On Track for Success: How 3 Women Are Advancing Their Railroad Careers

Sponsored by Kansas City Southern

Jimerson, Williams and Guillén

Photos Courtesy of Kansas City Southern.

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Fairygodboss
June 20, 2024 at 3:33AM UTC

Ever since the first railroad in the U.S. laid down its tracks in the early 1800s, railways have changed the transportation industry. Kansas City Southern performs a vital service to the North American economy, with seamless freight rail service across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Kansas City Southern is powered by its engaged and passionate employees, such as Assistant Trainmaster Alleen Jimerson.  While Jimerson didn’t start off with the goal of pursuing a career in railroading, she was attracted to Kansas City Southern due to its great benefits, pay, and retirement opportunities. And now, she says, “Here I am eight years later an Assistant Trainmaster with a goal to become a Superintendent one day.”

As for Denise M. Williams, currently in a rotational leadership program called LEAD, at Kansas City Southern, she had an early interest in trains due to hearing stories from a friend and mentor who worked in railroading. “A few years into our friendship, the opportunity to join her organization developed and I was quickly impressed by the dynamic, fast-paced and ever-evolving industry,” says Williams. After a short career detour, Williams eventually says that she “jumped at the first opportunity to return to railroading and feels honored to be a part of such a historical, yet innovative industry.” As for her participation in the LEAD Program, Williams notes that this is “a unique opportunity to shift the gears on my career within railroading...the boots-on-the-ground experience I am receiving through this program is invaluable. Everyone that I have encountered thus far has been very supportive and willing to share their information and expertise,” she elaborates.

Cinthya Melissa Guillén Pinales, the Monterrey Mexico yard superintendent at Kansas City Southern de Mexico, got her start as a customer service executive in charge of the intermodal segment. “It has been an adventure since then, a lot of growing, learning and opportunities at this company,” says Guillén. As for what excites her the most about her job, Guillén states that it’s “the fact that I spend 12+ hours a day at my job, but it seems like a minute. Every day goes by so fast and is a new learning experience — we never know what challenges the day will bring.”

To learn more about why women love working at Kansas City Southern, we reached out to Jimerson, Williams and Guillén to learn more about their careers and what they like about the company. 

Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role and how long have you been in this role?

Jimerson: My current role is Assistant Trainmaster. I was promoted to this position in October 2020. My job is to oversee daily train operations, and I’m responsible for the safety and efficient movement of all trains and crews from East St. Louis, Ill. to Kansas City, Mo. I’m required to meet Transportation Service Plan and Key Performance Indicator targets. I also support KCS’s vision, values and culture via daily coaching to ensure that everyone is in compliance with policies, procedures and practices. This ensures that everyone is working safely and efficiently. I also participate in the interview and selection process. 

Williams: My current role is part of a three-year rotational development program created by KCS to expand career development opportunities and develop leaders with a comprehensive perspective of the organization. I am two months into this tremendous opportunity, and after my previous over eight years in the railroad industry, I’ve only skimmed the surface of what there is to learn about railroading.

Guillén: My current role is Monterrey yard superintendent. I have been in this role for three months. I am in charge of the operation of the Monterrey yard, where we handle the manifest operation that serves our clients in a safe and efficient manner. 

What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced working as a woman in railroading?

Jimerson: Working in a male-dominated workforce can be challenging — There are doubts and it’s always surrounding you. You have to prove that you can do the job just as well or better than any man. I will say that I do enjoy challenges.

Williams: The railroad industry has historically been male-dominated, and that can be intimidating for women who are considering a career in railroading. KCS has a firm commitment to diversity and civility, and I have witnessed our leadership’s continuous focus and attention on ensuring that we find ways to do and be better. It’s refreshing to work for an organization that recognizes the importance of this difficult discussion and works to improve the situation. I believe the industry as a whole has come a long way in this area, but, like most things, there is more work to be done!  

Guillén: To have a balanced personal life. This job demands so much attention and time that, sometimes, I miss important days with my kids. Fortunately, I receive so much support from my family. My professional growth and development have always been a priority in my life since I was little, so I give my best in the two worlds to have balance. Also, I have been very lucky to have mentors and bosses that have believed in me and given me the opportunity to play key roles in the railroad operation where they used to have only men. And, to be honest, I have not received any bad treatment from any member from my team — it’s actually the opposite. They have always been very polite, supportive, patient and willing to teach and support me.

Does Kansas City Southern provide any resources or programs to support women in your field?

Williams: KCS has a women in operations committee that is actively seeking ways to attract and retain women in the organization, especially in roles that are predominately held by men. I was asked to join this committee last year and instantly recognized the value of this team’s effort and the positive outcomes it aims to accomplish. KCS is also a sponsor of the League of Railway Women and a partner with Fairygodboss. Both of these invaluable resources are available to all KCS employees, and I highly recommend them to anyone seeking to grow in their career and/or railroad industry knowledge. 

Guillén: Yes, the company has many programs to support women, gender equality and parents. Supporting diversity within all of the departments has been an objective for leadership since I have been here. But, most of all, I believe that gender shouldn’t be a differential factor. Both men and women are capable of performing any kind of job with the right dedication, enthusiasm and vision for growth and leadership.

What is your favorite aspect of the culture at Kansas City Southern?

Williams: Solid leadership! I have searched for an organization of this caliber my entire career and have only found a few. People are valued, respected and treated fairly. Our executive leadership team appears to walk the walk, and we strive to be strong corporate citizens in the communities we serve. Collaboration and support are strong across the organization, and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly everyone I have worked with seems to be committed to improving results and contributing to the success of others. It’s a great place to be.

Guillén: Safety, definitely. I think the company has a great safety culture above all things. Most important for us is work safely, which involves analyzing any incident or accident that occurs and finding a way to prevent it — Making sure that every employee knows that returning home safe is their primary objective. From the start of your shift, the priority is to take care of yourself and take care of others working around you. I have never seen safety as simply a requirement, it’s always our core value. As we say: it is an obligation not an option. 

What is something you’re especially good at at work? 

Jimerson: Communication with employees, management, customers and foreign railroads. We have an open-door policy with all employees. Communication allows everyone to know who you are, your personality, tolerance, knowledge, confidence, voice and empowerment.

Williams: Relationships. Connecting with people comes naturally to me, so finding common ground and helping others solve complex problems has served me well. Approaching nearly every interaction authentically, yet solution-minded, has helped me expand my understanding of the organization and establish myself as a trusted resource. My goal is to always bring value in all that I do. 

Guillén: I am very good at communicating to people and motivating them. I believe that good communication at all levels is key for success; we cannot assume someone knows what to do all of the time, so it is always imperative to remind people of procedures, to set expectations, to give feedback on failures and to recognize achievements. A motivated employee will be empowered to do what is expected and beyond. We cannot assume our team knows that we appreciate what they do, so we have to let them know and make them feel valuable. And we also need to be honest and courteous when things go wrong because everyone makes mistakes — perfection doesn’t exist. The key to change is to work as a team, analyze what could have been done differently and always seek continuous improvement. I also like to give presentations and to talk in public because I can convey positive things to explain that our jobs are as good or bad as we make them and our attitude changes everything.

What is the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received? 

Jimerson: Always be a leader in life. Being a leader isn’t given — it’s earned. It separates you from everyone, defines you as a person: your presence, courage, confidence, compassion, ability to listen, motivate, empower, delegate and trust.

Guillén: To work as hard as I can. To never stop or get demotivated when things go wrong. To stop thinking that I will win all the battles because there is always a new day, a new opportunity and making things happen relies on us. To pay attention and give time to my personal life and my career because both worlds have to be balanced

What advice do you have for other women who are pursuing a career in railroading? 

Jimerson: Don’t let a male-dominated workforce discourage you. All the women who are working in the railroad industry are paving the way for you. Take this career path and own it because you can and will. I’m a walking testimony. Stay focused on the reason you started pursuing a career in railroading.

Williams: Go for it! The industry has so many unique opportunities and is very rewarding and exciting to be a part of. Of course, you can find traditional roles that are standard across most industries, but there are so many fascinating roles that are specific to the railroad industry. Get involved in the industry organizations and associations, find a few trusted mentors and soak up all of the knowledge you can. The biggest tip would be to find your own path! It’s a very competitive industry, like most, so sitting on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity is probably not the best approach. Get uncomfortable and be willing to learn and expand your area of expertise and contribution! Ask lots of questions and embrace change. 

Guillén: Always seek success and decide what the career goals are for what you’re passionate about. Anything is valid because success has a different meaning for each person, but when you are sure what your goals are, do everything and beyond to get where you want to be. In addition, once you get there, think again and find a new destination. Never give up, never get into a comfort zone and never think that you are not capable of doing something because if you want with all your heart, it is up to you to make it happen. And lastly, always help and teach others. People’s development is our responsibility and makes us better  individuals.

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