Earlier this month, the annual conference of WTS International, the association for the professional advancement of women in transportation, was held in Philadelphia, PA. While its flagship event rarely fails to disappoint attendees seeking the professional networking and industry education components provided by the conference each year, the 2013 event saw an increase in attendance of more than 25%. What’s more, 40% of attendees were first-time participants, and there was a sharp increase in sponsorship with 30% more companies participating, and, of the 50+ participating sponsors, at least 20 of them were new, including Philadelphia International Airport and US Airways.
Why the spike in interest in WTS International? Marcia Ferranto, WTS International President and CEO, sees the record-breaking conference as a reflection of the industry recognizing that WTS is serving an important role in the future of transportation. “Both the public and private sectors are realizing that if they are to succeed beyond 2015, they must bring more women to the table. In an effort to attract, retain, and advance women, our corporate partners as well as our members recognize the increased value coming from WTS International. We have become the common gathering place for all modes, we attract the highest ranking professionals in the industry to our events all over the world, and we provide programs that focus on workforce development through the advancement of women. WTS has become essential to the transportation industry,” Ferranto added. “We were busting at the seams last week at our conference, but it’s a great problem to have and a good indicator that we are valued in the industry.”
WTS International began with a simple mission: to advance women to senior positions within the industry. But in recent years, the association has expanded its activities to include attracting and retaining women in transportation as well. “Workforce development is the name of the game if we’re going to get more women to the top. One of our best programs is Transportation YOU, and it’s catching on quickly with all of our chapters throughout the U.S.” said Ferranto.
Transportation YOU is the name applied to the hands-on challenges, informational sessions, and mentorship programs being run by individual WTS chapters with the full blessing and backing of the US Department of Transportation. WTS International’s ties to the Department run deep— Transportation YOU launched with the signing of an MOU with DOT Secretary Ray Lahood in 2011.
“The message is clear and is finally reaching all corners of the country and the globe. We need to generate awareness about this industry with young women and get them excited about the possibilities so they consider STEM studies (science, technology, engineering, and math)—now. There also needs to be an environment in the workplace that is considerate of the needs to working women that provides for career continuity. This is how we’re going to bring more women into senior positions, and this is how we’re going to address the industry’s workforce development needs and ensure success.
The WTS annual conference attracted global corporate and governmental industry leaders, including executives, CEOs, government administrators, and leading engineering authorities. Attendees at the conference networked, discussed the state of the world’s transportation infrastructure, strategized on advancing professionally through glass ceilings, and explored Philadelphia’s successful municipal and private transportation and traffic projects. For the full duration of this year’s Philadelphia conference, private corporations, public agencies, and government officials invested in every transportation mode exhibited, presented, learned and networked.
The 2013 keynote speakers and breakout session leaders included Gloria Steinem, the iconic leader of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to go into space and NASA’s first Science Mission Specialist, and Robin Chase, founder of the Zipcar and Buzzcar companies.
Planning for the 2014 conference in Portland, Oregon, is already underway. Networking events, technical tours of the host city, and workshops are at the heart of each conference, which also includes an awards banquet for industry recognitions and the formal awarding of WTS Foundation scholarships for several graduate, undergraduate, and high school students.