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03.23.2017 - U.S. DOT Women's History Month Celebration

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
US DOT
Women’s History Month Celebration
Washington, D.C.
March 23, 2017

Thank you, Judy [Kaleta, Deputy General Counsel] for that introduction and for your many years of service to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Judy has been a true professional in assisting the new Administration to transition in at the Department.  So thank you and your colleagues for all you have done to make us feel welcome.

As you have heard, this is my third time back at the Department.  I am especially pleased to see so many women leaders here today, and to join you and our distinguished panelists to celebrate Women’s History Month.   The Department of Transportation has been celebrating Women’s History Month for more than three decades.  I’m pleased to continue that tradition and to help recognize some of the extraordinary women pioneers who have gone before us.   

Many of you are familiar with transportation pioneers such as Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman. But if you look back through transportation history, there are dozens of other women whose perseverance and pioneering spirit have made significant contributions.

For example, Mary Converse led the way in the U.S. Merchant Marine when she became the first woman to be commissioned. In 1940, at the age of 68 and after more than 30,000 miles at sea, she was granted a license to captain any vessel of any tonnage on the ocean. 

You also may have heard of Mary Anderson.  In 1903, she invented and patented the windshield wiper after a terrifying experience riding in a streetcar during a storm.  Even though she never profited from her invention, by 1913 windshield wipers were standard safety equipment on passenger vehicles.

Even in the early stages of modern transportation, women helped advance technology through their innovative ideas and inventions. By 1923, more than 175 patents were granted to women for inventions related to vehicles, traffic signals and turn indicators. 

Their achievements helped pave the way for others.  Leaders like Elizabeth H. Dole, who on February 7, 1983 broke the glass ceiling to become the eighth U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the first woman to ever hold that position.  Or Mary Peters, who on October 17, 2006 became the 15th U.S. Secretary of Transportation.  Or Mary Barra, who in 2014 became CEO of General Motors and the first woman to lead a major auto manufacturer.

Women have also made great strides as small and medium entrepreneurs, as well as at corporate giants like Hewlett Packard or GM.  In 2015, women-owned businesses made up 31 percent of privately-owned firms in the United States. They employed nearly 7.9 million people and generated $1.4 trillion in sales.

DOT is doing its part.  The DOT’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization has helped women-owned small businesses successfully compete. They won more than nine percent of DOT procurement direct contracts in Fiscal Year 2015.

In addition, during 2015, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program helped ensure that women-owned small businesses won a share of contracts awarded to firms working with the FAA, FHWA, and FTA.  They won 64 percent of these indirect contracts, for a total amount of more than 2.4 billion dollars.  These are just a few examples of women achieving success in the transportation sector.  So although there is still more to do, we’ve come a long way.

And I cannot think of a better time to pursue a career in transportation. The President is committed to modernizing our country’s outdated infrastructure with a strategic program of investments that will improve our economy, strengthen competitiveness and create jobs.  We will see the full picture as the President’s infrastructure package takes shape later this year.  But it will provide many exciting opportunities for the Department, and for everyone working in this sector.

Today, we are joined by talented colleagues who will share their experiences working in the Department of Transportation. I know their stories and advice will provide many valuable insights. 

Let me close by sharing one more thought.  As some of you may know, I come from a family of six daughters.  My parents were incredible people who believed that their daughters could do anything they wanted in this wonderful country which offered so much opportunity.  They taught us to set goals, to proceed step by step to advance and improve our situation.  And they taught by their own example to always help others along the way.  No matter how little we had, there were always ways in which we could contribute to society and help others.  As we celebrate women’s history month – I hope we will remember to reach out and help others who are coming along. 

Today, we are fortunate to be living on the threshold of a transformational era in our country’s history. New technologies are coming on line that will revolutionize transportation and change the way we live and work.  There is a place for you in this exciting new world. And I hope this celebration of Women’s History Month will encourage you to take the next step – no matter how small – to fulfilling your dreams.

Thank you.