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Board Spotlight: Michelle Caldwell, Board Member, WTS International

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Board Spotlight: Michelle Caldwell, Board Member, WTS International

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. Michelle Caldwell, Chief Financial Officer at Foothill Transit, has been a valued member of WTS for more than 20 years and just kicked off her first year as a member of the WTS Board of Directors after having served a two-year term on the WTS Foundation Board of Directors. We sat down with Michelle 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 Foothill Transit. Can you tell us a little about the firm, and what you do?

MC:Foothill Transit is the largest all-bus operator in Los Angeles County. We operate 39 fixed-route local and express lines covering over 300 square miles in eastern Los Angeles County. We serve 14 million customers each year. As the Chief Financial Officer, I am responsible for finance, treasury, fare revenue collection, human resources and special projects and managing the $150 million per year annual budget.

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

MC:I started at Southern California Rapid Transit District (predecessor to LA Metro) in 1982 in training and development. I worked for that agency in many roles, including construction project management, grants management, transit operations, office of management and budget, and ended my 32 years there as the Chief Administrative Services Officer.

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

MC:Just when I think we aren’t making much progress, I hear about amazing promotions like Ronnie Hakim at New York MTA, Stephanie Dawson at the Port Authority, and Carolyn Flowers at AECOM. Women work hard, have bright, inquisitive minds, are creative problem solvers, and are willing to say “I feel” instead of always saying “I think.” Great leadership requires collaboration, creativity, and consensus building. I embrace these traits in any leader—man or woman—and I find them often in my women colleagues.

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

MC:I had many opportunities throughout the years to learn new things and grow in my career. I had many amazing bosses, both men and women, who valued women and recognized every individual person’s contribution. I knew one woman early in my career who started her career as a bus driver, fought to get a promotion to Supervisor, then fought some more to get a promotion to Manager, then on to Superintendent. I was always impressed with her determination to prove she was the best person for the job. She served as a role model for me and many other women during the 1980s when there weren’t many women in management-level jobs. But the boss I have now, Doran Barnes, is truly a leader who will fight to give women better opportunities. He is laser-focused on diversity and is always on the lookout for ways to improve our agency. He encourages and pays for extensive training, is an active member of WTS, and has been a leader of the APTA Diversity Council.

 

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

MC:WTS sponsors several programs, such as Transportation YOU and the leadership programs, which I believe will 1) attract young women to the field, and 2) prepare the women already in mid-level and executive level jobs to move to the next step. Additionally, the local chapter monthly meetings provide networking opportunities and forums for women to showcase their talents. People at the executive-level position often move from one city to another as known and established industry professionals. It is critical that women step into this “known” circle. To change the gender make-up of the transportation industry, we must encourage all people to advocate for women, promote women, mentor women, and support women.

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

MC:It is interesting to me that there are more private sector WTS members than public sector members. I believe this is because the private sector extensively supports their employees and provides them with educational and networking opportunities. I wanted to serve on the Board to improve public sector participation in WTS and to ensure that women are considered in public sector succession planning opportunities.

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

MC:Under the leadership of Diane Woodend Jones, the Board has developed a five-year strategic plan to connect, strengthen, and expand WTS. The plan includes six priorities, each with five or more specific action steps to achieve the priority. Achievement of these goals will make WTS the premier women’s organization in the world! It will take hard work, dedication, and spreading the enthusiasm throughout the industry to accomplish. It is truly an exciting time to be part of changing the lives of women in transportation!

 

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