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WTS: Women Transportation Professionals Unite!

The WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar) annual conference brings together hundreds of women transportation professionals to network and share ideas. WTS has chapters all over the country and some abroad, and they seem to place a big emphasis on early career mentorship. I’d been invited to be part of a panel discussion about engaging diverse communities at this year’s conference in Portland.

When I walked into the ballroom of the conference hotel last Thursday morning, I was surprised by how exhilarated I felt just by being in a sea of women transportation professionals. I think I was noticing a “safety in numbers” effect; suddenly being a woman could be a valuable part of one’s insights and experience as an expert. In a space where being a woman is normal, what issues can be addressed that might otherwise be left aside? What creative ideas can flourish in a setting where personal experience is welcome? Women are important allies in the struggle to get more voices engaged with policy and planning, and conferences like WTS are great places to reflect on successes and ongoing challenges.

WTS’ network has a tremendous opportunity to innovate standards for equitable transportation because they bring together technical skills and leadership development. For this reason, I was pleased to see diversity when the opening panel walked onto the stage. I look forward to learning what investment WTS has made over the years in ensuring opportunities for women of color in its organization. Recognizing a group of women experts who represent more than one experience of race at the start of a conference makes an indelible impact, and I’m guessing some thought went into this planning. Their organization may have something to teach the League in our diversity and inclusion efforts.

At our panel on engaging diverse communities, we discussed strategies for effective outreach in spaces where you might not be a community member. One equity challenge is changing the power balance behind the scenes at the decision making level, but because the everyday decisions of practitioners can have an impact on who is served by a project, advice for people on the ground is important. The conversation gave me a lot of respect for my co-panelists, Megan Cotton and Dr. Gerardo Sandoval. Megan works as a tribal liaison for the Washington State DOT, and Gerardo teaches at the University of Oregon. Both of them had expertise that derived from their own experiences (Megan is a tribe member and Gerardo grew up in immigrant MacArthur Park in Los Angeles) and professional training. Thanks to Cathy Cibor of Alta Planning + Design for organizing the panel and Terry Gruver of HDR/InfraConsult for facilitating.

I look forward to engaging more with the WTS community of professionals at future events!

You can read attendees’s impressions of #WTSconference on Twitter.

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