DOT Women’s History Month Celebration

Remarks Delivered by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
DOT Women’s History Month Celebration
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Brandye [Hendrickson] for that introduction. I’m so pleased to be here with all of you and our guests as we celebrate Women’s History Month at the Department of Transportation.

Now, more than ever, women are leading the way in some of our nation’s top industries, including transportation. I’m really proud that we have so many outstanding women on our non-career leadership team:   

  • Jane Williams, Acting Administrator, Federal Transit Administration;
  • Heidi King, Acting Administrator, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration;
  • Brandye Hendrickson, Acting Administrator, Federal Highway Administration;
  • Vicki Hildebrand, DOT Chief Information Officer.
  • Drue Pearce, Deputy Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration;
  • Cathy Gautreaux, Deputy Administrator, Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration;
  • Laura Genero, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Strategic Communications; and
  • Marianne McInerney, Assistant to the Secretary and Director of Public Affairs.

I know you heard from some of them earlier this morning, in which they shared their vision for technological advances on land, sea and air.

I’m also especially pleased that today’s event includes students who are interested in a career in transportation. Thank you for being here and making a commitment to your education. It’s one of best investments you can make in your future. For women especially, education is the key to professional success and financial independence. That’s something my parents taught me and my five sisters from a young age. They led by example and believed that with hard work, a positive attitude and perseverance, we could achieve anything.

Each year, women in our country are accessing education—especially higher education—in record numbers.  In fact, beginning in 1995, women began to access higher education in greater numbers than men. In 2015, 60 percent of women age 25 and older had completed some college or more, compared with about 58 percent for men. And roughly a third of women in this age group had a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s a tremendous achievement, especially considering that in 1967, only 8 percent of women held a bachelor’s degree or higher.

And as soon as the doors of opportunity opened wider, women moved into the professions with astonishing speed. Women today earn approximately half all degrees in dentistry, compared with less than one percent in 1970. And in 2015 women earned approximately 48 percent of all law degrees, compared with just 5.4 percent in 1970. And in a discipline with which I am very familiar—business school—women today earn 46 percent of all MBAs. That number was a minuscule 3.6 percent back in 1970! Additionally, in 2017, for the first time, the number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools exceeded the number of men! Today, young girls growing up can aspire to any profession. That speaks volumes to the progress that has been made.

As former Secretary of Labor, one of the most important messages I shared with young people everywhere was the strong correlation between education and income. Simply put: the more education you have, the higher income you will earn. In 2016, adults with a college degree earned on average almost $30,000 more annually than those only with a high school diploma. That adds up over the course of a career! This information can be found on www.bls.gov. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics is part of the U. S. Department of Labor.)

It was only 23 years ago, in 1995, that no fortune 500 companies were led by women. Today, that number is 27! Almost all of these women have completed some form of higher education.

Breaking the glass ceiling has not been easy. So many women have gone out on their own and started their own firms. In 2015, more than 9.4 million firms were owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales. So women are helping to create jobs and opportunity for others.

The Department of Transportation is committed to empowering women to succeed.

Currently, there are 160 women executives throughout the Department and our modes.  I am so proud of them!  I don’t have a chance to work with every single one of them but Judy Kaleta and Lana Hurdle, in particular, have been so helpful in transitioning the new team and I want to thank them again for their leadership. 

And I’m pleased to announce that the Department is launching a new mentoring program for DOT employees that will help build the next generation of leaders in transportation. The idea for this program actually came from an audience member during last year’s Women’s History Month celebration! For more information or to register, stop by the informational table near the conference center or click on the mentoring link on the right-hand side of DOT’s intranet homepage.

Additionally, we’re also ensuring women-owned businesses have a fair shot. In FY16, DOT awarded more than 10 percent of contracts to women-owned small businesses. In addition, during FY16, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program helped ensure that women-owned small businesses won a share of contracts awarded to firms working with recipients of FAA, FHWA, and FTA funds. They won 64 percent of these indirect contracts, for a total amount of more than 2.7 billion dollars.

While we have come a long way, there is always more work to be done. Women are still underrepresented in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, holding only 24 percent of related jobs. That’s why I’m so proud that the Department’s Chief Information Officer, Vicki Hildebrand, and our Deputy Chief Information Officer, Kristen Baldwin, are women. And let me also mention Joan Simpson, who is a Strategic Advisor for Executive and Political Resources Management. Her work is so important. But when we talk about the lack of women in STEM fields, as Secretary of Transportation, this is a concern for me.

As we begin to implement the President’s vision to rebuild and revitalize our nation’s infrastructure, these fields will be in demand more than ever. In the next few years, new transportation projects will require skilled engineers, mathematicians, and other technical professionals. Additionally, new technologies are coming online that are changing the transportation landscape. And they are creating new jobs and opportunities that did not exist before.

Today’s STEM workforce cannot handle these growing demands. Women can help fill this gap. Women like Dr. Christine Darden, the path-breaking woman mathematician whose team at NASA was the subject of the movie Hidden Figures.  It’s a terrific movie—very inspiring.  And there are so many other path breakers today—women like Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, the first woman to head a global automaker. These women leaders—and many more like them—are blazing the path forward for others.  So it’s never been a more exciting time to consider a career in transportation.

Success is a series of small steps, taken every day. So invest in yourself and keep moving forward. Thank you.


Updated: Tuesday, March 13, 2018
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