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Transportation Secretary Promises Diversity Efforts

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The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has pledged to work with an influential industry group to encourage more girls and young women to embark on transportation careers. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood last month signed a memorandum of cooperation (MOC) with the Women’s Transportation Seminar International last month in Washington D.C., noting the need in particular for environmental engineers is expected to rise by 30% over the next decade.

feds promise collaboration LaHood’s team advocates women’s transportation careers.
Photo: WTS
LaHood’s team advocates women’s transportation careers.
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The MOC was the brainchild of WTS President Elaine Dezenski. Members met with the U.S. DOT in April. “Lightbulbs went off everywhere,” says WTS executive director Marcia Ferranto. A series of outreach sessions in 2010 and 2011 will focus on workforce development as it relates to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. WTS hopes to develop a tool kit of best practices for mentoring, promoting women entrepreneurs and attracting students to transportation.

“Many women get into transportation by accident,” Ferranto notes. “What if we really educated them about the opportunities available?”

The outreach will in particular target girls between the ages of 13-18 and also strive to help women throughout the life cycles of their careers.

A steering committee, including U.S. DOT members, will develop a request-for-proposals-type document—which would outline timelines, criteria and other basic frameworks for outreach—to be sent to the 45 U.S. chapters this summer. “Then we’ll take a look and choose the best three to five [responses]. We hope to roll this out in the fall,” says Ferranto.

Ferranto envisions partnerships between WTS chapters and university transportation research centers nationwide. WTS cites 2008 Dept. of Labor statistics that show women comprise only 10% of all civil engineers, with only 6% in the transportation industry.

The MOC dovetails with ongoing projects of the WTS Foundation, says foundation executive director Diane James. “We’re rolling out a project to measure where women are in the industry. Where are the gaps? Why do they exist? As women progress, there are institutional barriers we haven’t yet identified.”


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