Women in Transit: Cheri Malo
With its dedication to equality in the transit industry, CUTA created the 'Spotlight on Women in Transit' series to bring forward the experiences of diverse female leaders and inspire a new generation of transit professionals to include many more female voices.
The 'Spotlight on Women in Transit' series has also featured a video interview with Mary Proc, Vice President of Customer Service at Metrolinx, and accompanying article in CUTA's Summer edition of Urban Mobility Forum Magazine, as well as a written interview with the TTC's Marika Fraser.
Spotlight on Women in Transit:
Interview with Cheri Malo,
Transit Manager, City of Whitehorse
1. Could you tell us about how you found yourself in the transit industry?
I was in my nursing courses and had just come out of my first year of nursing. The transit manager here [City of Whitehorse] was struggling with the Handy Bus Service and was trying to find drivers that suited it. So, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind coming on and really looking at how driving is not just a driver, but also dealing with people with disabilities, and looking at re-training for that kind of industry instead of training just as a conventional driver. So that was my first step in, also looking at Handy Bus policies and training.
2. What do you love most about your job?
We get to deal with citizens and really change people’s lives in how they are able to move around our cities. I think that’s a really big thing. We are really lucky here. I’ve worked with Education to get high school kids on the bus, and really give them that independent living. Looking at how do you get ready for the next stage of your life when you become an independent worker, or you go to university outside of the Yukon, because the Yukon is pretty small, and it can get quite scary when you go outside as a kid. Also, we have the college here and we’ve got U-Pass going. It’s such an amazing industry that you get to touch people’s lives and really change them and give them a better way for moving around.
3. What do you think are some major challenges for women seeking a career in transit?
Realistically, I think that it’s women not wanting to push themselves and get out there. They feel like it’s a male-dominated industry and they’re not confident enough to just say, “No, I’m an expert in what I do, and I have value.” And I think that’s one of our biggest things. We need to step up and say, “You know what, I am good at what I do, and I am equal to anybody else.” And really know that about yourself and push yourself. I don’t think its anybody else except who we are. We always think that we’re kind of in the background, doing things, being more the “mom” of things, rather than stepping up and saying, “No I have what it takes to get into this industry and run it well!”
4. What are some strategies that can help women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
I think just like anybody else, get out there and learn. The CUTA courses were huge to me, I’ve taken every CUTA course there was, and I’ve gone to every conference. You need to meet, greet and see who else is out there. It’s everything, you need to really be out there, just like any other job. You have to take away that you’re in a “woman’s role” and just get in there, and say, “You know what I need to learn, I need to learn everything, I need to learn about transit.” Like I did, I worked from driving to dispatch – I’ve done everything possible so nobody can say “You don’t know about…[pause]” yeah I do! I think that’s really important.
5. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I mean, it is really hard to get in because people don’t want to listen to you as much. I started out pretty young, and when you’re young and a woman and trying to get into a male-dominated industry, they don’t exactly listen to what you have to say until you prove yourself. And that’s it, you have to prove yourself. Keep going, don’t take no for an answer, don’t think that you’re less because they asked you a question you didn’t know about. Get out there, figure out the question, get the answer, and the next time somebody asks you, you’re going to have a better answer. You’re pushing yourself to the limit. The barrier is what you put up as a barrier, because you only allow people to treat you the way you want to be treated. Get out there and get it.
6. What was your first CUTA conference like as a speaker, and why did you choose to attend?
My first CUTA conference was a Vancouver one, years ago. We had a manager here who really wanted me to move up and take over after him. He wanted to change jobs. And he said, “if you want to get into this industry, you have to go to this CUTA conference, you get out there, you talk to people.” The conferences are great, you get lots of information, but really, you’re meeting people, meeting and understanding, getting those phone numbers and exchanging information. When you can call up any other transit system and say “Hey, I’ve got this situation happening,” and they’ve had it too. I think our industry is very specialized in that sense, that we actually network incredibly well, and I think that’s where going to CUTA conferences is very important.
And becoming a speaker is just that push of being a woman and saying, “No I am equal, I can do what anybody else can do,” and the more we do that, the better. It becomes really important to bring that to all our industry – not just at CUTA but any speaking roles we can get, to just get out there and do it.
7. Do you think that having more women as speakers can influence gender diversity in the transit industry?
I just think great speakers are great speakers. It’s good to have women out there, but realistically it’s just looking at who is really great in that area. If it’s a woman then that’s who needs to be speaking. If I go to a conference and it’s several males speaking, I learn from that. I learn from anybody that speaks and if I have something to say, I put my hand up and say it. And realistically, when there’s women out there, when we see our work coming out, we put up our hand and say, “Hey I actually want to speak on that because I have something to say.”
8. How do you balance your personal life and your professional life?
I think I learned that in nursing when I was doing 12-hour shifts, crazy things. When you walk home, you have to deal with your kids. I love the transit industry and it’s definitely my favorite industry as I’ve been in quite a few. But it’s just that ability to work when you’re at work and being able to go home and enjoy your family when you’re at home. Not saying that when you’re in transit – I know – crises happen all the time and the phone rings. But otherwise when you’re home just dedicate your time to your family. Don’t pick up your phone every two seconds to check your emails. That’s really important. We’re professionals and we work really hard at our jobs. Not 8 hours a day, we work 10 hours a day, most of us. When you go home, its just about turning that off and knowing that the reason I work is because I want to be with my family.
9. People say, “women need to work twice as hard for the same recognition.” Does this ring true to your career path?
Oh absolutely. Like I said, I have been to every course possible. I do everything in my power to make sure that I am heard and understood and that I am an expert in what I say. And I think that I had to work really hard at getting to be where I’m at. That’s a bit of who I am too. I want to make sure I know my stuff and can adapt really well to situations that come up. But yes, I would say, we [women] have to work extra hard to get up the ladder.
10. Have you ever experienced gender discrimination throughout your career? If so, how did you handle it?
Not as much in the last 5 years, it’s really changed. CUTA’s done a fantastic job at putting women speakers in and doing these interviews and really pushing how hard we work. But you go out there and it’s not quite the same for a man going into conferences. I think you just have to be professional, know how you feel, and be very confident in who you are. And if there’s a problem, speak about it. Don’t hide it. Make sure it’s open and transparent, that no, we are not okay with that [inequality] and we are going to work really hard to make sure we are treated equally in any way.
11. What advice can you give to women in transit aiming for leadership positions?
Just that they really need to get out there, work hard. Know that they are in the industry because they love it. And need to push and just go forward. Don’t let anybody push you down. Get up and push harder. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Be brave, be strong and be confident in who you are.