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Advancing Gender Equity in the DOT Workforce

Project #: 4WA287
Start Date: 12/20/2022
End Date: 11/30/2023
Status: Completed

The final report for this project and associated findings are available on the National Academies website at


Transportation agencies face significant workforce challenges as staff are lost to retirement,high turnover rates, and competition with other industries. To address staff shortfalls, state departments of transportation (DOTs) will need to diversify. While women make up close to half of workers in the national workforce, they remain underrepresented at transportation agencies and tend to be siloed in administrative positions. As women outpace men in the attainment of higher education degrees, successful practices and policies that attract, retain, and advance women at state DOTs will become increasingly important. Beyond meeting staffing needs, there is a growing recognition that workforce diversity supplies the variety of perspectives and skill sets needed to successfully solve complex transportation challenges. Recognizing the underrepresentation of women on staff, many state DOTs have implemented a variety of programs, policies, and practices to address the imbalance between the number of men and women working in different occupational categories. Transportation agencies also recognize the need for better systems to monitor and track workforce diversity (U.S. DOT 2021). The objective of this synthesis project is to document current state DOT practices related to advancing gender equity in the workforce, as well as the data collection and assessment practices currently utilized by state DOTs to evaluate impacts.

A literature review was conducted to synthesize available information on the challenges and benefits of attaining a gender-diverse transportation workforce, available data to track progress, strategies, and practices aimed at mitigating women’s low representation in the workforce across the full employment life cycle. Key findings from the literature highlight a variety of recruitment, retention, and advancement strategies designed specifically to address barriers to women’s full participation in the workforce. Recruitment strategies and practices prevalent in the literature included (1) providing early and repeat exposure to transportation career opportunities to diverse youth, (2) providing diverse role models and mentors, (3) establishing a culture that values diversity, (4) implementing an equitable hiring process, and (5) building community partnerships. Retention strategies encompassed practices to (1) ensure equal access and support for professional development, (2) foster a culture of inclusivity, (3) address harassment and workforce climate issues, and (4) provide flexibility to support work-life balance. Training, mentorship, and succession planning were additional strategies emphasized in the literature to facilitate women’s advancement into leadership positions. The literature underscored the need to establish workforce goals and to assign accountability while noting that existing data collection systems are inadequate for the purposes of large-scale analysis. There is a notable gap in the literature on evidence of the impact of specific practices on gender equity outcomes. A survey was distributed to all the DOTs of all 50 states, as well those of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, asking for information about current practices related to advancing gender equity in the workforce. The survey asked for information under four broad categories: (1) organizational and accountability structure at the state DOT; (2) employment life-cycle practices (to include recruitment, retention, and leadership/advancement practices); (3) data collection, assessment, and dissemination practices; and (4) organizational principles and leadership actions to promote gender equity. Forty-five survey responses were received (from 43 state DOTs, the District of Columbia DOT, and the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority), an 87% response rate. Eleven respondents indicated they do not have current practices or policies designed to advance gender equity within their workforce. The survey findings confirm that most state DOTs do have multiple recruitment and retention practices in place. Recruitment practices are the most likely to be formally assessed, and more agencies have evidence of impact supported by data for recruitment practices than for retention or advancement practices. Fewer advancement and leadership practices were reported, with executive coaching/leadership programs and cross-training or rotation programs being the most common. Responding agencies use a variety of metrics to gauge progress toward gender equity goals, and most disaggregate data by both gender and race or ethnicity.

In-depth interviews were conducted with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (AK DOT & PF), Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Vermont Department of Transportation (VTrans), and Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to gather more detailed information about practices employed at a representative sampling of agencies. The interviews highlighted the importance of data collection and analysis to inform the design of interventions. Without data and systems in place to track workforce diversity over time, it is difficult to make conclusions about the impact of policies and practices designed to enhance gender equity. Future research on data collection processes, assessment methodologies, and impacts of various workforce strategies and accountability structures will assist state DOTs in implementing evidence-based practices to advance gender equity.


The objective of this project is to document current DOT practices related to advancing gender equity in their workforce. A synthesis of current gender equity practices will help the DOT identify solutions and take steps to increase the number of women and those who may not identify as men or women in the workforce.


  • Susan Gallagher
    Susan Gallagher