Management & Operations

Great Blackout: lessons learned

Posted on July 1, 2003 by L.D. Gonga, MTA New York City Transit

By now, half the people in America and parts of Canada have a blackout story. Even if you were not there, you knew someone who was. The remarkable thing was how varied those stories were. I was stuck in Cincinnati en route to Detroit. I never got there. One person’s nightmare trek across the Brooklyn Bridge was another’s spontaneous celebration. It all seemed unbelievable, yet predictable. We are a nation accustomed to the reliability of light, power and most of all — transportation. Suddenly, we were left stranded, unable to connect. Finally, we had to calm down and heave a collective exhale. It was almost spiritual. We had total freedom — no calls, no trains, no planes, no nothing! We had time to reflect. Women’s agenda My Great Blackout reflections moved from thoughts about family and friends to mundane and work topics. The lessons we learned as a nation were basic. It is time to move beyond blame. Instead, let us find solutions. We can make things right and better than before. Can I apply these lessons to my life? Definitely. To the women’s agenda issues like leveling the playing field, more equity in pay, promotions? Most definitely. The blackout was a wake-up call, especially for all of us working in transportation. We were in the spotlight — public transit, rail, bus, airport, ferries, highways, bridges, tunnels and more. Infrastructure, mobility and congestion were on everyone’s mind. But inside of our world, do we have everyone on board? No, but we’re working on it. Working women’s groups, whether engineers, architects or journalists, have strategic goals and plans to organize and advocate for access, diversity and opportunity. We go the extra mile and do things the old-fashioned way — by hard work. Who are we? Some of us are highly visible, but most are not. We are educated and skilled in management, engineering, architecture, operations and maintenance. Some of us are elected, others are appointed. Most of us feel encouraged to work in transportation, not only because it is a growing industry but because we have a passion for it. Every background is needed, from the scientific and technological to the creative, artistic, inventive and entrepreneurial. What we want Women in this industry believe in intense professional development. If our resources were pooled, it would add up to millions of dollars raised for this cause alone. By forming alliances, collaborations and networking, we believe the benefits will be for the greater good. We look for mentors and do our own mentoring. We encourage entry-level workers to move into management. We help managers move up the ranks to directors and executive levels. Many are ready to lead, and do. We volunteer for professional group committees. We use our vacation time to attend seminars, training and conferences. Statistically, we trail in the transportation industry — 21.2 % compared to 42.8% women in all other occupations, according to APTA reports. So, we are energized to continue in the mix and keep pushing. Lights back on My reflections ended when the power came back. Suddenly, the lights were on. I remember something the news reported about us being a super-power with a Third World grid. That may be true. The experts advise that we must respond with constructive action. Examine the major and minor failures. Prepare the generators and other back-up plans. Seek alternative means to keep communication open. All of that sounds like a great plan for working women, too. We are reaching out as we continually reach in. We are all on this grid together!

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