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Metro has a new team running its rail operations. Here’s what makes it unusual.

Transportation is an industry that continues to be dominated by men and where female leaders are still rare.

Metro's rail division is now being led by three women. Pictured from left are: Shanita Bowman, managing director for rail transportation; Lisa Woodruff, senior vice president for rail services and Laura Mason, chief of rail infrastructure, maintenance and engineering. (W. Kyle Anderson /WMATA)

In a memo dated late last month, Metro made it official: Lisa Woodruff was named senior vice president for rail services, responsible for overall management and planning for all of the transit agency’s rail operations. In accepting the job, Woodruff became one of the top-ranking women at the transit agency.

But there was something else that made Woodruff’s appointment notable: She’s one of three women who now hold top leadership positions in Metro’s rail division. Shanita Bowman, who was named in the same May memo, is managing director for rail transportation, and Laura Mason is chief of the newly created rail infrastructure, maintenance and engineering department.

“We are so proud of our new rail leadership team who is, I believe, among the finest in the industry,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “It’s also especially gratifying to see our chief operating officer promoting from within, recognizing individuals who played such an important role in Metro’s turnaround.”

Groups such as WTS International, which works to increase the number of women in the transportation industry by providing mentoring, networking and professional development opportunities, applauded the appointments.

“At WTS International, we understand the power of diverse women to solve diverse problems,” Executive Director Sara Stickler said. “The selection of three women to leadership for WMATA Rail is a testament to that belief. I look forward to seeing the achievements made by WMATA Rail under their new and capable leadership.”

Woodruff, 56, spent nearly 30 years at Metro, starting in the transit agency’s Rail Operations Control Center, before leaving briefly last year to take a job as deputy chief operations officer at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. She was lured back last month.

Bowman, 46, has deep roots at Metro: Her mother was a Metrobus driver, who rose to be a depot clerk. Bowman remembers visiting bus depots as a young child and not seeing many women. She joined Metro in 2000 as part of the agency’s management training program. Though her background was in accounting, she gravitated to the operations side of the agency.

“I’ve been around Metro my entire life,” she said. That includes commuting by rail and bus as a student in the D.C. Public Schools system.

Mason, 36, was recruited by Wiedefeld in 2016 to manage the SafeTrack rebuilding program. She had previously worked at Bechtel, where she spent three years on the team that built the first phase of the Silver Line, which opened in 2014.

Her task at Metro will be creating planning and maintenance programs to ensure the transit agency doesn’t backslide on its efforts to maintain the system.

In a recent interview, the trio said their focus will be on ensuring the system is delivering on its most basic job: getting people where they need to go.

The three said they see their appointments as another sign of how the industry is becoming more diverse and attracting women who might not have previously considered a career in transportation.

The nation’s top transportation official is Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Metro also was one of the first public transportation agencies to have a female general manager: Carmen Turner, who served in that role from 1983 to 1990.

Still, a recent study by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, found that according to U.S. Census data, women made up roughly 15 percent of workers in the transportation industry in 2017.

Woodruff emphasized it’s not just about gender. It’s about doing a good job, no matter your background.

Still, she sees the value in having women in leadership positions — particularly for younger generations and for women who might not have even considered an industry until they saw someone who looked like them doing a particular job.

Bowman added: “I think it’s so empowering to see women [working] in an area where you typically have not seen women,” she said.