A Day to Show Girls That Working at RTD Can Mean More Than Driving a Bus
Meet 14-year-old Shannon McDermott, she’s the kind of person the Regional Transportation District hopes will help close the agency’s gender gap. Today, women hold less than a third of of leadership roles at the agency. McDermott had never thought about working in transportation until she met RTD’s chief engineer, Jyotsna Vishwakarma, at a career day the agency hosted Monday.
“You don’t think of women in roles like this,” said McDermott, who wants to study engineering in college and spent the morning at panel discussions led by women who work at RTD. She was a part of Career Days for Girls, a summer program run by the HOYA Foundation with support from the United States Department of Transportation. “Seeing a woman at the head of an engineering department, you realize you have an opportunity.”
RTD was the first of five employers McDermott and other girls will visit this summer as a part of the program. Even as the transportation industry is short on labor, women make up just 36 percent of workers delivering bus service and urban transit options across the country, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The organizers say that meeting women who work at RTD can help them imagine themselves in varied roles, including community outreach, communications and finance.
“Transportation, you drive a bus.” said Keller Hayes, of the HOYA Foundation, about the assumptions people make about the job opportunities in transportation. “There’s so much more available.”
The girls talked to more than a dozen women leaders at several RTD facilities in Denver, including at the agency’s Security Command Center. There they met Amy Homyak, a Transit Police sergeant and the agency’s K-9 handler, who is responsible for Thor, a bomb-sniffing dog.
“Despite how fluffy and cute he is, he’s actually a magnificent bomb dog,” she said. “We spend most of our time at Union Station because that’s one of our larger security concerns. There are buses coming in with bags. There’s all the airport people coming in with their bags.”
One of the girls asked how Homyak trained the dog.
“We go through all of our different categories of explosives,” she said. “We put out four boxes and when he smells the one that has the reward smell, he gets rewarded. And we do that over and over with all the explosives.”
The girls also toured the light rail Control Center, where RTD employees look to a wall-sized screen to track trains and supervise operators. Rocky Whalen, manager of rail service delivery, said the number of female controllers has grown since he came to the agency 13 years ago.
“When I started, there was only one,” he said. “Now it’s five of 13.”
With just 32 percent of women in leadership roles at RTD, officials say they want young women to join the agency, in part to offer fresh ideas, according to Laurie Huff, a spokesperson.
“As RTD looks toward our future, our region and our agency deserve the inspired thinking of younger workers who are entering the field,” she said. “As we are looking forward in determining how to serve the public, they may have ideas that we’re not already thinking about.”