Since Simone Harris joined Norfolk Southern last year right out of college, people sometimes ask why she decided to pursue a career traditionally held by men.
“I remind them that I know exactly what I’m getting into,” she said. “Many of them grew up in my dad’s generation, but the world is changing, and I stand on my own two feet.”
Harris encourages other women railroaders to project that confidence. “You’re just as good as anybody else out there, and you can create as much influence as you like,” she said. “Don’t ever forget that.”
In July, Harris was promoted to assistant trainmaster of NS’ Bristol and River lines in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, becoming the only female in that position on the Central Division. She had entered NS’ management trainee program in 2013 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus on logistics, materials, and supply chain management from Auburn University. Long term, she hopes to become a terminal superintendent.
Harris’ career goals are far more grounded than her initial plans to become an airplane pilot. “I realized that career field did not hold many prospects for advancement,” she said. “I also wanted more stability, so I decided to keep flying as a hobby.”
A desire for job stability drew the Atlanta native to NS.
“I grew up when the recession was coming through,” Harris said. “I felt that stability at the beginning of my career was the best course of action. The railroad was here before me, and it will be here after me. A lot of companies can’t guarantee that.”
She also appreciates NS’ commitment to enriching the communities it serves through employee volunteerism and the company’s charitable giving arm, the Norfolk Southern Foundation. “To see a Fortune 500 company that also gives back and tries to help the community is good business practice and makes sense,” Harris added. “It’s the company culture that I was looking for.”
A typical day on the job for Harris ranges from working with customers and dispatchers to interacting with conductors and engineers. Trainmasters work long hours and are subject to late night phone calls, but Harris, who said she doesn’t prefer a 9-to-5 job, is fine with that.
“You work hard, and you learn,” she said. “If you can manage the objectives that you need to get done, it’s not as much of a time burden as most people think.”
As one of a growing number of women supervisors in transportation, Harris said she has not encountered gender-specific obstacles in her career.
“There are challenges with everything,” she said. “My challenge is not any greater or lesser because I am a woman. It’s all in how you approach things. Everything I do, whether I’m talking to an employee or doing a rules check, I hold to a standard that I can say I’m happy with what I did.”
Her approach is to ask questions. “I’m constantly asking questions,” Harris said. “If I’m confused about something, I’ll ask my supervisor or my peers. Even though I’m now a supervisor, that doesn’t mean I stop learning.”