One of the many talents of busy people is how they can effortlessly juggle numerous tasks and operate normally, as if they aren’t really busy at all. But behind the scenes, there are meetings, emails, phone calls, and decisions, decisions, decisions. On December 20, I had the chance to go behind the scenes and shadow PennDOT Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards. And if there’s one thing I can tell you about her, it’s that she is very busy.
My day with the Secretary was so incredible that it’s difficult to choose a favorite aspect. One of the highlights was getting to watch how she conducted herself throughout various meetings that, for the most part, varied greatly in subject matter. I learned that Secretary Richards handles a lot of the decision-making that goes on in Pennsylvania’s world of transportation. It was amazing to me that she was able to keep all of the information straight while also providing insight and constructive feedback. I also enjoyed meeting her team and experiencing the family-like culture they share.
But my favorite takeaway from this experience was the aspect of fun the Secretary finds in her position. Although she is constantly on the run, seeing her enjoy what she does and getting to know her on a personal level was by far the best part of the day.
Anyone familiar with the show Parks and Recreation knows another passionate, hard-working woman in government sharing the Secretary’s name: Leslie Knope. In fact, the Secretary is a huge fan of the show and even has a Leslie Knope bobble head, pillow, and notepad in her office. But the similarities don’t stop at their names. The Secretary is outgoing, cares deeply about her community, and even served on a Parks and Rec board for Montgomery County in the beginning of her career!
And like Leslie Knope, Secretary Richards is passionate about women’s roles in the workplace. As a woman in the transportation industry myself, it’s encouraging to see the Secretary—who is the first woman to hold this title—promoting women’s professional development. Women are underrepresented in all industries, not just transportation, and Secretary Richards sheds light on this issue and works daily to promote the representation of professional women in the workforce.
Toward the end of my shadowing experience with Secretary Richards, she gave me some great advice—the kind of advice that applies to both my career and my life. She told me that you don’t always have to have a definitive and rigid career path. With hard work, determination, and luck, things seem to have a way of working out. Secretary Richards didn’t always have an agenda to become Secretary of Transportation, but by working hard, being passionate, keeping an open mind, and building an amazing network along the way, she was able become the first woman to hold this title.
We were so busy during my shadowing experience that it flew by in a flash. When we finally sat down together and captured photos with her Parks and Recreation memorabilia, it dawned on me that if Leslie Knope were a real person, she’d have a photo of PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards in her office, hanging on the wall alongside other inspirational, passionate, and fun-loving women in government.
PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards has had 21 women from the department and private sector shadow her so far in her time as Secretary.