Kathy Padilla is the deputy director of aviation for diversity and inclusion for the Philadelphia Airports. Her office has been responsible for several billion dollars of contract participation by diverse businesses. She is responsible for accessibility, civil rights, and language access. Kathy has won multiple awards for her civil rights work internationally, nationally, and locally. She served in leadership roles on statewide and national organizations, as vice chair of the Commission for Women, is a noted transgender rights advocate, and a key leader in passing several pieces of civil rights legislation.
Who is a woman that inspires you?
The older I get, the more I appreciate the gifts of my mother. She wasn’t a professional woman, she drove a little yellow school bus, sold hot dogs at a stand, and had nine children. And she knew people. She had a gift for understanding people’s different needs and finding ways to support them to grow and bring out their best. And she was beloved for this. This is underappreciated and a critical leadership and life skill. And I wish I had a tenth of her gift.
What do you think needs to be done to level the playing field for women in the workplace?There are structural changes and services that still need to be made to support women and families in the workplace. The pandemic has taught us that the workplace can change drastically and very quickly when the need is perceived. And some of those changes can empower women if the culture changes expectations and support around those family responsibilities. But the culture also needs to continue to change on what we think leadership looks like.
What are some challenges you have faced as a woman in the workplace/in general?
It was often difficult to be taken as seriously in leadership roles as my colleagues who are men. I was talked over, not given plum assignments, and had others take responsibility for my work. But most women have intersectional reasons for being disenfranchised; for me these were misogyny and transphobia, which are inextricably linked.
At times when I was out and recognized as a woman with a trans history I was not hired, not kept on at the Central Library, was threatened, had coworkers making ongoing transphobic comments to each other making sure that the entire workplace could hear them. One memorable incident was when my friend Marc and I did a training as volunteers for the City Department Heads after the passage of the Philadelphia Trans Rights Bill. The Fire Commissioner afterwards told me that trans people couldn’t find employment because they didn’t want to work, and a Central HR Manager assigned to work with us refused to get on the same elevator as us.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
You are already more qualified and better educated than the men you are competing with. Continue your personal and professional development throughout your life. Continue to think about more than just the bottom line. Support each other. Be bold, be confident, be considerate and be fabulous!