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Board Spotlight: Michael Schneider

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Each member of WTS International's board of directors is dedicated to the fulfillment of the WTS mission by serving for two-year terms. This month, the Board Spotlight column features Michael Schneider, who has been an active member of WTS for more than thirty years. 

WTS: What is your current professional role in transportation?

Michael Schneider: I am currently serving as Senior Vice President and a member of HDR’s Executive Management Committee. As the firm’s Global Director for Professional Services, I have primary focus on professional development, corporate marketing, and career development. I also sit on the corporate steering committee for HDR’s Strategic Consulting Initiative, concentrating on management consulting, advisory services, and professional practices in finance, economics, and public-private partnerships. In addition to WTS, I am also involved in a number of professional and industry organizations and boards, including: 

  • Member of APTA Board of Directors and Co-Chair of the Committee on Public-Private Partnerships
  • Member of the ACEC Transportation Committee
  • Member of the IBTTA Committee on Finance
  • Member of the APTA Committee on Financial Management
  • Member of the International Road Federation
  • Member of the UITP (International Union for Public Transport)
  • Vice Chair of the Laguna Beach (CA) Transportation Commission
  • Past Chair of the ACEC Committee on Alternative Delivery
  • Past Chair of the TRB Committee on Recreational Travel

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

Michael Schneider: My first job, while still in graduate school in Urban and Regional Planning, was as a research engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Traffic—now LADOT. I then moved to the private sector as a project manager for VTN – a small, regional consulting firm in Irvine, CA. After three years there, I was approached by Parsons Brinckerhoff to open and lead an office for the firm in Southern California, which was the start of a multi-decade career with them. I served in a variety of roles, including Regional Marketing Director, Western U.S. Chief Operating Officer, Global Director of Professional Practice, and Executive Vice President for Strategy and Corporate Development. I left Parsons Brinckerhoff after 31 years, having served on the Board of Directors and as the senior shareholder of the firm, prior to its acquisition by Balfour Beatty. I then created and co-founded a new firm, InfraConsult, focused on program management, alternative delivery strategies, and public-private partnerships. In 2012, the firm was acquired by HDR, and I now serve as a member of the firm’s leadership team.

WTS: Why are you passionate about advancing women in transportation? 

Michael Schneider: I’ve been passionate about advancing all professionals in transportation, but over many years have focused more specifically on advancing women and under-represented minorities into executive and management roles. I consider this focus not only appropriate from a moral and ethical standpoint, but as a business imperative. I’ve been a proponent of workplace and societal equality since a teenager, and simply cannot accept the inequality and lack of diversity that still unfortunately exists in our society and in our workplaces. I’ve been a veritable crusader in this regard—an “early adopter” of the WTS mission and a strong advocate for WTS International’s goals in the industry. Of course, having an internationally regarded transportation economist as a spouse, and three amazing daughters, has certainly been an impetus!

WTS: Do your daughters work in the transportation industry? 

Michael Schneider:  Only one of them. My daughters are all consummate professionals—the youngest is an executive with Google and the firm’s global brand leader for educational programs; my middle daughter served for many years as Director of Development for Human Rights Watch and currently heads an educational foundation; and my oldest daughter is Deputy Director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority – the only apple who fell close to the tree!

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

Michael Schneider: As you might guess, I’ve witnessed quite a lot during my career. When I reflect on my years in practice, I note that my first boss in my first real job at the LA Department of Traffic was a woman—a licensed civil engineer—who to this day was one of the best bosses, mentors, and role models I’ve ever had.  As I advanced in leading and managing organizations, I consistently hired and appointed the best people for the many openings and new initiatives that emerged. At one point – more than 20 years ago – I had more women managers and executives than men reporting to me, a reflection of my commitment to retain the best and the brightest. Unfortunately, I was quite alone in this regard, and I often endured “good natured” ridicule from my male colleagues. While it is clearly inappropriate—and incorrect—to generalize and observe that one gender is better at management and leadership than others, I have observed that the numbers of good and less than stellar leaders is rather evenly divided among genders and other social cohorts. That is why it has been exceptionally confounding to me that men always outnumber women in management in our industry. We men executives must strive to recognize both the value of diversity to our business and the moral and ethical imperative to advance women and minorities in our field to achieve that objective.

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

Michael Schneider: I believe that there is far more that male managers can do to gradually equalize the gender makeup. Far too many of my colleagues simply do not see the importance of such a pathway. It’s not that they are consciously discriminatory; it’s often simply a habit and the easier go-to pathway to follow. The good news is that the millennial generation seems to be doing better in this regard that their predecessors, so perhaps there is hope. WTS has taken some very positive and significant steps to enrich the base of girls and young women interested in the transportation field through Transportation YOU and a number of excellent local-chapter initiatives.

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

Michael Schneider: I was both honored and flattered to be considered for membership on the WTS International Board, and it was a crown jewel in my lifelong quest for gender equality and diversity in all professions and all walks of life to be elected to the Board last year.  (Indeed, my daughters co-hosted a small fete honoring my dedication to the advancement of women!)  For many years, through several terms on the WTS Advisory Board and through local initiatives in mentoring and scholarship, I’ve supported and championed the advancement of women in our field.

WTS: What strategies do you recommend other male leaders in transportation follow to help achieve the WTS mission? 

I hope that I can help in setting an example for my male colleagues in transportation illustrating that we have a responsibility to our profession to advance women by 1) helping to spur interest in the field among girls and young women;  2) by identifying, hiring, and mentoring women whenever we have the opportunity to do so;      3) by promoting, nurturing, and supporting the career development of women in the field, whether in the public sector or the  private sector;  4) by assuring that women’s remuneration and opportunity is equivalent to that of their male colleagues; and 5) by encouraging other men in our field to emulate these initiatives. We often need to be bold with our bosses and co-workers, and point out obvious gender inequality where it exists – and keep the pressure on to move our collective consciousness to a point where there is no difference in opportunity, pay, or position for women or men in transportation.

WTS: Do you believe more men should join WTS?

Michael Schneider:  Of course! WTS is not an organization of women – it is an organization to support women’s advancement, and men have the same compelling responsibility for achieving that object as women. I continue to be motivated by the thousands of women I’ve met throughout the country and the world who are consummate professionals and who—more importantly—continue to support the essential mission of WTS to advance women in transportation. WTS has had great growth and success since it was founded 40 years ago, but to continue on this successful path more men must be at the table. Increased gender diversity will have a profound effect on what we are all trying to achieve.  

 

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