a member of the executive team at Cubic Transportation Systems, I am part of a solution. I’m proud of that, and honored to provide my experience and guidance as a mentor to women who have been identified as high-potential employees, a process that encourages identifying diverse individuals. Cubic encourages these growth opportunities, providing visibility for more women to grow and thrive.

For women, in particular, finding our footing within a large tech company that has a heavy emphasis on engineering and innovation, as Cubic does, can feel like getting lost in the ocean. Women can struggle to find that natural cadence and buddy system more common among men who form male groups to grab a beer and talk baseball. By creating network organizations internally, such as the “Lean In Group” at Cubic (based on the vision of the best-selling book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg) we create a sense of belonging and partnerships that empower women executives to mentor – big steps that ultimately help fill the talent pipeline. (Similarly, Cubic has an Employee Resource Group for military veterans, another resource for women who served our country.)

The culture essential to diversity and inclusivity starts at the top. The senior leadership for Cubic Transportation Systems, its parent company Cubic Corporation, as well its other business units, is laser focused on the diversity gaps in talent recruitment and retention, which sets the tone across the corporation. It is reflected in our mission and embodied by Cubic’s Executive Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The committee’s guiding principle of commitment to building an engaging and inclusive workplace for all employees drives a number of programs and initiatives that promote hiring the best and most diverse talent, inclusivity, networking, mentoring, professional growth and talent development.

Diversity is imperative to innovation. It encourages different perspectives and ideas that result in innovation. As an innovator, Cubic prioritizes its culture to make a lasting impression of diversity and inclusion, whether for a job candidate, a new hire, or a long-term or retired employee.

So what can we do better to build the pipeline of talent to backfill the roles of an aging workforce? By being collaborative, we can solve problems leading to collective solutions that will shape the leaders we need to run our transit operations into the future.

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