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Converge Chicago –Highlights of the 2015 WTS International Conference

June 5, 2015 11:33 AM

by Anna Nadler, MassDOT District 2 and Dianne Gunther, MBTA

“I would say that after 30 plus years of my involvement in WTS and the many conferences I have attended I am still amazed at the young women I meet and the leadership of women across all modes of transportation.” -Mary Jane O’Meara, HNTB

The 2015 WTS Annual Conference took place this past month in Chicago, Illinois.  As this year’s WTS-Boston Emerging Professionals, we were able to attend the WTS International Conference.   The Emerging Professional (EP) Program allows young women to be assisted in their development as future female leaders in transportation.  In addition to a paid year of membership and other benefits, the EP program sponsors our registration and travel to attend the WTS International Conference.  As Mary Jane stated above, you cannot beat the opportunities and friendship WTS has to offer women in transportation, and this annual conference allowed us to fully take advantage of that.

At the conference, we were able to spend more time with our mentors, as well as network with some of the country’s top women across all modes of transportation.  Both of us were able to meet women from across the conference_tech_tourcountry including getting to know the 30 WTS-Boston members in attendance and many of the 600 members present for this sold-out conference. 
In addition, we participated in many engaging conference events, detailed below.

Technical Tours

The conference began and ended with technical tours that gave us a firsthand look at transportation in Chicago.  We were able to attend a tour of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) on one of their newly procured trains.  We were able to see a recently built station, Cermak-McCormick Place (see photo on the left), and hear from its architect as well as hear about plans for future stations.  We also learned more about the public art projects along CTA’s rail lines.  Dianne also had the opportunity to experience Chicago’s growing bike infrastructure first hand on a Divvy bike tour (Chicago’s bike share).  The tour led attendees to several recent bike infrastructure projects and along the scenic Chicago River. 

Professional Development Events

We also attended professional development events, including one with Grace Crunican and Liz Levin about their book Boots on the Ground, Flats in the Boardroom:  Women Transportation Leaders Tell Their Stories.  The purpose of this panel discussion was for current leaders in transportation to share their stories and experiences for the benefit of aspiring leaders.  Takeaways from this event included:

  • Be visible as a leader.  Get out of the office and go into the field to meet your people.
  • Never believe that you can’t do something that someone else thinks you can.
  • Acknowledge your failures, learn from them, and move on.

There were also other professional development events, such as What Does Your Inner Leader Look Like? - a panel discussion of women leaders in varying roles and stages in their careers, and Relationship Building:  Making it About Them -  a clinic on how to get the most out of networking situations.  Common themes from these events included:

  • Go out of your comfort zone
  • Connect with other people by listening to their story.  How did they get to where they are today?  Ask questions and use their stories and experiences to help you get on the path you want to be on for your career.
  • Memorize a compelling elevator speech
  • When a seat at the table opens up, don’t just take it.  Fill it! Pull it up to the table and lean in.

Lee Filipe of Massport recalled a favorite moment from the leadership panel when “Coach Allison” encouraged us to “Regularly practice LIFE-WORK balance and burnout prevention for optimal wellbeing and performance of individuals and organizations.” (www.HealthCoachAllison.com)  A quote from the What Does Your Inner Leader Look Like? session that resonated with Laurie Carlson, from MassDOT was  “Stretch Opportunities’ – Emerging Leaders – some lessons you’ll succeed, some you will fail, but learn from the lessons, from the experiences.  If someone stretches to you ~ they will watch over you.”  Her takeaway from the conference was having the power to believe in yourself as others see your true potentials.  Sometimes we need others to believe in us to push us to exploring other opportunities that we wouldn’t have allowed ourselves to take on without the “stretch opportunities”.

Keynote Speakers and Receptions

Each day there was a gathering of all attendees:  the Welcome Reception, a “Women in Rail” panel discussion, lunch with keynote speaker Erin Brockovich, the Annual Awards Banquet, the Chapter Circle of Excellence Awards Breakfast, and lunch with keynote speaker Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour.
Each of the panelists and keynote speakers inspired us in their own way.   There were a few comments and themes from these discussions that struck a chord with our members.  Erin Brockovich spoke about the importance of “stick-to-itiveness” and honesty, and defined “motivation” as the difference between talent and ability.  Alison Lima of Tetra Tech recalled the Albert Einstein quote that Ms. Brockovich shared during her talk about making a difference in the world: “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” Both Loretta Doughty of HDR, Margaret O’Meara of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Rebecca Williamson of GPI, WTS-Boston Vice President recalled some of Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour’s words that resonated with them:

  • You need to be willing to be uncomfortable.
  • Opportunities don’t go away; other people take advantage of them.
  • There are always obstacles, just don’t give them power.
  • We all have permission to engage

Janice Martin Bergeron of Kennedy/Jenks Consultants recalls how the Women in Rail panel said to “stop calling it work-life balance.  Instead call it work life integration!”  Much like FlyGirl, the women of this panel encouraged us to not get too comfortable in our current positions, and to put ourselves out there and take risks.

On the last day of the conference, WTS Boston members attended the Circle of Excellence Awards Breakfast, and our chapter was honored to receive the 2015 WTS Chapter Circle of Excellence Communication Award and also earned Gold Circle status in the Circle of Excellence.

Reflections on the 2015 WTS International Conference

The presenters were not the only women who had a lasting impact on us.  The conference was a great opportunity to get to know the other women of WTS Boston.  Rachael Sack, WTS-Boston president from U.S. DOT Volpe Center, said, “In addition to being exposed to new topics and meeting new people, the biggest benefit from attending this conference was actually getting to know our past, current, and future leaders of WTS-Boston even better.  There is a lot to be said for uninterrupted networking time, especially when it means learning from others and seeing what people are passionate about.”  Rachael’s idea of developing and deepening relationships with Boston members was seen by others as well including Rebecca Williamson, WTS-Boston Vice President and Colleen Moore of City Point Partners.  Colleen stated that “the value of the conference to me was the ability to connect with other Boston members and to get to know them better both professionally and personally.  We are always so busy when we are at home - the conference provided time to discuss projects more in depth, to share personal stories, and to make new friends.”

Above all, the conference was a great opportunity for us to see how WTS-Boston functions as a support network and professional development group.  We could clearly see how the women of WTS work together to better themselves and the organization.  Regardless of work experience or expertise, women in transportation face many similar obstacles.  Together, through WTS, we are able to support each other through our personal and professional challenges.

Thank you WTS-Boston for the opportunity to attend the 2015 WTS Annual Conference as WTS-Boston’s 2015 Emerging Professionals.  Not only will the memories last a lifetime, but we hope that the connections we were able to develop with each and every one of you will as well. 





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