The Finance and Administration Department and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission held a town hall titled “Moving Women Forward” on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
The presentation was held at Lehigh’s Iacocca Hall’s Wood Dining Room.
The event was hosted by Patricia Johnson, Lehigh’s vice president for Finance and Administration, and Leslie S. Richards, the Pennsylvania secretary of transportation. The presentation discussed the role women play in transportation and public service.
Richards shared her personal experiences working in a male-dominated profession. Before working for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, she worked for the environmental protection agency and then was a stay-at-home mom for eight years.
“I think we all have a different story to tell,” Richards said. “It’s hard when you see somebody who doesn’t look like yourself and you want to climb to a higher level.”
Richards started working with Pennsylvania first lady Frances Wolf to encourage women to seek jobs in STEM fields. Richards has catalyzed social changes within the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to increase diversity in the workplace.
“I think firms are beginning to see that when they have more diversity, that increases their bottom line,” Richards said. “The younger workforce is asking for things we didn’t ask for and companies need to change if they want to attract the brightest.”
Johnson wanted women in non-traditional positions to share their personal experiences in their fields to inform young women about how to succeed in their careers. Johnson herself has previously held roles as vice president of Finance and the Treasury at Cornell University and internal auditor at Mead Corporation.
She wanted the event to highlight the difficulties female engineers face and the impact women have in nontraditional jobs.
Johnson worked with the executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, Becky A. Bradley. Bradley reached out to Richards and Johnson about hosting a discussion about women in STEM fields and their experiences.
The discussion included topics ranging from negotiating wages to networking in the field. The importance of role models was also discussed by the panel.
“Every experience is not a good experience, but every experience is a learning experience,” said Jill Krause, the PennDOT assistant district executive for maintenance.
The presentation attracted professionals in the industry such as researchers, engineers and public service officers.
Christopher Kufro, the assistant district executive for maintenance at PennDOT, attended the dialogue to show his support for Richards and the ideas presented.
“I work closely with Krause and (Richards) so I came in support of my coworkers in order to pass on the message and show support for the entire effort, ” Kufro said. “I have a daughter who is a senior in high school and so we all follow (Richards’) message to remove discrimination and give everybody an equal chance.”
Rebecca Kennedy, who was invited by Bradley, said she didn’t know what to expect of the dialogue, but she enjoyed hearing the female presenters explain their career paths. Kennedy is a mother of four whose daughter is currently studying a STEM major in college.
Another attendee was Charnelle Hicks who leads CHPlanning, a transportation planning consulting firm. Hicks attended the dialogue because she knew others from the transportation industry would be there.
“I thought it was really good in how open and honest (the speakers) were and it was interesting learning about each of the panelists’ experiences,” Hicks said.