Every person can have an impact, but it requires being listened to.
The freight rail industry is one that the public often takes for granted, yet it plays a vital role in transporting raw materials, finished goods and even consumer products that support global and national economies. We tend not to give enough credit to railroads for the advanced technologies, operational logistics and complexity of locomotives, rail infrastructure and other equipment that makes rail travel possible.
Railways connect the smallest of towns to the rest of the world. The United States alone has a rail network of more than 220,000 km crisscrossing the country and providing access to hundreds of shipping ports. The U.S. rail system is the largest in the world, followed by Russia, China, and India.
Recognizing its importance to trade and economic development, the rail industry has seen many advances in recent years. It is incorporating innovative technologies and becoming more efficient and customer friendly. The number of new technologies being implemented in the industry and its existing processes is exciting to witness.
Being an influential leader in this dynamic industry can be exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time — and being a businesswoman at one of the industry’s leading companies requires all the dedication and hard work one can muster.
Diana Sorfleet, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at CSX Corporation, is a prime example of the commitment it takes to be a rail industry leader. She joined CSX, a leading supplier of rail-based transportation in North America, in 2011 after working as a Human Resource executive in the energy sector. Holding a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in communication, Diana always wanted to achieve great heights in life, and at CSX she has found her opportunity.
CSX operates a 32,000-km rail network and serves key markets throughout the eastern United States. The railroad provides access to more than 70 ocean, river, and lake port facilities on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. It also connects with railroads that provide service to Pacific ports.
To be a successful leader at this important company, Diana has drawn on the full range of her life experiences.
Diana hails from an inspiring family, which taught her to work hard and be true to her talents and roots. As part of a first-generation American family, Diana learned from watching her grandparents and parents performing a wide range of jobs as house cleaners, cooks, servers, sheet metal workers, and entrepreneurs.
The values of helping friends, family, and the community were instilled in her as she grew up seeing the example of those around her. She traces the roots of her path of serving others to her first working experience as a child, when she helped her father at his bakery. Diana says that was where she was exposed to commitment, discipline, and finding joy in work. She is grateful for having had the opportunity learn these lessons at such a young age.
The Roles of A Leader
In her role as Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at CSX, Diana’s job is to shape the company’s overall culture and employee experience. She also has responsibility for company facilities and infrastructure power systems. One of her primary responsibilities is to oversee talent acquisition, development, and learning. She puts extra emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and equity, and she deems strong employee relations as essential for the company’s success.
“Our company is currently engaged in a transformational initiative called ONE CSX, in which we are overcoming decades of strained labor-management relations to create a culture of teamwork and collaboration. Our executive team is embracing a servant-leader approach to build trust and improve service to our customers,” she says.
One of the primary challenges the transportation industry faces is attracting and retaining talent for the many roles required for companies to be successful. This includes technology positions as well as the front-line workers who serve customers by operating trains and maintaining equipment and infrastructure. Diana is at the forefront of an effort at CSX to improve the quality of life for front-line employees. These positions are critical to our modern society’s well-being and prosperity, and we should be celebrating their impact and praising those who enter these professions.
Women And Leadership Roles- Is Gender a Factor?
Diana believes that every person can have an impact on the world, but for that to happen they must listened to and respected. Regardless of gender identity, she says, everyone can help empower others by listening more closely to their voices and appreciating what they have to contribute.
“You create power by listening to others and including their perspectives in the dialogue,” Diana says. “Listening and inclusion greatly impact how we work together and the decisions we make, whether in business or politics.”
When asked if successful women are proof that they are more capable than men of making the world a better place, Diana looks at the question from a different perspective. She highlights that everyone has the potential to make a positive contribution to society. Women bring unique perspectives to the executive suite, but so do many others. Diversity of experiences is the key, she says, and all individuals should have the opportunity to succeed at the highest level of business and industry.
It is said that women are “softer” than men, in the sense that they view the world with more compassion and warmth. Diana thinks that perception should not be used to question someone’s capability to make decisions or be successful in business.
Throughout her career, Diana has seen and worked with clients, employees, and partners. She has always seen teams gain more success when they are diverse and inclusive. Bringing a “multiple perspectives, but same purpose” approach to the table contributes much more.
Future of CSX And Transportation
Diana says CSX constantly works towards creating a healthy and fulfilling environment for its employees — one where they feel appreciated, valued, and respected. In the end, it is the employees who do the work that creates value for the company. To achieve this environment, the company makes sure to create moments and experiences for everyone to feel engaged.
From Today’s Leader to Tomorrow’s
Diana often returns to quotations from prominent women to remind her of what it takes to succeed in business and in life. She believes these words of wisdom can help inspire anyone to feel the spark and become leader. Here are two examples:
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
— Alice Walker, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction
Diana uses the author’s words as reality check that inspires and motivates her.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.
— Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
To Diana, this quote offers inspiration to take the huge leap of faith that is the necessary first step to realizing your dreams.