Workforce Development: Who Will Run Transit Tomorrow?

Posted on November 19, 2013 by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor - Also by this author

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SWTA started its Veterans in Public Transportation program in 2011. It reaches out to veterans and military personnel at  job fairs and military offices.
SWTA started its Veterans in Public Transportation program in 2011. It reaches out to veterans and military personnel at  job fairs and military offices.

Promoting women
In addition to Laurin, other sources have echoed the fact that an obstacle in public transportation for women is it has been, like many industries, a man’s field.

Ferranto agrees. As she travels the country and talks with women, as well as different corporations and universities, she says the sense she gets is that the reason more women don’t advance to the top levels in transportation is they are coming into a world with cultural values  created by men.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way it was,” she adds.
For example, she says, the industry values people who are the first ones at work and the last ones to leave.

While that may be possible for some, many women are still tasked with more child care and household duties, making the long hours at the office unrealistic for them.

“We value that total commitment to run faster and harder,” she explains. “Our culture is saying to employees that longer, harder work is more valued than working smarter. They don’t say this out loud. It’s just what ends up happening.”

WTS is finding through its membership that many women, instead of staying in the industry, advancing through the ranks and taking on this issue, are starting their own consulting firms, practices and small businesses.

“When they think about their careers and [don’t] see women at the top, in CEO or COO positions, that is also playing a role in their decision,” Ferranto adds.

She recalls a roundtable of major corporations organized by Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that discussed how to get more women in CEO positions or on corporate boards. The group said women need more profit and loss responsibility.

“However, when people from different companies were asked, ‘How about your CEO in place now? Does that man have profit and loss responsibility?’ Half of them did not,” Ferranto says. “But, they were all saying that women are not CEOs because they don’t have [that] experience. There’s a perception that women don’t have the right training. I’m not so sure that’s the case.”

Many of the representatives at that table said they have a hard time finding qualified women to fit the needs of their executive level management. However, Ferranto points out, there are only five women leading state departments of transportation across the U.S.

“You can’t tell me that only five women are qualified to lead state DOTs. You can’t find them? Really? What is going on? It’s cultural,” Ferranto says. “We need to build awareness that things need to change. And guess what? It’s not the women that we need to build the awareness with. It’s the men.”

She notes WTS is not a women’s organization, but an association whose mission is to advance women. About 15% of WTS membership is men and the organization is working to get that number up to 25%.

“We manage all of our programs to be inclusive of men because women cannot advance themselves by themselves,” Ferranto adds.

While the industry has to address the needs of women in the industry to help them attain success, it also needs to build more awareness with girls that transportation is a viable career choice. WTS is doing that with its Transportation YOU program, geared toward girls ages 13 to 18. Not only does the program expose girls to different careers in transportation, it provides them with a mentor that they can look up to.

To ensure the organization is doing everything it can to advance women in transportation, WTS plans to research and establish a baseline of where women are now in transportation to develop a measureable success matrix. The organization also created a leadership program for executives and women who are seeking CEO and corporate board positions and hired a full-time staff member to concentrate on establishing student chapters at major universities. Participating schools include the University of Florida, Gainesville; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Utah; University of Texas at Arlington; University of Florida and Virginia Tech University.

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