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Board Spotlight is on Dr. Josipa Petrunic


Each member of WTS Foundation's Board of Directors is dedicated to the fulfilment of the WTS mission by serving in positions for two-year terms. Dr. Josipa Petrunic, C.E.O. and Director of the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium, has been a valued member of WTS for 2 years and is in her first term as a member of the WTS Foundation Board of Directors.

We sat down with Josipa 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 CUTRIC. Can you tell us a little about the firm, and what you do?

CUTRIC is an innovation consortium that focuses on the advancement of low-carbon smart mobility technologies in Canada, specifically with regards to municipal fleet deployments such as transit systems. The vision for the organization is to make Canada a global leader in low-carbon smart mobility technology development and commercialization, including standardized electric bus technologies, fuel cell electric bus technologies and autonomous electric shuttles for first-mile/last-mile solutions.

We have grown from a one-person team (me) in 2015 to a 14-person team as of 2018, and we’ve been able to attract interdisciplinary bright-eyed PhD and master’s graduates from a variety of engineering and non-engineering fields relevant to transportation innovation. And, more than 50% of our senior technical staff and managers are women.

Our marquee projects include the Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration & Integration Trial, which focuses on standardized high-powered on route charging systems, the Pan-Canadian Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Bus Demonstration & Integration Trial, which focuses on low-carbon or zero-carbon hydrogen integration into fuel cell buses in Canada, and the National Smart Vehicle Project, which seeks to integrate electric low-speed autonomous shuttles (e-LSAs) across at least 10 Canadian cities by 2019/2020 to achieve real emissions reductions through first mile/last mile solutions for transit systems.

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

My foray into this particular industry started when I was an academic at McMaster University about five years ago. At that time, my post-doctoral research veered into electric vehicle innovation policy analysis. The industry was just a tiny bud within the automotive bouquet at that time. My goal at McMaster was to launch an innovation consortium in electric vehicle development in Ontario to help support the transition of the automotive sector toward low-carbon propulsion systems. While those efforts were partially successful, I learned quickly that it is difficult - and perhaps not advisable - to attempt to set up for-profit industry-oriented innovation consortia from within the framework of a public university. The ethos and structure of the latter is not well-suited to the former. I exited the academic environment in pursuit of an industry-situated role at CUTRIC, which - at the time - was a budding idea put forward with some seed loan financing by the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) and several founding industry partners, such as Thales Canada, Metrolinx and Brampton Transit.

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

The ability to make decisions and control the flow of resources -- whether that’s in the home, within a private company, across the public sector, or with relation to a nation-wide economy -- constitutes the definition of “power”. And power is everything. It shapes our lives, our well-being, and our families. The reality is there are not nearly enough women in top decision-making positions, and therefore women lack power -- the power to decide what the world should look like, and the power to decide how it develops. I am passionate about advancing women in transportation for the same reason I am passionate about advancing women overall.  We need to gain power to ensure we are the authors of our own histories and the narrators of our own success stories – the outcomes of our lives depend upon it. And this is a need that permeates all industries, not just transportation.

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

The first women in leadership I encountered was my mother. When she immigrated to Canada, she didn’t speak English and she was told her education wasn’t valid. She was obligated to work as a cleaner for her entire professional life. For an educated, intelligent, and passionate women to work as a cleaner throughout her life is disheartening, but she found other ways to express her leadership -- through her children, through her personal real estate business, and through her choices in life and well-being as both a married woman and as a widow. My mother never abandoned the belief that she was the author of her own narrative, and she instilled in her four daughters the need to dictate our own futures and to not have choices made for us. I have experienced great leadership by women on my Board (the Chair of CUTRIC is Sue Connor, a long-time transit leader in Canada), within our Member companies, and within political domains of life that I engage in. But the best example of leadership to me has always been my mother because she made a life that is highly valuable and well worth living even though she started with no resources, no opportunities, and no social supports to help extricate her from her circumstances as she sought to succeed. Yet, she did.

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

Without doubt the best pathway toward gender transformation in transportation is starting early with STEM education for girls, including financial pathways such as scholarships, and internships at colleges and universities, to ensure they stay the course and move through the economy in their fields of training.

The general sociological issues of child care, paternity leave, and domestic sexual dynamics play a role here too in shaping women’s composition at the upper echelons of decision-making power, but those variables are not unique to transportation.

Like many other industries, the transportation industry -- composed of automotive, rail, aerospace and transit sectors -- are heavily-male dominated and cracking into that network takes labour and championship of women by women. Bottom-up policies that initiate gender role transformation by governments is important, but it takes time and we’ve already waited too long for too little. Therefore, I believe direct top-down action is needed as well – i.e. gender quotas on Boards to start and gender equality at C-Suite level within the next five years. If, as women, we believe we are qualified and capable, then serving in 50 percent of decision-making roles should be no problem. Thirty years ago, perhaps, the argument would have held that the pipeline lacked talent to achieve these goals; empirically, I doubt this is any longer justified. CUTRIC launched a “Gender Parity Policy” in 2016 and since then we’ve had no difficulty locating over-qualified women to serve on the CUTRIC Board composing at least 50 percent of the Board overall. Fifty percent targets in governance and leadership are critical and achievable. All that we need to do now is overcome our own fears about being accountable for the power we are demanding.

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

Mechanisms that develop and elaborate long-term and sustainable pathways to decision-making power for women are ones that I support. The WTS Foundation constitutes a network that develops opportunities for women by women who are situated in the privileged position of senior employment roles, and who are dedicated to extending the influence associated with their networks. Serving on the Board allows me to activate opinions I hold about women needing to help women to create robust networks of inclusion, advancement, leadership and power.

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

One strategy I am keen on helping to develop and exploit going forward is the potential for WTS to develop meaningful intellectual property (IP) allied to the advancement of women in transportation and mobility, i.e. sector-specific wage reports and comparatives, statistical tracking and analysis of WTS Member organizations in terms of women’s composition in governance and in C-Suite roles, and qualitative research documenting the long-term effects of scholarships and other programs that WTS supports to demonstrate the return-on-investment to the transportation industry and to women within that industry of WTS activism.




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