Women in Infrastructure: Nicole Hankins of SP+

Historically, mobility, smart cities, and parking have been male-dominated industries, but as these industries evolve, women are playing a significant role in the future of these industries.Only one-third of entry-level hires are women, and five male C-suites exist for every female in infrastructure. However, you can bet that things are changing. It’s time we shine a light on the impact that women are making and empower them to excel in an industry that acutely affects how we live.

Nicole Hankins is a senior leader in SP Plus Corporation (SP+). She spoke with us about her experience and vision for the future of mobility in our Women in Infrastructure series.

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Nicole Hankins, Senior Vice President, SP+

Nicole Hankins joined SP+ in 2003 as Director of Business Development in Hawaii. Her deep background in operations management gave her the tools needed to progress quickly. After becoming Senior Vice President in Boston, Hankins now operates out of Texas and oversees commercial operations for the southwest region. This role entails growing SP+’s commercial operations portfolio and introducing opportunities for revenue and technology innovation. Hankins sees massive potential for the current state of the industry as SP+ has recently launched Sphere™, the company’s suite of technology solutions for mobility and parking.

1). The new administration will be making massive shifts to our infrastructure. How do you see some of the initiatives for clean power and renewable energy affecting the future of infrastructure and mobility?

Past infrastructure plans have not historically included mobility plans when considering demand or accommodating the types of power sources needed to satisfy future needs. That’s a major undertaking which is obviously easier to implement with newer facilities. New plans will need to lay the groundwork for pulling enough power to satisfy immediate and anticipated long-term goals for not only electric vehicle [EV] charging for individuals, but eventually for pure battery fleets and everything in between. The ability to pull enough power to meet the demand will be key.

2). How has your organization been preparing for these shifts so far?

Ultimately, we are working with an EV partner to help scale our mobility hub capabilities, making it easier for parkers, drivers, and fleet operators to simultaneously move from source-to-source to power their vehicles. Right now, the journey causes too much friction. Our goal is to make that mobility experience frictionless. 

3). If infrastructure policies will be trickling down to municipalities, how important will it become for mobility operators to partner with and learn about municipal policies and urban planning?

As parking and mobility operators, we touch on almost every aspect of transportation and facility management. We need to keep pushing hard for a seat at the table for planning and policy discussions. We have first-hand knowledge and can bring logistical and data-rich value to those discussions, including travel and behavioral patterns, trends, cost and revenue, and more.

Cities in California, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have been taking the lead on introducing legislation. We are working with our counterparts to follow the developments and ensure that we are in step as policies begin to shift.

4). Infrastructure and parking are historically male-led sectors and industries. How have you overcome this status quo and addressed the challenges you’ve faced along the way?

It’s great to see so many women joining our industry, being promoted into leadership and decision-making roles, and thriving. SP+ has been very proactive in making sure that women in our company are set up for success. In 2014, a colleague and I co-founded the SP+ Women’s Advisory Forum (WAF), for which I had the honor of serving as Chair. We established a meaningful program dedicated to fostering growth, leadership, and success for women. We were given a real budget and platform to make a difference. 

We’ve come a long way since the WAF’s inception. We now have seven local chapters across the country—a number that continues to climb! The WAF presents programs, resources, and educational opportunities to advance an inclusive work environment, including scholarships, workshops, webinars, philanthropic efforts, events, and a mentorship program. This has resulted in SP+’s ability to recruit a more diverse workforce, retain and promote more female talent, and address the sensitivity of gender stereotypes in the workplace. I feel very fortunate to work with a company so willing to invest time and resources toward helping women like me achieve their career goals.

5). What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders to help them reach leadership roles?

Build relationships. Get out there, network, and never stop learning from other people of all backgrounds. You never know when and where you’ll learn something that will make a difference.

“I think professional development opportunities are so valuable and worth the investment. Companies should be challenging their employees to get out of their comfort zones and become exposed to all areas of the business.”

6). What do you think companies should be doing to help to challenge the status quo and encourage workplace diversity for the next generation of leadership?  

Professional development opportunities are so valuable and worth the investment. Companies should be challenging their employees to get out of their comfort zones and become exposed to all areas of the business. Internal learning and development programs encourage employees to keep improving and sharing knowledge and best practices across business and organizational functions.

7). You were the first-ever recipient of the NPA’s Women in Parking (WIP) Impact Award. What are you hoping an award like this telegraphs to other aspiring leaders? And as Vice-Chair of the WIP Board, what goals do you have for the industry?

Being nominated, let alone recognized for this award was such an honor. I hope other women in this industry continue to push forward to achieve their goals and make their own impact in the parking industry, their companies, and the people they work with every day.

My goals for WIP include recruiting more women into our industry by unveiling the endless opportunities we offer, not just in administrative roles, but on the operations side. Parking and mobility operators are recognizing the benefits of welcoming people of all backgrounds because that is representative of our client base and the customers we ultimately serve.

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