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Report: ODOT employees mostly male, white, 50-plus

Posted by on May 16th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

ODOT’s org chart.

I came across something interesting while perusing some Oregon Transportation Commission meeting materials: the 2012 ODOT Sustainability Progress Report (PDF). The report covers a number of things; from how much paper the agency uses to the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted by their vehicle fleet. But the part that caught my eye was the section titled “Work Force Diversity”. It was an analysis about the demographics of ODOT’s 4,521 employees.

Here’s how the report’s authors introduced the section:

ODOT must have a fully skilled, competent and diverse workforce to carry out its mission. As the number of retirements increase, ODOT must recruit employees with diverse backgrounds, retain the expertise of experienced employees, and develop employee skills to meet new challenges to the agency and the transportation system.

That sounds reasonable. Then I saw the statistical breakdown: 63% male, 90% white non-hispanic and 56% over the age of 50.

Graphic by ODOT, from the report.

The report noted that the workforce demographics didn’t change much in 2012; but it did say that, “there are signs of an aging workforce as seen in a decrease in the percentage of employees under 35 years of age, and an increase for those 50 years and older.”

As for racial diversity, the authors pointed out that employee demographics represent just “a piece of the diversity story at ODOT” and that many employees go through “training, conferences, and educational opportunities on diversity and cultural competency.” 351 ODOT employees attended a diversity conference last year and ODOT has an internal course titled, “Building Intercultural Competency” which “aims to improve the ability of ODOT staff to interact effectively with people of different cultures.” 2,673 ODOT staffers have taken the course so far.

The demographics of those who plan, develop and implement our transportation system matters. Age, race, and gender are major topics of discussion in the transportation advocacy world right now. I wonder how the demographics break down at the Portland Bureau of Transportation and other regional transportation agencies.

What do you think about ODOT’s workforce demographics?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Andrew Seger May 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Good find, although I don’t think it really tells us much. Lots of old white guys (Rex Burkholder, Earl Blumenauer, many others) have done great things for biking in Oregon. The old white guy demographic is clearly over-represented at all levels of transportation planning/advocacy in Portland.

    A couple things that probably matter more:
    -Where do ODOT employees live and work, and how do they get there?
    -Where did they get their education at? I’d bet the culture of whatever engineering school you went to has more influence on your road designs than the color of your skin

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    • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      I agree with Andrew.
      “Where do ODOT employees live and work, and how do they get there?”

      I think they should have get-to-work-without-a-car month, every other month.

      “What do you think about ODOT’s workforce demographics? ”

      The ODOT employee whose utterances I’ve been least pleased with lately, Jilayne Jordan, is almost certainly in the minority at ODOT, and yet the words she is heard uttering are, unsurprisingly given the mindset that seems to dominate at ODOT, a throwback to the mid-twentieth century. Shrinking the white male share of the ODOT workforce is one piece of this effort, but I think more important would be for them to get with the 21st Century thinking, and even old white males can manage this.
      Here’s my ODOT hero (and he was 57 and–I presume a white–male):

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      • Spiffy May 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        I think they should have get-to-work-without-a-car month, every other month.

        good idea, but not all the time… I think they should be required to get to work and back car-free (no carpools) at least once a month or more…

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        • longgone May 17, 2013 at 8:38 am

          Good, since you have such an admitted repugnance for motoring, (one that some might consider militant, at least in concept) and a father who loves you, (and would embrace and share your lifestyle suggestions ) we can begin his Lon Haldeman style training regime next week right?
          50 miles one way is easy!
          Lon can give him pointers.
          He will be spinning perfect circles in no time!
          A family who commutes together stays together, and all good charity begins at home, correct?

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    • Erinne May 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      I disagree. While those other factors ARE important, and many old white guys ARE great, there is no substitute from having representatives (and not just one or two tokens) from many different cultures representing their different needs. All the cultural competency trainings in the world don’t make up for a monochrome workforce.

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      • Rebecca May 17, 2013 at 9:15 am

        Agreed, especially now that ODOT has expanded its reach into active transportation projects. Given that numerous studies have shown that women are more risk-averse than men & place a greater priority on safety, and that we are trying to increase the number of people who feel comfortable using active transportation, it would seem reasonable to try to increase the number of engineers and planners who think more like the demographic we are trying to attract.

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    • Spiffy May 16, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Where do ODOT employees live and work, and how do they get there?

      my dad works there as a contractor… he commutes 53 miles each way to the office every day…

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      • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

        When I’ve taken the public buses between Portland and Salem most of the passengers on the bus appear to be state government employees. And then there are the vanpools.

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        • Spiffy May 17, 2013 at 7:36 am

          my dad had to be the driver because he has control issues as a passenger… he’s anxious enough around town, I don’t think he could handle somebody else driving him that far daily…

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      • was carless May 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm

        Heh, my father works there too. But was just hired.

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  • Patrick May 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Sounds like I coud get me a job there! 😉

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  • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Check this out:
    Team: ODOT Salem Area
    bike commute rate 0.3%

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    • Vinny May 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      That’s the stats for this month. Few people bother to log their commutes out of the Bike Commute Challenge in September. Many of the folks I work with at ODOT are avid cyclists, even if they are 50+ year old white guys.

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    • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      It looks like there’s more to the story than that dismal showing linked to above.

      this is from here: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/SUS/docs/ODOT_Sustainability_Progress_Report_2012.pdf

      2012 Results from the Bike Commute Challenge:
      •ODOT Salem Area Team – 47 active riders and 3,816 miles logged in September.
      •ODOT Region 1 Team – 24 active riders and 3,714 miles logged.
      •ODOT Albany Team – 3 active riders and 388 miles logged.
      •ODOT Region 4 Team – 14 active riders and 1,009 miles logged.
      •ODOT Region 5 Team – 6 active riders and 569 miles logged.
      •ODOT Eugene/Springfield Team – 7 active riders and 1,031 miles logged.
      •ODOT Albany Team – 3 active riders and 388 miles logged.
      •Columbia River Crossing Team – 13 active riders and 2,020 miles logged.

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    • was carless May 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      ROFL, thats great. Only 2 out of 94 have actually logged miles!

      Of course, I haven’t even signed into the bike commute challenge even though I bike about 6 days a week in Portland. Ah well. 🙂

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  • Spiffy May 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    seems normal for an old government agency with not much growth… I doubt that they have a lot of turnover so they only get a new workforce when people retire…

    the good news is that in another 10-15 years there will be an entirely new crew there since the majority will be over retirement age…

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  • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    That same report Jonathan linked to suggests that the gender and racial imbalance noted for ODOT’s workforce as a whole varies a lot from region to region. Someone could test the theory by exploring whether those regions with an ODOT workforce mix that matches the local demographics make ‘better’ decisions than those with an imbalance.

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  • Jacob May 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    The engineering profession in general is white male dominated.

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    • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      I wonder if engineers is really what ODOT–an ODOT that serves people rather than oil–needs most in the 21st Century? What kinds of people do the Dutch employ in their transportation departments? What percentage of employees at the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management in the Netherlands get to work by automobile?

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      • was carless May 16, 2013 at 10:07 pm

        Not engineers? You want liberal arts majors designing transpo projects? They might be good at grant applications!

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        • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 10:10 pm

          What I was getting at was that we may be past the point when building or designing things is what ODOT should be focused on. Maintaining the infrastructure that we have, doing outreach, listening to the public they ostensibly serve are all things that perhaps others–not trained as engineers–could do a better job with. It was just a thought.

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    • Brian E May 17, 2013 at 8:46 am

      I graduated from Oregon Tech Class of 1987, I believe we had 2 female students in the entire engineering program.

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  • o/o May 16, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Too white for sure. Many will retire with in a few years.

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  • Jrdpdx May 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Sounds like Oregon. And Bikeportland.org. White

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    • cyclist May 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      No doubt. Guess how many non-white staff members work for the BTA.

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  • q`Tzal May 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Maybe everyone that isn’t white has the sense not to work for a soul deadening bureaucracy 😉

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    • longgone May 17, 2013 at 8:27 am

      Ka-ching! Jackpot.

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  • Machu Picchu May 16, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Why is everyone equating ODOT employees with engineering and facility design? The majority of ODOT employees maintain existing infrastructure. Custodians of the highways. And, as the name suggests, it’s a statewide agency, so how far people commute no doubt varies on location. Many ODOT maintenance shops are in the middle of nowhere, and workers have to get there in the snow and freezing rain to take care of business. To suggest that you could mandate them having to bicycle to work to plow snow for everyone else shows how clueless you really are about what other people do for a living. Worry about perfecting yourself before you persecute people you don’t know.

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    • 9watts May 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      Let’s not get too bent out of shape. I was talking about the Salem ODOT office, and think it is perfectly reasonable for a transportation agency that makes all sorts of noises about climate change, sustainability, and active transportation to explore this issue a bit more seriously than it seems they have. Jonathan’s posted a photo here before of the bike racks in front of the Salem ODOT building full of bikes (in the seventies).

      Based on the utterances from ODOT employees that filter through to this citizen on so many issues (Barbur, Salem’s proposed third bridge, the CRC, Rose Quarter expansion, etc.), it seems that the ODOT spokespeople or those who give the marching orders at least haven’t had much experience with biking-as-transport, with the prospect that VMT may never recover, and I can only think it would do some good if that were remedied. Nothing more, nothing less.

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      • Machu Picchu May 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm

        Right. But you were commenting on a story about ODOT citing agency-wide demographics. While Salem white-collar staff may fit the same stats, the figures in the story don’t specify it. It’s like saying the people behind McDonalds are uneducated, because 85% of their staff has not been to college.

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  • meh May 17, 2013 at 6:36 am

    The comparison of apples and oranges. The general population is made up of x, y and z therefore this group should have the same mix of x, y, z.

    But the true population that can make up that group is not the general population, because the general population doesn’t have the requisite skills to join that group.

    Here’s an example, I worked for a university. The engineering faculty was told to have a 50/50, male female mix in their instructors, because that’s how the general population is set up. Well that’s great, but in reality the population that could be an instructor is really all those who have a PHD in engineering. That does not line up along the general populations gender lines. In reality at the time it was around 80/20 in favor of males with an engineering PHD.

    So to demand or expect a company to reflect the general population demographics is unrealistic.

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    • 9watts May 17, 2013 at 8:05 am

      “So to demand or expect a company to reflect the general population demographics is unrealistic.”

      Well the good folks at ODOT who put together their sustainability report 2012 would disagree with your fruit metaphor. It was their own chart I was referring to. Here’s the chart title:
      Demographics of Major Facilities Compared to Counties Where Facilities Are Located
      It is on p. 22 of the report Jonathan (and I) linked to above.

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  • justin May 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

    that’s basically what oregon looks like.

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  • DK May 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Seems a non-issue to me.

    While the current work-force shows a lack of meaningful diversity…ODOT, themselves, state they’re old now and looking to hire younger folks of a diverse background moving forward. Their own comments sound to me like they realize the situation and are looking to adjust as time goes on.

    Unless I’m mis-reading something, I think they deserve a pat on the back as opposed to a black eye.

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    • 9watts May 17, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      “I think they deserve a pat on the back as opposed to a black eye.”

      First order issue:
      Are they serving their public well, doing the best job possible, putting their money where their active transportation mouth is, spending taxpayer money responsibly, keeping options open?
      In my view ODOT is failing on every count. They give the impression of being a 97%–or perhaps 98%–cars-first operation. The more the better, and no one try to suggest that VMT won’t rebound. Full steam ahead, never mind that we have no money for all of these expensive freeway expansions.

      Second order issue:
      Is their workforce diverse?
      They themselves seem to concede that it isn’t, at least for the state as a whole. They promise to redress this. O.K.

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      • DK May 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

        Perhaps you should re-read the article, and my comment?

        Your first point is opinion and is off topic. Citations needed if you’re intent on pursuing this.

        Your second point gets at the topic, and seems to me they’re (ODOT) already acknowledging and addressing. This is the subject of my “pat on the back” comment…The fact that they’ve publicly acknowledged their defficiency, with an intent to correct.

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  • Chigger Mortis May 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    It’s a state agency. There tends to be much less turnover in public entities. I would look at what the average tenure is per employee type.

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  • Tim May 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I find the implication that there is something wrong with being an over 50 white guy offensive. Over 50 white guys may be overrepresented at ODOT, but if you have ever been on a group ride, they also make up most of the participants. Check out the demographics for something like RAMROD.

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    • 9watts May 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

      I don’t know, Tim. ODOT seems to have identified this concern that the demographic makeup of their workforce is not the best state of affairs. I don’t see anyone suggesting we fire all the white guys over 50, just that ODOT can and should do better.

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  • Rebecca May 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm
  • RJ May 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I can only speak to Region 1.

    1. There are lot of older white dudes at ODOT Region 1. A LOT. These are people who have been there for a long, long time. A lot of them are difficult to work with and set in their ways, as you would expect. ODOT is a public agency, though, and these are represented employees. You couldn’t get rid of them even if you wanted to.

    2. A lot of the older people who are retiring right now aren’t getting replaced — ODOT is absorbing the positions in order to cut payroll.

    3. Region 1 has been VERY progressive about hiring women and people of color into new positions as they come open, at least from what I’ve seen. My guess is that if you looked at Region 1’s last 25 hires, they would be disproportionately non-old, non-male, and non-white.

    So really, they are doing their best to increase the diversity of their workforce, but there are some constraints that are making it a pretty slow process.

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  • Jerryw May 22, 2013 at 10:27 am

    The ODOT Bicycle Program manager is Sheila Lyons. Her Facilities Director is Rodger Gutierrez.
    That doesn’t sound very old, white male to me.

    This article and most of the comments are just stupid, what’s the point here????

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 22, 2013 at 10:58 am


      The point is simply to inform the community about the demographic make-up of employees at the agency that is planning, implementing, and building the transportation system we all use. Thanks for the comment.

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    • 9watts May 22, 2013 at 11:25 am

      “This article and most of the comments are just stupid, what’s the point here????”

      Do you think ODOT’s training class, mentioned in this report: “Building Intercultural Competency” is also “just stupid”?

      What about ODOT’s own benchmark ‘workforce diversity,’ which they concede has not changed in recent years except indirectly via retirement of old white guys?

      This is the positive spin ODOT included in their report about diversity:
      “It makes good business sense and is part of the agency’s social responsibility to value diversity and actively pursue equity and equality in all employment and contractual opportunities offered by ODOT. ODOT will continue to employ and develop positive, creative, and innovative tools for recruiting, achieving and supporting a diverse workforce to sustain its ability to carry out its transportation mission.”

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  • Itgoesbothways November 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Looking at all the pictures you post of meetings, I see nothing but white people.

    I think there is a popular saying about throwing stones and glass houses. Look it up. Not everyone is a straight white male who has a job in biking distance from where they live.

    Sometimes I think you are only an activist for yourself.

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  • Itgoesbothways December 16, 2013 at 12:15 am

    And then you post this picture:


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