Remarks Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao For White House LATINA Style Briefing

February 7, 2018

Good afternoon. Thank you, Jennifer [Korn, Special Assistant to the President & Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison].


Let me recognize two very special guests: U.S. Treasurer Jovita [ho-vita] Carranza, and Robert Bard, the President and CEO of LATINA Style.  Bob and I know each other well—as Secretary of Labor, I did eight events highlighting the achievements of outstanding Latina women!  So, thank you for being here today with us!


This year marks a significant milestone for LATINA Style. It was 20 years ago, in 1998, that the LATINA Style 50 program was launched.  Many of you here today are trailblazers for your communities.  Congratulations!  And thank you, LATINA Style, for sharing these success stories.


As our country increasingly becomes part of a worldwide economy, the goal of diversity is more important than ever before.  Our diversity is a competitive advantage that should be encouraged and cherished.


As some of you know, I am an immigrant to this country myself. I was only eight years old when my family came to America, not speaking any English. Adapting to a new country and a new culture was challenging.  But my parents were determined to build a better life for their family. They believed that with hard work, a positive attitude and perseverance, we could achieve anything.


My interest in helping women access education and opportunity started early in life, in my own family. I come from a family of six girls!  Our mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, was among the very few women of her generation in China to gain an education.  She came from a distinguished family that believed in the education of their daughters.  Because of her education, my mother was much better prepared to be able to face the challenges of her life in war-torn China, and her family’s relocation.  From an early age, both she and my father taught us the importance of education, helping others, and to appreciate the value of financial independence for women. She returned home to the Lord on August 2, 2007, but her spirit continues to inspire me every day.


At the Department of Transportation, we strive continually to empower women and encourage diversity in the work place. Let me recognize six outstanding women leaders at DOT who currently hold leadership positions throughout the Department:

  • Jane Williams, Federal Transit Administration;
  • Heidi King, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration;
  • Cathy Gautreaux, Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration;
  • Brandye Hendrickson, Federal Highway Administration;
  • Drue Pearce, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration; and
  • Vicki Hildebrand, DOT Chief Information Officer.


They are all doing a terrific job!


A diverse workplace, whether it’s in the public, private or non-profit sector, confers a competitive advantage by contributing a wider set of perspectives, skills and experiences.


At the Department, approximately 4,400 employees identify as Hispanic or Latino – that’s about 8 percent! We’re very proud of the Hispanic-Americans who have shaped DOT, including Richard Elwood “Pete” Quesada, the first-ever Federal Aviation Administrator.


Ensuring the doors of opportunity remain wide open to everyone is a top priority. That’s why professional groups like DOT’s Hispanics in Transportation and the National Hispanic Coalition of FAA Employees host events to help mentor and support the next generation of Hispanic-American leaders in Transportation. Just last August, the Department held a three-day training conference to help Hispanic Americans advance within the federal workforce. Another one is planned for 2018. We hope to build on these efforts in the future.


The Department is also making significant strides in empowering women-owned small businesses. For the past five years, DOT has exceeded its direct contracting goal for women-owned small businesses by at least 100 percent.


And last year, the Department awarded nearly $4 Million to Latina-owned small businesses. So far, in the first quarter of FY18 the Department has already awarded more than $1 million to Latina-owned small businesses, so we are off to a great start.


Let me close by sharing a quick story. As Secretary of Transportation, I have the unique opportunity to travel aboard to meet people of many different nationalities and backgrounds. Just a few weeks ago, I was part of the Presidential delegation to the World Economic Forum.  During one of the events, I looked out at the audience of people from all over the world, and it struck me how much they resembled the mosaic of America.  Americans look like you and me. They look like everyone, because we come from everywhere.  That’s the story of our country, and a source of great pride.


We are so fortunate to live in a country built by hard working people of so many different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. Hispanic Americans can take special pride in the fact that the contributions of your community precede those of the Founding Fathers.  Your community continues to strengthen our country, our economy and our culture to this day.


So, thank you for being trailblazers and for mentoring the next generation of Latina leaders.  And a special thanks to Latina Style for everything you do to support, nurture, and showcase the achievements of Latina professionals across our country.

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