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Board Spotlight: WTS Foundation Past Chair, Dorri Raposa

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Board Spotlight: WTS Foundation Past Chair, Dorri Raposa

Dorri Raposa, Senior Vice President at HDR, has been an active member of WTS for 27 years and has served as Chair of the WTS Foundation, as a member of the WTS International Board of Directors, Chair of the WTS International Corporate Relations Committee, President of the WTS Boston Chapter, and Co-Chair of the 2003 WTS Annual Conference. WTS sat down with Dorri to find out how she got involved in the transportation, and what drives her passion for the advancement of women in the industry.

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

DR: HDR is a full service, multi-discipline architectural and engineering firm. We are an employee-owned firm of 10,000 strong, celebrating our 100th anniversary this year. I am in my 24th year at HDR and during that time I have held a number of different positions in operations, business development and management. I am the Global Director of Client Development for our transport business and a member of our transport management team.  It’s a great role that I love. I travel a lot and work with our teams across North America to bring the services and skills our clients need as they navigate the ever changing transportation landscape.     

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

DR: I moved to DC after college to go to grad school and fell into the world of engineering when I was hired by the American Council of Engineering Companies. ACEC is a not-for-profit association representing the consulting engineering profession. I met some of the smartest, most dedicated professionals I have ever known. And I got hooked. I Loved to see beautiful bridges and learn about railroads and understand expansion joints, etc. For a sociology/anthropology major, it was a whole new world! 

WTS:You are you particularly passionate about attracting young women to the industry. What drives that passion?

DR: When I moved to Boston after being hired as Executive Director of ACEC/New England (now Massachusetts) and the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, I realized that I was often the only women in the room. I was shocked.  I then got to know some of the wonderful women of transportation in Boston who truly were ahead of their time and were opening those doors that seemed to have been nailed shut. People like Jane Garvey, Liz Levin, Ann Hershfang, Claire Barrett, Anne Aylward and Mary Jane O’Meara. They were the women I admired and I saw them work tirelessly to make transportation a profession that women could excel in. It inspired me to pay it forward, and I hope I have.

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

DR: When I was in association management, I felt it was pretty easy as a woman to lead and be seen as a leader.  I was respected for the leadership and management skills I brought to our Boards and our members. I gained their trust and in turn, I gained their support. I was pretty young at the time, but it was clear to me that proving yourself would make everything easier. Not always so. When I first went to an engineering firm (before HDR), while I had a seat at the table, it was hard to find my voice—and that’s really hard for me to admit!  I couldn’t believe it. I guess what I’ve learned is that the more senior you are in an organization, the more surprising the roadblocks can be. You’ve earned respect yet there’s still an often unconscious bias or unforeseen obstacles that are gender based. I’m lucky to be with HDR now where I feel as though I have a seat at the table and a voice that is heard, but it hasn’t always been easy.   

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

DR: I really do believe that a lot of the obstacles we face are unconscious bias. If you don’t realize that you are holding someone back, not considering them for a certain role, diminishing their capabilities because of gender, you can never get beyond that. No policy or corporate mandate is going to change that in an impactful way. We are working on a training program at HDR to address this bias. It’s one person at a time. Change will happen when we start to walk in another person’s shoes and really understand them without our own filter.  

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

DR: The Foundation is really the place in WTS where we can start to leverage our commitment to advancing women in transportation. I am proud of the $2+ million scholarships we have been able to give to young women studying fields that relate to transportation. I would like us to engage in research and education that advances our mission. I felt it was time to broaden my exposure to all of WTS after having served in chapter leadership and on the Board of WTS International.

WTS:Where are the opportunities for the next generation of leaders in this industry?

DR: Wow, I think they are everywhere. Not just the public agencies or the private companies, but research entities and private business. Transportation professionals work for Google and Amazon and Lyft. I think the creative skill sets women in transportation bring to the future of transportation is an amazing component.  Understanding the public use of transportation is critical to building a network that is user friendly and adaptable, and women understand. Transportation will continue to be a key to economic prosperity throughout the world, and women will be an integral part of that.

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

DR: WTS has been through a challenging year, but I am convinced that we will come through this as a stronger organization that is focused on women in a collaborative, respectful, and transparent environment. We need to bring the energy and passion of women in transportation together and channel that to be the leader we know WTS to be. We have amazing women in WTS, at the most senior levels and at the youngest levels in our student chapters.  Harnessing that energy and enthusiasm is what we are all about, and it will be the thing that helps us achieve our mission. It’s what helped my chapter, WTS Boston, back in the late 80s/early 90s become the most influential and well respected organization in Boston. I know that WTS can do that on a much larger scale. We have everything we need!  We have all of us.

 

 

 

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