CSX management changes widen executive gender gap in rail industry

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Kathryn McQuade
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The management changes at CSX Transportation — which include the pending departures of Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn and Executive Vice President of Law Ellen Fitzsimmons – will leave just four women in top executive positions at Class I railroads.

Both highly regarded women have been replaced by men, a fact that’s not lost on Kathryn McQuade, a retired executive who held top posts at Canadian Pacific and Norfolk Southern.

McQuade, who was CP’s chief financial officer when E. Hunter Harrison became chief executive in 2012, was not surprised by the apparent ouster of Sanborn and Fitzsimmons. She says Harrison, who now heads CSX, has a different mindset than some of the other railroad chief executives.

“Hunter’s so focused on running the business that diversity is never mentioned. It’s not a priority,” McQuade says, noting that Harrison always treated her fairly.

At the three railroads where Harrison has been CEO — Canadian National, CP, and now CSX — men hold all of the executive vice president positions.

New CEOs routinely replace executives and bring in their own lieutenants, so the changes announced last month at CSX are not unusual as the railroad parted ways with its top operating, marketing, and legal officers.

“All three have long ties to the previous leadership,” notes analyst Anthony Hatch of ABH Consulting. “Notably two are women — and are among the highest-ranking female leaders in the industry.”

Sanborn, Hatch says, is an “oft-praised operator — and major presence representing the company at the Surface Transportation Board listening session on Oct. 11.”

She joined CSX in 1987 and rose through the operating ranks, including positions in network operations, locomotive management, and division operations. Sanborn was named one of Trains’ 75 People You Should Know in the magazine’s 75th anniversary edition.

Fitzsimmons, meanwhile, is a “longtime player in the rail legal scene and throughout all of the machinations at CSX going back to TCI and before,” Hatch says, referring to The Children’s Investment Fund proxy battle of a decade ago. She joined CSX in 1991, was named corporate general counsel in 1997, and in 2003 assumed her current role as the company’s top legal and public affairs officer.

All of the Class I’s say they value workplace diversity and are committed to increasing the number of women in the workforce as well as in management positions. They also have increased the representation of women on their boards of directors in recent years.

In a statement, CSX said it, “prides itself on fostering an inclusive culture where every employee is fully engaged to maximize his or her potential. Women professionals hold important roles in the management of CSX, including in the senior human resources, federal relations, real estate and technology positions, as well as in positions of responsibility in operations and engineering. We appreciate all the characteristics that make each employee unique, and our openness to diversity broadens our access to the best talent and ensures we retain a dynamic workforce.”

As of 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, 24 percent of total CSX management positions were held by women.

Just a week before the executive departures were announced, a Florida women’s executive group recognized CSX for advancing gender diversity on its board of directors.

But a stubborn gender gap persists in top management ranks at all of the Class I railroads.

Some 22 percent of the senior-level executives at the seven big railroads are women, according to a Trains News Wire review of the corporate leadership pages on their respective websites. That’s slightly below the 25 percent of women who hold executive and senior-level positions at S&P 500 companies, according to Catalyst, an advocacy group that tracks workplace inclusion.

The percentage of women declines when measured by C-suite positions, those at the executive vice president level and above, whose titles generally include “chief.”

A News Wire review of railroad websites shows that only 15 percent of C-suite positions at the Class I railroads are held by women, versus 19 percent in the LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. Women in the Workplace Study 2016, which surveyed 132 companies.

The Class I C-suite figure will drop to 11 percent when Sanborn and Fitzsimmons leave CSX on Nov. 15.

None of the Class I railroads has a woman as its chief executive, compared to 5.8 percent of companies in the S&P 500, according to Catalyst.

Part of the railroads’ gender gap stems from raw numbers: Women make up less than 10 percent of the Class I railroad workforce, versus 44 percent in S&P 500 companies. And that makes for a smaller promotion pipeline for women, particularly in an industry with male-dominated operating departments.

The remaining women in C-suite positions at the Class I railroads include:
  • Julie Piggott, chief financial officer, BNSF Railway
  • Cindy Earhart, chief financial officer, Norfolk Southern
  • Rhonda Ferguson, chief legal officer, Union Pacific
  • Beth Whited, chief marketing officer, Union Pacific
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