Norfolk Southern Wants Your Daughters, Granddaughters, Nieces, and Aunts
Norfolk Southern recognizes that a diverse workforce is essential to long-term business success in an ever-changing marketplace. In 2014, the company hired a record number of women in operations jobs and in the Management Trainee program.
In the most significant gain, the company hired 96 female conductor trainees. That’s important because conductor positions serve as feeder jobs for advancement within the Transportation Department, the largest operations department. In 2014, more than 7 percent of conductor trainees hired were women, compared with 1 percent in 2013 and less than 2 percent in 2012.
In 2014, the railroad hired 38 women into the Management Trainee program, accounting for nearly 27 percent of MT hires. That is three times the number of female trainees hired two years ago.
Currently, women make up about 20 percent of the railroad’s management workforce and about 5 percent of the unionized workforce. Norfolk Southern views recruitment and retention of women as a corporate sustainability issue. Remaining competitive is a key reason: Women, who make up approximately 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, are surpassing men in attaining educational degrees at every level, from associate to doctoral.
“From a sustainability standpoint, in order for Norfolk Southern to continue to be an industry leader, we have to position the company to grab the best talent — and the fact is, the best talent is going to be male and female,” said David Dixon, director planning and staffing in the railroad’s Human Resources Department. “There’s not a single position in this company that is gender-specific or that has gender-specific requirements. We want to bring women into positions we know are positions for development into management.”
In 2014, the company launched an employee referral initiative that encouraged existing employees to spread the word to female friends and family members about open jobs.
“We were very proactive in letting employees know ahead of hiring sessions to tell their daughters, sisters, nieces, or female friends to come out if they were interested in good-paying jobs with good benefits,” said Brian Stanley, who was terminal superintendent at Elkhart, Ind., in 2014.
In addition, local terminal supervisors invited female operations employees to talk at recruitment sessions about the railroad lifestyle. At Elkhart, new hires in 2014 doubled the number of female conductors. For Stanley, the recruitment effort was personal — his daughter works in information technology at the railroad’s Norfolk headquarters.
“What we’re doing to expand opportunities for women,” he said, “is pretty important to me.”
|Female Conductor Trainees||14||5||96||115|
|Male Conductor Trainees||849||397||1,248||2,494|
|Female Management Trainees||12||25||38||75|
|Male Management Trainees||155||132||105||392|
Norfolk Southern in 2014 sharpened the company’s focus on workplace diversity and inclusion, forming a new executive council to oversee efforts and establishing employee councils as part of a new grassroots approach.
Members of the new Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council — which revamped an existing council — include the company’s president and CEO, two executive vice presidents, and eight vice presidents. They work on subteams tasked with developing departmental goals and action plans for diversity and inclusion, providing employees with resources and training in diversity and inclusion, and recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce.
As a first step, the council in 2015 began establishing diversity and inclusion councils in the railroad’s 11 operating divisions. By midyear, councils were in place in three divisions. These grassroots councils allow employees to identify and address challenges specific to their locations — considered a more effective approach than handled previously by a corporate diversity council based at corporate headquarters.
The executive council also is asking employee resource groups and operations departments to focus on activities that promote a respectful workplace, contribute to business goals, and maximize employee potential.
Norfolk Southern’s employee resource groups, or ERGs, have been formed by employees who want to make a difference in the workplace and in the communities the railroad serves. These groups promote the benefits of diversity and strengthen teamwork across departments and locations:
Formed in 2004, WiNS is a networking group that fosters the professional development and leadership of women. It is open to all employees, and more than 1,570 employees are members.
Formed in 2009 in Norfolk, YoungNS develops young and short-tenured professional employees. YoungNS seeks to strengthen the ranks of the management talent pool and improve retention through mentoring, education, professional development, and networking. This group has nearly 1,500 members of all ages and years of service.
Formed in 2012 in Atlanta, the VeteraNS group reflects the growing number of military veterans joining the company’s workforce. The mission of this networking and support group is to educate, develop, and connect the railroad community with the military — past and present.
Formed in 2014 in Norfolk, GeneratioNS has as its mission to give Norfolk Southern a competitive advantage by promoting professional development, networking, and institutional knowledge transfer among long-standing employees.
Formed in 2006, Norfolk Southern’s formal volunteer program offers employees a way to give back to their communities while serving as official railroad ambassadors.
Norfolk Southern supports efforts to recruit, hire, and train military veterans. As of early May 2015, the railroad employed 4,055 people with military backgrounds — 13.5 percent of the workforce. Among the veterans is Jim Squires, CEO and president, who served in the U.S. Army.
With technical training, leadership abilities, and experience gained through military service, veterans possess skills that translate well into railroad jobs. They also bring work traits essential to railroad operations — safety, teamwork, and dedication to duty. Norfolk Southern offers training programs to help veterans with management experience move into supervisory roles.
In 2012, the company launched an online recruitment site veterans can use to filter jobs by city, state, position, and military title to match military skills to railroad jobs. The same year, Norfolk Southern introduced a “Veterans Locomotive,” painted in patriotic colors by employees at our Juniata Locomotive Shop to honor veterans. The working engine moves freight across the railroad’s network and serves as a one-of-a-kind recruitment tool.
Military Friendly Employer
In 2014, for the eighth year, G.I. Jobs magazine listed Norfolk Southern among the nation’s Top 100 Military Friendly Employers. The railroad was ranked 84. Companies make the list based on military recruitment initiatives, percentage of new hires who are military veterans, and company policies regarding National Guard and Reserve service.
Diversity Commitment Recognized
Norfolk Southern was included on a 2014 list by U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine as a company most supportive of historically black engineering colleges and universities. The railroad was one of 67 U.S. companies named to the list, based on a survey of the deans of 11 higher-education engineering programs and the Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering corporate academic alliance.
Before Ashlee Hurt joined Norfolk Southern’s management trainee program in 2013, her only exposure to railroading was the coal trains she encountered near Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
“Sometimes I got stopped by the train on the way to school,” she said. Since receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, however, Hurt has become immersed in the railroad. She learned about the company at an ODU career fair and was impressed by the long line of students waiting to talk with Norfolk Southern recruiters.
“I knew I wanted to do something new and learn something new, and the railroad is different,” Hurt said. “It’s very fast-paced and is really a 24/7 operation.”
Hurt’s career in the company’s communications and signals group has advanced quickly, from management trainee to engineering associate to terminal supervisor in Columbia, S.C. During that time, she traveled the system updating micro hotbox detectors, which are heat-sensing devices installed beside main line tracks to detect overheated bearings on rail car axles and wheels. The detectors help ensure safety of operations by alerting employees to rail cars that need to be checked for repair.
The Virginia Beach, Va., native has enjoyed traveling and working with wayside systems engineers and other C&S employees. She wasn’t surprised to discover that she is one of the few women working in operations in the Engineering Department. Men far outnumbered women in her college engineering classes.
“I’m very used to working with men,” she said. “There were only one or two females in my engineering classes.”
As a bridge and building supervisor, Ruth Brown broke down gender stereotypes with as much intensity as she drove spikes into bridge ties.
“I had to prove my mettle and do the same work as the men on the gang,” said Brown, who was promoted in 2015 to assistant division engineer bridges on the Harrisburg Division in Pennsylvania. “That doesn’t mean I have the same physical capabilities, but they needed to see me as willing to do the same work as they do.”
In October 2013, Brown became Norfolk Southern’s first female bridges and building supervisor, and she is among a small but growing number of female supervisors within the Engineering Department’s maintenance-of-way and structures group. She joined the company in 2008.
Before her latest promotion, Brown supervised a 20-person gang — all men — whose duties included installing bridge ties and inspecting and maintaining railroad bridges. An office component included approving credit cards and payroll and ordering supplies. All in all, Brown, who was certified as a professional engineer in 2013, believes that her male crews accepted her as a supervisor.
“Gender as a whole really doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re all railroad workers. The commonality is the job and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
A native of Augusta, Ga., Brown joined Norfolk Southern after graduating from Georgia Tech, where she received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. She never had considered working for the railroad until she saw an online job listing.
“Every day has something to learn and new challenges,” she said. “If you’re willing to come out here and do the job, there is a lot of room for growth.”
Growing up in a Chicago suburb, Jessica Kappel enjoyed working on cars with her father. These days, Kappel is responsible for keeping much larger vehicles on the “road.”
As a mechanical supervisor at Roanoke Locomotive Shop, Kappel supervises employees who work on locomotive engine power assemblies and air compressors. When she was promoted in June 2014 after completing the company’s yearlong management trainee program, she was the shop’s only female supervisor.
Kappel graduated from Purdue University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, but had a lot to learn about locomotives. “I had never seen a locomotive up close,” she said. Initially, she worried about how the shop’s male employees would react to a female supervisor.
“I was nervous, but it’s worked out really well,” she said. “I was out on the floor shadowing employees to fully understand the shop. They respected that I wanted to learn what they were doing rather than just supervise them without knowing what they were doing.”
Kappel had planned a career in the auto industry, but shifted gears after the 2008 recession left automakers in financial straits. Still desiring a career in transportation, Kappel turned to trains. At a job fair at Purdue, she spoke with a Norfolk Southern recruiter about mechanical engineering jobs.
At the railroad, Kappel has found professional support from other female employees, including some met through the YoungNS and WiNS employee resource groups that focus on young professionals and women at the railroad. She also attended the company’s first Women in Operations Leadership Conference at the railroad’s Brosnan Forest facility.
“I had heard that railroad workers gain a lot of weight because of the abundance of unhealthy food, but the women at the conference were all concerned with eating right and had the same concerns I had,” she said. “It was really reassuring.”