NS grows the ranks of female employees in field operations
Norfolk Southern continues to make gains in efforts to recruit and retain more women in field operations jobs. During the past year, NS hired record numbers of female conductor and management trainees.
More than 28 percent of management trainees hired in 2015 – 48 out of 169 – were women, while more than 7 percent of conductor trainees – 154 out of 2,102 – were female. That’s a good news story for NS, said Mike Wheeler, executive vice president and chief operating officer.
— Mike Wheeler
chief operating officer
“We’re better as a company when we have women involved in our operations because of the diversity of views and experience,” Wheeler said. “They bring good ideas and viewpoints to the table, which leads to better results. We have to ensure that our company is a place where we would want our daughters and nieces to come out and work in this environment.”
Wheeler, who has two daughters in college, talked about the importance of being a female-friendly company while addressing craft safety and service committee leaders at NS’ first “Lead It” summit in Atlanta earlier this year.
“So many of our sons follow in our footsteps at the railroad,” Wheeler said. “We need to find ways for our daughters to want to follow us here, too. I hope all of you support me in that.”
NS recently held the company’s fifth annual “Women in Field Operations” session, a two-day gathering attended by 90 female field supervisors from across the system who work in transportation, engineering, and mechanical. The session offered time to network and meet with CEO Jim Squires and operations department vice presidents. Attendees included management trainees, yardmasters and trainmasters, mechanical and track supervisors, and chief dispatchers.
“It was very purposeful and personal,” said Kimberly Kirtz, who joined NS as a conductor trainee in 2003 and is now a trainmaster in Greensboro, N.C. “Where else can I obtain such great contacts from every operational department? Discussing challenges and issues with someone like you is extremely helpful. Returning to the ‘homeland’ with resourceful solutions is a blessing.”
LaToya Carter, an assistant track supervisor at Linwood Yard in North Carolina, said she appreciated the senior executives attending. “Being able to see them there and to be kind of within arm’s reach is motivating,” said Carter, who joined NS two years ago as a management trainee after receiving a civil engineering degree from the University of Florida. “I met a lot of people I’d been in contact with by email and phone from different territories in maintenance-of-way. It’s invaluable to see the other women and know that, ‘OK, I’m not alone.’ ”
Company executives talked to the women about how they can positively impact safety, service, and stewardship at NS. Other topics included career development and women in leadership.
Barbara Paul, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who joined NS after a 20-year Navy career and is now manager training and development, spoke about navigating challenging Navy roles and offered tips on balancing work and life demands. Another guest speaker was Judy Agnew, senior vice president safety solutions with Aubrey Daniels International, the consulting firm that helped NS implement behavior-based safety processes. Employees received a copy of her new book, “A Supervisor’s Guide to (Safety) Leadership: Preventing Injury in the Workplace.”
“We were fortunate to have this opportunity,” said Cassandra Mullee, an eight-year employee who joined NS as a management trainee and currently is assistant superintendent at Shire Oaks Yard in Pennsylvania. Mullee, who holds an MBA from Northwestern University, oversees trainmasters and around 250 train and engine employees who work the Monongahela Valley territory. She said NS seems more focused on recruiting and retaining women since she attended the company’s first-ever session for women in 2011, when only transportation employees participated.
“Doing this was clearly important to Norfolk Southern, and it was very effective for the women there,” Mullee said. “Not only does it help give direction in terms of what a leader is, it also gives them the encouragement and drive to continue on this path, because they do feel supported.”
Overall, women comprise 5 percent of NS’ unionized craft workforce and 20 percent of nonunion employees. While relatively small numbers, NS is making progress, said Annie Adams, vice president human resources, who spoke during the session.
“Being able to compete for the best talent is critical to Norfolk Southern’s success,” Adams said. “Events like the Women in Field Operations session demonstrate the commitment of the operations departments’ vice presidents to retaining and developing women as leaders in field operations.”