How Female Leaders Can Advance Women in Transportation

Pierce Coffee, president for North America at Transurban, discussed how her company empowers and advances women in the transportation industry.


Air Date: March 4, 2022

Moderator: Carolyn Cawley, President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Featured Guests: Pierce Coffee, President, North America, Transurban

Women in leadership play integral roles in uplifting other female professionals in the workplace. Especially in male-dominated fields, it’s important to create pathways and opportunities for women to advance in their careers.

At the 12th International Women’s Day Forum, Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, sat down with Pierce Coffee, president of the North America market for Transurban, to discuss how her company empowers and advances women in the transportation industry.

Companies Must Uplift Women in the Workplace

Women make up about 15% of the workforce in the transportation industry. However, at Transurban, that percentage is much higher.

“We're really proud as a company that across our group, we've achieved 42% representation by women and 50% at our global executive committee,” Coffee said. “Both of those are a lot higher than the industry standards, and I think that's really because we have an entrenched commitment to that equity, whether through recruitment, retention, or training, and we also make sure we're measuring our metrics are aligned to the communities where we operate.”

Coffee explained this effort entails reviewing the pay equity gap and figuring out what resources women need to advance in their careers, like job structure flexibility, work hour flexibility, specific training, and strong parent and care benefits.

“The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and has exacerbated norms and stereotypes around gender roles for many,” Coffee continued. “Our areas of resource that we've done has shown that nearly 50% of respondents are going to consider finding a new employer if flexible working preferences can't be met.”

Coffee noted that Transurban had been flexible for years before the pandemic, allowing the company to transition to a 90% remote workforce within one week in March 2020. Their goal is to continue to adapt and provide this flexibility.

Additionally, she added, the company is investing in the next generation through its signature mentoring program, Females Excelling in Engineering and Technology (FEET), which was established in 2014 in Australia.

“That program has advanced more than 90 women pursuing degrees in STEM, and that's a combination of providing one-on-one mentoring to them, as well as real-world access to our assets in roadways and leadership teams so they can really start to better understand and be interested in growing their careers in that direction,” she said.

Leaders Must Encourage and Demonstrate Work-Life Balance

Coffee was managing a newborn and two boys, assisting with her children's virtual learning, and managing her current role at Transurban when her CEO approached her to become president of its North American market – all at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had moved around the organization, taking on several different kinds of roles across projects, business lines,” said Coffee. “I think the experience in doing that – in building relationships, working across the organization, and understanding [on] a shallow level much of what we did – provided a foundational experience for me to be considered a strong candidate for the president role.”

“It was a pretty quick process, but when I went through it … I've just focused really on delivering strong outcomes … and then trying to solve and tackle difficult challenges,” she continued. “And that success has, over time, built a lot of trust.”

Coffee noted that she had to learn how to set boundaries and pivot according to her availability. Sometimes, this means saying “no” to opportunities.

“In this context, I think about how could I take on this role and do right by our business, do right by my family, do right by myself, and really think about all of those things collectively,” she said.