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Board Spotlight: Flora Castillo, WTS International Board Director

Flora

Each member of WTS International's Board of Directors is dedicated to the fulfillment of the WTS mission by serving in positions for two-year terms. Flora Castillo, NJ Transit Board Member, has been a valued member of WTS for more than 15 years and is in her second term as a member of the WTS Board of Directors. We sat down with Flora to learn more about her involvement in transportation and her perspectives on the advancement of women in the industry.

WTS: Let’s start with your role at NJT. Can you tell us a little about the agency, and what you do?

FC: New Jersey Transit Corporation is the nation's largest statewide public transportation system providing more than 924,159 weekday trips on 261 bus routes, three light rail lines, 12 commuter rail lines and through Access Link paratransit service. It is the third largest transit system in the country with 164 rail stations, 61 light rail stations and more than 19,000 bus stops linking major points in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. As a member of the board I serve as one of the policy makers of our transit system providing strategic guidance, legal and fiduciary oversight, and customer representation. I chair the Board’s Customer Service Committee and serve on the Safety and Administration Committees overseeing an annual budget of more than $3.585 billion and 10,978 employees.

WTS: Where did you get your start in the industry?

FC: In 1999 I was appointed as a member of the NJ TRANSIT Board of Directors. At that time, I was recognized for my community and civic work and was appointed to the board by New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman – making me the first Latina and the youngest member to serve on the Board. I’ve been honored that three more Governors, most recently Gov. Chris Christie, have reappointed me.

WTS: Why are you passionate about advancing women in transportation. What drives that passion?

FC:I arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15 not knowing any English. This transformative milestone was the result of the generosity of someone who was a stranger to me but who wanted to make a difference in my mother’s life. As a result, my motto has been to pay it forward. I firmly believe it is important for each of us to fully embrace our roles as civic participants at the transit policymaking table. Ultimately my passion comes from a desire to make a difference and help others by sharing my network, and the lessons that I have learned from my experiences.

 

WTS: What has been your experience as it pertains to women in leadership roles? What have you witnessed during the course of your career?

FC: In my lifetime in the industry I have been exposed to a tremendous diverse group of women leaders, including Gwen Watson, Shirley DeLibero, Therese McMillan, Leslie Richards, Beverly Scott, Mary K. Murphy, and Ronni Hakim. Seeing them as role models and being exposed to their experiences and lessons-learned have been invaluable for my growth and aspirations. Their diverse leadership styles and contributions to our workforce have had a profound influence over time on policies and practices—something I have experienced myself as a woman and a Latina. And because public transportation agencies across the nation serve a very diverse customer base, it’s vital to have the participation and representation of diverse women leaders at all levels at the table to help make decisions that affect the customers who use our nation’s public transit systems each day. 

WTS: What do you think is the best path forward to making change in the gender makeup of the transportation industry?

FC: I believe that policymakers, board members, both in the private and private sector organizations must partner with and hold our senior management accountable for ensuring diversity and inclusion programs as well as succession plans are in place. Having a diverse workforce that contributes their unique experiences, diversity of thought, and insights is good for business and it is good for the overall health and wellbeing of the transportation industry.

WTS: Why did you feel it was important to join the Board of WTS?

FC: In the book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sanberg reminded us that 50 percent of college graduates in the U.S. are women, but men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in the public and private sectors. This must change; and we need help affect that change. Being elected to join the board of WTS by the membership after serving as Chair of the American Public Transportation Association, the pinnacle of one’s transportation career, afforded me the opportunity to continue to use my leadership and influence to ensure that all of our members are part of the fabric of the organization, and that we collectively contribute to the advancement of women and reversing that trend through our initiatives and our national megaphone.

WTS: What strategies do you feel will help bring WTS closer to achieving its mission?

FC: WTS has a strong legacy of being the vessel for advancing women in our industry. There are two strategies that I would further advocate for WTS embracing to get us closer to our mission: first, promote the value of sponsors (man or woman) to support one’s career growth. Throughout my career, I have been privileged to have both sponsors and mentors and served as both. My sponsors have openly advocated on my behalf, helped me connect to career opportunities, recommended me for important assignments or helped me build relationships with other important people. As a sponsor myself, I have taking a vested interest in my protégé’s career growth and made recommendations for promotions and other growth opportunities. This is a “priceless” partnership for both parties involved.

The second strategy is to promote serving on boards and commissions at the federal, state and local levels as part of one’s career growth and development plan. Serving on a civic board provides you with an unbelievable opportunity to learn the intricacies of how our government and communities operate, as well as see the fruits of your advocacy become a reality – making a difference in a community, an organization, and individual.

 

 

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