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Pam Simon, champion of diversity retiring

Caps 32 years of service at IDOT

When Pam Simon started working on job sites early in her career, it wasn’t unusual for people to ask her what business she had being there as a Black woman. Since then, she’s made it her mission to see that everyone from all backgrounds feels welcome working and participating on IDOT projects.

Simon retires at the end of the year as the director of the Office of Business and Workforce Diversity, a spot she’s held since 2016. The office is responsible for overseeing civil rights and diversity efforts across the agency, including the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.

“No one has made a bigger impact on diversity at IDOT than Pam,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. “She definitely will be missed, but her legacy will be felt here for a long time.”

 Simon reflected on her time at here, what’s changed and her advice for people just starting their careers.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “It’s almost like a rags-to-riches story except I’m not rich! It’s just been an awesome 32 years.”

Q. How did you get started at IDOT?

A. The department was on a hiring spree. I was a laborer working for a contractor in Quincy. Looking long-term, I could see the benefits and the stability of coming to IDOT. I was a wife and a mother. I was looking at the future.

I started as an engineering tech trainee in 1990. You couldn’t be any lower. I started out in the field and later ran the asphalt and concrete part of the materials lab in Quincy – I’m actually QC/QA trained.

After I transferred to Springfield, the Equal Employment Opportunity officer in District 6 needed help in the wintertime. I really, really liked it. I interviewed to become the EEO officer in the district when it opened up. I later was asked if I could help as a liaison with the other EEO officers and with the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge project in District 8.

There is a big push now for diversity and inclusion, but I have been pushing for it for almost 32 years.

Q. Most important program or initiative you’ve worked on?

A. The Highway Construction Careers Training Program. When you see the impact it has had on people’s lives, they can take care of themselves, their families, their churches. That makes me extremely, extremely happy.

Not only are we helping individuals, but nobody wakes up one morning and says, “I’m going to buy a bulldozer and get in the construction business.” The majority of our firms start with people who worked in construction. People who started with us have started their own businesses and are now putting others to work.

Q. Biggest changes you’ve seen?

A. I’ve been here long enough to see the first female secretary and the first minority secretary. That’s a pretty big deal. You see things are changing. Change is never fast enough for most people, but you can definitely get the sense that IDOT is becoming more inclusive. This industry can be very difficult. Everybody wants somebody who looks like them, has the same experiences that they can look up to. You are seeing that happen more often now.

Q. Advice for someone starting out?

A. Take advantage of any type of training. Seek out a mentor or two. Learn as much as you possibly can. When the opportunity comes along to advance, you will have a real chance.

Q. What’s next?

A. I’ll probably keep my toe in the game. I have grandkids so I won’t be full-time, but I’ll still be around in some capacity.