WTS International created the Navigator Award to recognize extraordinary efforts to attract, retain and advance women in the transportation industry — and association officials say recipient Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, definitely fits the bill.
When LaHood recently announced he would step down from President Obama's cabinet once his successor is chosen, WTS officials expressed regret that they would lose a valuable supporter.
"Secretary LaHood epitomizes what WTS set out to accomplish when it was founded 35 years ago. While he's been leading the charge to keep America's transportation structure operating, he's also been working and partnering with organizations like ours with an eye on the future," said WTS President and CEO Marcia Ferranto.
One specific effort that Secretary LaHood promoted is the Transportation YOU program, a joint effort of WTS and the DOT launched in 2010 to create programs that encourage teenage girls to set out on an academic path leading to a career in transportation. The effort has already reached 30 different WTS chapters across the nation whose members offer mentorship, internship opportunities, tours and hands-on engineering challenges.
"Women have a vital role to play in revitalizing our country's transportation infrastructure," Secretary LaHood said. "I am honored to receive this award from WTS, and even more importantly, I am grateful for their work with the Department of Transportation to encourage more young women to pursue studies that can lead to careers in transportation."
The association also stated that the relationship WTS has developed with Secretary LaHood and the U.S. DOT has set the gender diversity issue on an accelerating path and caught the attention of corporations, engineering firms and other businesses, such as CH2M HILL, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and AECOM.
"WTS set out to advance women when it was founded 35 years ago, and we've made great strides as we've stayed the course over time. But when Secretary LaHood got behind us and began to partner with us and other organizations like ours, the industry really caught on to the importance of attracting, retaining, and advancing a diverse workforce," added Ferranto.
Secretary LaHood discusses the importance of the mission frequently while at the podium, according to WTS, and his blog is no exception. In May 2010, LaHood wrote, "At DOT, we are also deeply committed to supporting women in every field of transportation, and we are reaching out to girls and young women who are looking for rewarding careers. The good news is that — as we revitalize our nation's transportation infrastructure — the entire industry is full of opportunities."
During his tenure, LaHood has also taken the opportunity to reach out to student transporters, as school buses constitute the largest transit program in the U.S. Most recently, he attended the national "Love the Bus" event, sponsored by the American School Bus Council, for the second time in the past three years.