Benita Gibson didn’t set out to join the rail industry, but after 15 years at Union Pacific Railroad and 30 years in management across three different industries, she serves as Union Pacific’s general superintendent for commuter operations in Chicago—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
A big job: Gibson oversees Union Pacific’s North, Northwest and West Metra Lines. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the route carried 194 trains and 100,000 passengers every weekday. While the pandemic has disrupted some passenger rail travel, Gibson continued her focus on making the system work flawlessly, supervising everyone from engineers and conductors, to locomotive and car shops, to ticket agents and Maintenance of Way employees to ensure safe and efficient operations.
A pioneering leader: Gibson is the first Black female operating executive in Union Pacific’s history, but she hopes that the doors she opened will encourage more women and, specifically, more women of color to join her.
- “When I started, you really had to stand your ground and let people know you were part of the team,” said Gibson. “I really just want to be treated equally. My main focus was, I wanted to be able to do what was expected of anyone to do, not just a male or female.”
Opportunity for all: Gibson encourages other women to look for roles in the transportation sector, emphasizing the breadth of opportunities that are available for people interested in being a part of a large and growing industry.
- “We have everything within this company,” said Gibson. “We have marketing and sales, real estate and law, accounting and logistics. People don’t realize all the opportunities there are within a railroad. Every job and career type that’s out there is right here at Union Pacific.”
Now hiring: Union Pacific is also interested in promoting opportunities for women who might not have thought about a career in rail previously—and they’ve got big plans to do it. Through a $3 million, three-year partnership with The Manufacturing Institute—the NAM’s workforce development and education partner—Union Pacific intends to double the number of women in its workforce within the next 10 years. The initiative that works in tandem with Creators Wanted is called Careers on Track and is designed to inspire more women and youth to pursue modern industry careers through workforce development and career solutions. It includes:
- A digital STEM curriculum;
- A virtual STEM experience allowing participants to explore interactive 3D models of facilities and locomotives;
- A STEM micro-grant program for young people; and
- A digital campaign that demystifies career opportunities for underserved women.
The last word: “Being a young female getting into this career is exciting,” said Gibson. “It offers great pay, great camaraderie and the chance to learn a lot. You have an opportunity to see a lot of different places within the 23 states where we operate. Our motto is ‘Building America,’ and that’s exactly what you get to do.”