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What is your background?
It’s a man’s world in some places, and no one knows it better than Jatinder Kaur or Jyoti, as her friends call her. Growing up in the city of Khanna in Punjab, Kaur was encouraged by her father to pursue nursing as a career, but she knew it was not for her. She convinced him to let her study Electronics and Communication Engineering at a Polytechnic college instead.
Once she arrived in the United States, she tried her hand at many things— security guard, cashier, bookkeeper and car mechanic. When her life posed new challenges as she faced single parenthood and possible homelessness, she looked for a secure position as a county employee.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
She took up a job as a facility worker at the VTA( SantaClara Valley Transportation Authority), hoping it would open the door to better things. When she was laid off however, she went back to school to study computer science, and was subsequently offered a job at a credit card company. She laughs and says that she was simply not cut out to sit at a desk for 10-12 hours; so she opted out and continued to study, waiting for the right opportunity.
And then that door opened! The VTA recalled her, and she underwent training to become an electro-mechanic. The job involved, “everything to do with the trains—repairs, troubleshooting, and major overhauls.” She credits coworkers with helping her train for this position, but breaking through the bureaucracy was not easy. In spite of passing the required test, she was not offered the position, and she appealed to executive management before being hired. She did not stop with just getting hired. She joined the workers’ union, and was elected Shop Steward. Feeling empowered, she ran for a position on the Executive Board, and currently serves as Union Treasurer.
What were the challenges you faced in your work?
Kaur mentioned the transportation challenge for the WWE event last spring as being a project where she used her technical and leadership skills. Upset that middle management tried to outsource for the event, she met with the Deputy Director, armed with statistics to show how the VTA could help. If her team could provide 80 trains within three weeks for the event, then the management might reconsider the outsourcing plan, she was told. With three weeks to go, Jatinder managed to pull together 88 trains and pressed them into service. With successes like this, she looked for better challenges and applied for a Power Supervisor job that had a high turnover rate, fully convinced that she could do the job, and confident in her reputation and credibility to lead a team. In her current position as Power Superviser, she has been hard at work, learning the ropes and doing the job for the better part of last year.
What do you like about the job?
It is a high-stress job, she admits, putting out fires for what seems like 24 hours a day. However, it is still not a desk job and she appreciates being on-site with her staff. Kaur hopes to change the hiring mentality to make it more diverse, by including more women on the team. With leadership training, she has learned the art of hiring, firing, and crashing the glass ceiling. She is proud that she has negotiated a salary that she deems commensurate with her experience and capabilities, something that, she points out, many women are hesitant to do.
It is clear that Kaur is a rebel and she chuckles and says that she has always been one, though her uncles and mother did not necessarily support her maverick ways. But she knows that her work ethic has paid off. “I’m a fighter,” she says. “I never give up.”