EXCLUSIVE: Norfolk Southern Spent Years Pushing Woke DEI Initiatives Prior To East Palestine Train Derailment

Photo by Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua via Getty Images

Henry Rodgers Chief National Correspondent
Font Size:

Norfolk Southern Corporation spent years working to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ideology and meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals prior to the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern has appointed several officials who focus on DEI, has made numerous public commitments to push DEI and the LGBTQ agenda and has been praised for its commitment to DEI by various ESG-affiliated organizations, according to a review by the Daily Caller.

In the 2022 Annual Meeting and Proxy Statement, the railroad company congratulated itself for appointing “a new senior leader to drive lasting change by spearheading our company-wide DEI strategy” and for contributing $275,000 to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), diverse student and academic groups and “other organizations that amplify our efforts to continue diversifying our workforce.”

“A key element of the Board’s understanding of human capital management strategies is ensuring that we create a workplace that is committed to DEI,” Lead Director Steven F. Leer wrote to shareholders.

Norfolk Southern was the first Class I railroad to join The CEO Action For Diversity & Inclusion, which committed the CEO and the company to do the following:

  • Continue to cultivate our workplace to support open dialogue on complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion
  • To encourage an ongoing dialogue on diversity and inclusion, we launched an internal communication site solely dedicated to diversity and inclusion topic
  • Implement and expand unconscious bias education
  • Provide an unconscious bias workshop to new employees and the diversity and inclusion councils. We have also introduced an online Unconscious Bias course, which is a requirement for all managers in the company.

In 2018, former Norfolk Southern CEO James Squires made a pledge “to encourage constructive conversations on diversity and inclusion, expand unconscious bias training, and share best practices with other companies,” arguing that “[c]ultivating a more diverse and inclusive company will engage employees, improve performance, and drive growth.” (RELATED: ‘Evacuate Us!’: Tensions Boil Over Between East Palestine Residents And Norfolk Southern At Town Hall)

The company website also includes a section detailing the principles of diversity at NS, which states:

  • Diversity is achieved through inclusion and respect for others.
  • Diversity works best when everyone participates.
  • Diversity fosters creativity and innovation.
  • Diversity is a critical business asset.

NS has also used employee resources on DEI. On “#NationalComingOutDay” in October 2021, the company announced the formation of a “new #LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group, TIES,” the mission of which is “to promote & support advocacy, education, inclusion, & dignity for our LGBTQ+ employees and allies within our workforce and in the communities we serve.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, Norfolk Southern is a considered a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality,” while the Disability Equality Index lists NS as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion.”

(Screen Shot:Norfolk Southern:Web:Daily Caller)



Throughout recent years, Norfolk Southern has also used its official accounts to share social media posts celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride.

“Participating in Atlanta’s PRIDE event is another way NS celebrates our differences and drives our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Norfolk Southern wrote on Linkedin in late 2022.

In a June 2021 tweet, the company posted that “[a]t Norfolk Southern, we believe in an inclusive workplace where people can thrive to be their best self.”

“Inclusion doesn’t just happen – it requires us all to take intentional steps to listen, learn, and lead,” a June 2020 Facebook post from NS states. “Pride Month is a time to recognize and reaffirm this ongoing effort. Norfolk Southern is committed to building an inclusive team where every voice is heard.”

A year earlier, the company posted a photo of rainbow train tracks to Facebook along with a caption declaring that a “culture of inclusion inspires and empowers us all” and that NS was “striving to create an inclusive workplace where we all can thrive.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Norfolk Southern (@norfolksouthern)

In 2021, NS moved its headquarters from Norfolk, Virginia, to Atlanta, Georgia. An NS general counsel said the decision was related to the company’s “emphasis on broad and inclusive recruitment” and praised Atlanta’s “wealth of diversity.” (RELATED: Ohio Sues Norfolk Southern Over Toxic Train Derailment)

Norfolk Southern was also seeking a “2023 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” summer intern, according to a recent job posting.

“Our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion team is looking for a passionate intern with a heart for DEI, an interest in the rail industry, and a desire to gain hands-on experience while working side by side with professionals from all levels and positions at Norfolk Southern to develop and promote a more inclusive culture,” the internship description reads.

“This is more than an internship,” the posting continued, “it’s your opportunity to impact lasting, systemic change that will help our company to meet the diverse and evolving needs of employees and the communities we serve.”

NS also received high marks from multiple ESG-affiliated organizations. As You Sow — a nonprofit that assigns ESG scores to companies and aims to use “corporate responsibility and shareholder power” to “address gender inequalities, workplace equity, environmental health, and more” — praised the company’s commitment to environmental justice and ranked NS 11th out of 160 companies in the “industrial” category.

Financial market data provider Refinitiv gave NS an ESG score of 66, ahead of fellow Class I railroad CSX, which scored 59, but behind both Canadian Pacific (84) and Union Pacific (72).

On March 14, Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued Norfolk Southern over the train derailment, which set off the massive chemical disaster in the state.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The Daily Caller contacted Norfolk Southern with questions about its DEI initiatives and whether they have been a distraction from their efforts to maintain rail safety. The company did not immediately respond.