“I’m proud to be here. It’s great to show that a tiny little woman like me can drive one of these big trucks,” said Highway Repairer Zandra Cotton, who has worked for the Department of Transportation for 13 years.
Since 2014, the agency has been hiring more women in civil-service titles that have been traditionally held by men.
Janice Stroughter, DOT’s Deputy Commissioner of Human Resources and Facilities, works alongside her team to recruit a diverse pool of candidates.
'Great Jobs for Women'
“These are great jobs women should be considered for. This is something that’s very important to me–when was the last time you saw a job with built in overtime [that’s] traditionally female? There are none,” she said.
Those efforts have paid off–over the past seven years, the number of female Assistant City Highway Repairers has increased from 25 to 119. There are 43 female Assistant Civil Engineers, up from 27, and 14 Supervisor Highway Repairers, 10 more than in 2014.
“We’ve seen a 376-percent increase in the number of hired female Assistant City Highway Repairers,” Ms. Stroughter noted. The job’s duties include laying concrete, building traffic islands, repairing curbs and sidewalks, and operating a motorized vehicle during maintenance operations. Just over 15 percent of employees in the title are women.
In order to attract prospective female candidates, the agency posts jobs at non-profits such as the city-based Non-Traditional Employment For Women, or NEW-NYC.
'Chance to Move Up'
Leon Heyward, Deputy Commissioner for Sidewalks and Inspection Management, also highlighted an internship program that has attracted female candidates.
“Then they move up from Civil Engineering Interns to Assistant Civil Engineers. We’ve kept a number of females on board throughout the year–they get promoted to permanent jobs and into more-senior roles,” he explained.
Mr. Heyward said that the agency encouraged the interns to try several different jobs.
“We make sure we keep feeding them stuff we’re interested in, making sure that they have a pathway up. We let them know that the work is there, the work is challenging, but that there is a pathway,” he said.
Word-of-mouth has been successful in recruiting. It’s how Shenese Major, who has been an Assistant City Highway Repairer for six years, found out about the position. While she was working as a Traffic Agent for the Police Department, a colleague recommended that she obtain a Commercial Driver’s License.
Hadn't Driven a Truck
“Before this job, I never drove a truck before in my life,” she said. “But my Supervisor showed me the ropes and I learned everything pretty quickly.”
But for Supervisor Highway Repairer Milagros Lopez, who has worked at DOT for 14 years and oversees the concrete program, it was a passion for driving that sparked her interest.
“I used to always see these big yellow trucks and wonder what they do,” she said.
Area Supervisor Rene Boyd joined DOT 32 years ago after graduating from a workforce development program for women in non-traditional jobs. Because she’s been at the agency for so long, Ms. Boyd has had an up-close look at how many more women, as well as men of color, are working in the field.
“There really weren’t many before. It’s a great change, and I’m glad I get to be here to witness it,” she said.
Felt Some Resistance
Ms. Boyd also is a co-chair of an employee resource group offered by DOT called WE WIN, or Women Empowering Women in Non-Traditional Work.
“The reason WE WIN was started was to make sure the door is open to other women and to let them know that these are good-paying jobs where they can succeed,” she said.
Having that support system was especially important because “being a woman in a non-traditional job does come with some difficulties,” Ms. Lopez noted.
One challenge was that occasionally there were men “who don’t want to show you the ropes because you’re a woman,” Ms. Cotton said. Mr. Heyward noted that he and other DOT officials were constantly on the lookout for microaggressions, and emphasized the importance of workplace training so that employees know their rights.
And “it helped that I had veteran mentors such as Rene,” Ms. Lopez added.
Not What They're Expecting
Several of the women noted that people on the street typically act shocked when they see them step out of their trucks.
“When I’m out in the field, people always walk up to one of the men asking for the Supervisor. You should see the look on their faces when they find out it’s me,” Ms. Boyd said with a laugh.
Although much progress has been made, it has been very difficult to break the glass ceiling for titles including Ferry Deckhands,Tractor Operators and Bricklayers.
“The ferry titles are not as easy–they’re almost military-like in terms of the qualifications,” Ms. Stroughter explained. “The problems that we have are consistent citywide and industry-wide. But we don’t give up.”
Mr. Heyward noted that another reason it was important to introduce these jobs to women was because many of those working them were single mothers “and this really gives them the opportunity to have a leg up to take care of their families. These are six-figure jobs.”
Ms. Boyd added, “This job has given me a really good life.”
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.