From the Leadership: Continuing the Journey
Happy new year to our members, partners, and stakeholders. Like many of you, I spent the last weeks of 2022 with my nose to the grindstone, finishing projects and giving full attention to the needs of wrapping up a year. (I did include some holiday shopping.)
However, I have been looking forward to this new start with great anticipation – a turning of calendar pages, and a refocus and refreshed commitment of the priorities of the WTS community. In 2022, I outlined the four focus areas of my Chairwomanship, and those remain as vital as ever. A new year, however, offers an opportunity to reinvigorate and add to this set purpose and direction to our continuing journey.
There is a lot going on. As WTS standing committees meet in January and kick off crucial conversations, as we toast our partners and members during next week’s reception in Washington, D.C. (held in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting), as we gather thought leaders for new and exciting International-level programming and as our Chapters across the country plan for their first programs of the year, and as we work towards our own International Annual Conference in Atlanta – we hit the ground running, but with renewed purpose, spirit, and camaraderie.
I have high expectations for our membership and our leadership, but I know that these expectations come with some trepidation. Executing fast and without error is difficult. How do we prioritize on this terrific momentum for success? What did we learn about ourselves in 2022, and are there changes for the better we can make in 2023? How can we add to and expand our priorities, but also avoid burnout? Are we asking too much “emotional labor” of ourselves?
I have spent considerable time pondering these things in recent weeks, especially since reading an article by CNN writer Nicquel Terry Ellis published in mid-December on the phenomena referred to as “the glass cliff.” This article resonates with me, not just as a Black woman, but as a leader. Essentially the opposite of the “glass ceiling,” this term describes “the barriers minorities face to advance in the workplace, with research showing that women and people of color are more likely to be appointed to poorly performing companies than White males.”
Certainly, WTS is not a “poorly performing company” – if anything, quite the opposite. Our community is growing and thriving in new and exciting ways – increased membership numbers, amazing networking opportunities, more thoughtful topics in technical and leadership programming, the most scholarship dollars ever provided, and the launch (and relaunch!) of several programs from both WTS International and our Foundation.
It is the role of WTS to support our members who are celebrating success but also, potentially, facing challenges. Our organizational priorities should expand, but also continue specific investments in the success of women and under-represented professionals in transportation, instead of putting them in “impossible situations.” Experts and advocates for women of color say Black women are often hired or promoted to leadership roles at companies at times of crisis with the expectation being that they will fix the issues. The task, experts say, can be so daunting that it will sometimes lead to outright failure. WTS members do not exist to be merely “fixers” – but collaborators, role models, teachers and more.
I am sensitive to asking or expecting too much. Women often take on workloads that are not sustainable. Kyra Kyles, a media company executive, is quoted in the article as saying “I think when people are applauding themselves for giving Black women these leadership roles that they deserve and almost never get, I think they are forgetting the part where you give them the resources, you give them the tools and you give them the support that they need to succeed. Because that’s just not something that we receive.”
The need for more support and resources when implementing such a paradigm shift, even in a volunteer association like WTS International, is vital. I want our WTS community to consider how we “fold in” these needs to our current major priorities: expanding equity, diversity, and inclusion in transportation; becoming a voice in legislative and advocacy initiatives, supporting workforce development, and expanding our association footprint around the globe. But we should also be advocating for additional things: equal pay, mental health, continued excellence in professional development, mentorship for black women, and supporting real change in hiring practices… not just optics.
Women should not be put in impossible situations when expected to lead. It is our role and responsibility in 2023 to support one another, be voices for those who need voices, and take care of one another. Our actions and priorities should energize and motivate, and never be an added burden. We at WTS, are committed to ensuring that our member benefits align with the support we all need and deserve.
I am excited to continue our journey in 2023. The “to-do” list is long, but I am motivated and inspired by you all. I can’t wait to get started.
Jannet M. Walker Ford