When she started her job, she was the only woman in a high-ranking position at PennDOT, and one of only four women who led a state DOT nationwide. Now she has numerous female colleagues within her agency and across the country.
Richards also had to convince her colleagues and her employees to think differently about solving transportation problems. For years, PennDOT, like many state transportation departments, was dominated by engineers, and those engineers focused on how to move vehicles on highways. But Richards, who has a master’s degree in regional planning, encouraged her agency’s workers to talk with local leaders before ever sketching out a new road configuration or bridge design. That’s the underlying idea behind her program, called PennDOT Connects, which the agency now uses in its planning processes. Richards has also promoted a more diverse workforce as a way to generate more creative solutions to transportation problems.