(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 478: Women’s Transportation Seminar

April 10, 2024

This week we’re joined by Sara Stickler, President and CEO of WTS International. We discuss how WTS highlights women’s expertise in transportation and how they create opportunities from mentorship to leadership and education. We also chat about some of their legislative priorities on workplace policy as well as some of the barriers women face in the field.

To listen to this episode, visit Streetsblog USA or find it in our archive.

Below is a full unedited AI generated transcript of the episode:

Jeff Wood (1m 21s):
Well, Sara Stickler, welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Sara Stickler (1m 24s):
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Jeff Wood (1m 26s):
Thanks for being here. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sara Stickler (1m 30s):
Sure. As I think about how I define myself, it would be wife, mom of two and a half year old twins. So that is a time consuming task in itself. And then professionally, my career has taken a couple different turns. I’m a former second grade teacher, so former educator. I feel like everything I use today is something that I learned while teaching 24 6 year olds how to behave and, and act and and learn. But once leaving education, I found my way into the nonprofit association space, have been in the medical space, have been in the consumer product space. It’s there that I actually got into transportation through Vision Zero and through some drug driving campaigns.

Sara Stickler (2m 14s):
And from there found my way to WTS International where I’m now president and CEO and help lead this organization as we advocate for an Equitable and accessible transportation systems and Transportation workforce.

Jeff Wood (2m 27s):
Much respect for the second grade teaching. My sister has taught first grade for the most part since 1989. And so it’s like wow, that I’ve seen that world and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s busy. So

Sara Stickler (2m 38s):
It’s busy. I am happy that I was out of it during the pandemic. I ha have a lot of respect. I have a lot of friends that are still teachers And. what teachers in the education sector did during the pandemic is no small feat and is an amazing accomplishment. So

Jeff Wood (2m 55s):
Absolutely, absolutely. You got into transportation. I’m curious if it hit you before you even taught, like if cities and transportation was something you were interested in or something that you paid attention to.

Sara Stickler (3m 5s):
I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. My family was very much a two car car centric family going to college. I went down to Xavier University in Cincinnati, but it’s through travel that I had as an adult that led me to really focus in on transportation and understand the impact that it was having on communities, the impact that it could have in accessibility. And that has been something that I, I would say has definitely been more of an adult impact in my life where , regrettably and, and it’s something that I’ve even had conversations with my parents since then around just what we didn’t have access to it coming from that, from that suburban And, what privilege we had being a two car family for my entire childhood.

Jeff Wood (3m 50s):
Well let’s talk about the women’s transportation Seminar or WTS as we’ll probably refer to it the rest of the, the rest of the show. Well, I guess I should ask where did the name come from? When was the organization formed? What was its purpose? I’m curious about that.

Sara Stickler (4m 2s):
Yeah, so women’s transportation, Seminar, we were founded in the late seventies and our name has been a point of conversation. So it is Women’s Transportation Seminar. The Seminar came from, at the time in the seventies, women were not allowed to have an association. They could only come together as a group for education and training. And so that is where the word Seminar came from. At the time we were founded in Washington DC At the time our first events were held at the Army Navy Club and the women of the organization that had founded the organization were actually not allowed to walk through the front door. I’ve had the honor of being able to, to speak to some of our founders and say , we all had to go through the back door ’cause because women weren’t allowed in the front door of the Army Navy Club.

Sara Stickler (4m 48s):
And so we’ve been on a 47 year journey and and evolution here as an organization with a mission to attract, sustain, connect and advance women in transportation. And that’s something as we’ve gone through our journey started out really as that place of network and community, the opportunity for that education and training. But I would say through our evolution and, and something that has been part of our, our strategic plan here over the last two years is really looking at how we now utilize the brand and the organization that has been created to really advance gender equity and transportation, to really advance transportation. And so I would say there’s, there’s five things as an organization that we really do.

Sara Stickler (5m 32s):
First being, we are advancing Transportation. We have over 9,000 members across North America. We’re a chapter model, so we have 69 chapters and all of those members are subject matter experts. So they are Transportation planners and engineers and outside of even that we have communications and finance and government affairs. And so these are the people that are advancing the transportation and we are working to do a better job at highlighting their voices to put women in places where their expertise and knowledge and experience can be highlighted for what it is. And not just because they are a woman but because they are the most experienced or most skilled in that subject.

Sara Stickler (6m 15s):
I would also say that from a WTS perspective, we advocate for both the employee and the employer as it comes to workforce development, professional development. That also leads into our gender equity advocacy work that we do for equal pay family friendly policies. It’s very important for us that it is the entire family and it’s, and it’s all parents that can take advantage of paternity leave and take advantage of family friendly policies. And then we do a lot of that work through our newly activated legislative arm. So it was just last year that we published our legislative priorities and our starting to use our advocacy a little bit more to advocate for for workplace policies.

Sara Stickler (6m 57s):
And then something that we’re very proud of is our WTS foundation and our foundation looks at the next generation and attracting young women into transportation. And that is starting all the way from kindergarten up through , post-graduate work, supporting them through education but then also supporting them through scholarship. And last year our WTS foundation gave out over $800,000 in scholarships to young women looking to pursue careers in transportation. And that’s something that we’re extremely proud of.

Jeff Wood (7m 27s):
How are the chapters organized here in the Bay area? We have a chapter and some of my friends have been attending for quite a while. I’m wondering how those chapters are organized and like what it means to be a chapter organization.

Sara Stickler (7m 37s):
Great question and something that is a little bit complicated, but we are a chapter model. So each of our chapters is their own entity. We have 69 of them across North America. We’re in the US and in Canada right now. Each of our chapters has its own board. So that’s something that we are proud of at WTS is that we are able to provide that board experience. So we have over a thousand chapter board positions that provide that opportunity. So they are their own functioning organization that rolls up into WTS International. And so that organization, each chapter provides different programming, networking, technical sessions to help the local area advance women and advanced transportation.

Sara Stickler (8m 21s):
So each of our chapters is their own entity. However, membership into WTS is into the entire international network. So when you join WTS, you get To Join, the entire international network. You get to select the chapter that’s closest to you, but you do get access into all of our chapters. So if you’re someone who travels quite often you can find your local WTS chapter and participate there. And I would say something that we’re also very proud of is that our membership is 11% male. And so when we talk about advancing women, it takes everyone to do that. It is all genders. We are looking for gender equity and that is going to require everyone and allies to help in that.

Jeff Wood (9m 3s):
From a topic perspective, transportation can mean so many things. So what’s the like range of transportation topics, policies, et cetera that you all cover?

Sara Stickler (9m 12s):
We cover it all. And that is one of the unique pieces about WTS is that we do truly cover it all. We are all modes, we are all professions. I will say from a chapter perspective it may differ a little bit based on location in geographic region and and that’s true with even our transportation systems and what’s in the northeast and southeast and Pacific West is different. And so our chapters have that autonomy to differ based on their local, their local areas. But we do truly cover it all and that’s something that we’re proud of and I think that that’s something from the WTS community that we hear often is coming into WTS events.

Sara Stickler (9m 52s):
You really can find everyone there.

Jeff Wood (9m 54s):
One of the things I read when I was doing some background for the show was that 15% of the transportation workforce identify as female. And so I’m wondering what some of those barriers are that are keeping folks from not entering this field that is so dynamic and interesting.

Sara Stickler (10m 9s):
Yeah, we are, we are actually working with the Mineta Transportation Institute to update that study and to understand what progress has been made here over the last few years. Around that we have data that shows that we are getting better at that entry level. As we look at those coming out with college degrees in engineering, we are close to 50% gender equity there, female male. We are challenged with that progression and growth in career. And so there’s broken rungs in that ladder starting with the first promotion into manager. That is where we start to see the differentiation between genders come in. And from there it’s really hard to to catch up.

Sara Stickler (10m 51s):
So once you miss that first step into manager, it becomes a lot harder. And then there’s another broken rung into that vice President c-suite as well. And that is where , each broken rung, the pool gets a little bit smaller. And so that’s where you hear , you hear, well, we’d like a diverse candidate or we would like a woman to be there, but they’re not there. They’re not in the pipeline. And that’s something we work very hard at WTS to combat is first and foremost. They are there, you just have to look a little differently than what you have before. But then second, we do need to be, do a better job of ensuring that women are promoted and are advancing. And I think that’s where those deterrent come in is family friendly policies that keep women in the workplace that we look at hiring panels and promotional panels that are diverse and , we, we know that women are promoted and hired for their accomplishments and men are promoted and hired for their potential.

Sara Stickler (11m 48s):
And so that’s something that we’re working to, to combat and to also help our female membership understand that you don’t have to be qualified for a hundred percent of the bullet points on a job description, right. Men will apply with with 30% of them. And we love to see, and I’m seeing this more and more right in job postings is that saying at the bottom of the job posting that says don’t think you fit all of these criteria. We’re looking for diverse candidates. And so I think there’s some things that we can do as an industry to help increase that advancement of women. And unfortunately I think right now coming still coming out of the pandemic, we lost a generation of women during the pandemic. They left the workforce to stay at home, to be caregivers not only of children but also elderly parents.

Sara Stickler (12m 34s):
And so we need to do a better job of bringing them back into the workforce. And then from a transportation industry, that 15%, how can we go help those in career transitions come into the transportation industry? There’s a lot of skill sets, maybe those that stepped out of the, out of the workforce to raise a family. How do we bring them back and bring them into the transportation workforce despite where they may have started their career.

Jeff Wood (12m 58s):
I think it’s really interesting you’re talking about how the ways that people see resumes And, what they feel like they’re qualified for I mean. Yesterday I was talking to a colleague about jobs and experience and trying to figure out like what, what to do with our imposter syndrome and figure out like what the best way forward is to think about like whether you are or aren’t qualified for a job. And I’m just curious what’s kind of the remedy for some of that reticence and figuring out it’s okay to apply to a job where maybe like you said 30% you check the box, but the other 70 you might not, but a lot of work experiences learning on the job as well.

Sara Stickler (13m 30s):
That’s a great question. I would say women have been conditioned for so long to think there’s only one seat at the table for women, right? And so I think even internally, right? We have to change our own perspectives as women to say there’s room for all of us, right? And we can bring a seat to the table and we don’t need to cut each other down or we’re not competing for the same seat. And I think that we have been taught for so long that the role of a, of a woman is to be, to be seen and not heard and . So that imposter syndrome comes from a culture where women are are told that they’re not enough.

Sara Stickler (14m 15s):
And so I think that’s something that from a cultural perspective, we can do better at helping to promote accolades and to promote accomplishments. I think that’s something that for us at WTS International, through our leadership training, it’s there’s a lot of how do you communicate your value and how do you communicate your, your accomplishments and your potential and, and your ideas. Oftentimes women are talked over in meetings or their ideas are, are repackaged and presented by someone else. And so after a while, right after a while you get beat down a little bit and sometimes you stop, you stop showing up and you stop voicing your opinion. And there that is where I think our allies can come in as well and say, , that’s a great idea.

Sara Stickler (14m 59s):
I think , I I I think Jeff said that earlier too, right? And I think Sarah said that earlier and, and give that credit. And so I would say that there’s a cultural change that we need to see within workplaces where we truly are supporting all genders and really looking at the microaggressions and how those are compounding , especially for women of color, L-G-B-T-Q, , how can we change that culture to make it a little bit more accepting for women? I was reading a book moment of Lift by Melinda Gates and she says in there, , we are, we are sending our daughters into a workplace that was designed for our grandfathers and . I think that’s true for all genders. We’re still sending , we’re still going into the workplace that was designed for our grandfathers and how can we, how can we become more inclusive for all in that workplace?

Jeff Wood (15m 49s):
I’m wondering what also is the importance of like mentorship and the leadership training that you all do because throughout my life I’ve had a lot of really great mentors and some men, some women. And I think that that’s been really a powerful influence on kind of where I was and, and then also where I’m at. So I’m wondering what the influence can help through those avenues.

Sara Stickler (16m 6s):
That is a huge piece of, of what WTS does is mentorship and then I would also say sponsorship there. And so being able to find that mentor, whether it is through the local chapter and local to you or it’s, or it’s more on an, on an international scale and into the entire network. But we, we know through data that being connected in with a mentor at a young age right out as entry level and having that guidance and having that perspective is very critical. Not only in advancement but also just in remaining in the workforce and remaining in the transportation industry, right? Those that are getting that mentor, whether it’s male or female, they are staying in the workforce then. And I think it’s also important from a mentoring perspective that you’re able to see who you wanna be.

Sara Stickler (16m 50s):
So you can see, you can see that diversity in leadership and you can see potential mentors in the C-suite and at high level positions. And I would say , we have a tremendous group of executive members at WTS that are really dedicated to that giving back and that understanding we have those executive members that were the trailblazers and still are the trailblazers. We unfortunately still have the first and the only. So you were the first woman, you were the first black woman, you are the only one still. But they are really great at reaching back and bringing along others. And then I would say something that we are working hard at is encouraging young women to find both a sponsor and a mentor.

Sara Stickler (17m 34s):
So that mentor is someone who’s going to provide you guidance and give you their perspective and then you take that and shape that into, into what you will. But a sponsor’s gonna be that person who advocates for you when you’re not in the room. And that’s that sponsor that’s gonna call someone up and say, Hey, I saw you have that job opening, I have the great candidate for you for that, for that position. And so it’s important to have both. It’s not an either or. It really is building your board, your personal board, your kitchen cabinet, right, of people that you can call on sometimes to give advice and be that mentor sometimes to pick up the phone and sponsor you. And then I think it’s also important to find that network that is also the one that will just simply li listen.

Sara Stickler (18m 14s):
And I think that’s important for all of us, right? Is just who can you call and and vent to sometimes too.

Jeff Wood (18m 19s):
I’m also wondering how important representation is. You mentioned the folks that are up there already and then they, they often reach back, which I know a few of folks like that have been wonderful in helping all types of folks get to higher positions or help them kind of move through the system as it were. But I’m wondering what the importance is of representation for young people to see women as both experts, people cited in newspaper articles, those types of things, but also leading agencies and leading organizations that are top of mind and in front of everything.

Sara Stickler (18m 46s):
It’s so critical. We have a program, our capital summit, it’s through our Transportation U program, which is all about youth and bringing young girls into transportation. And once a year we bring them into DC for for a week long like transportation camp program where they’re onsite, they get to do , government tours, Transportation tours, really understand what it’s like. And it’s interesting, this past summer we were at there and we were up at BWI airport and their chief engineer spoke to our students. And it’s a black woman who was able to stand up there and say, look, I never thought I’d be the chief engineer at an airport . We had a woman who was running recruiting at Amtrak.

Sara Stickler (19m 29s):
We had a woman who was in charge of education at the Port Authority in in Baltimore, a woman running research at the FHWA Turner Fairbanks lab. And so for our students to be able to see women in that position and diverse women in those positions, they are now able to see a career path and a place for them. And many of them, we do a lot of reflections and journaling during that time. And a lot of our young students say, , I had a, I had an idea I wanted to be a planner, I wanted to be an engineer. But now that I see that you can be, that I could be the chief engineer, I could be running recruiting. Like now I have a dream and I have somewhere I wanna work towards not just something I wanna be, but I have a goal now in, in line.

Sara Stickler (20m 10s):
And that representation is, is so critical, I think not only to young students, but I think it’s also important to all levels of the, of, of a career is that you can see yourself in the next step. And if you can’t, that’s hard, right? The battle gets a little bit harder.

Jeff Wood (20m 28s):
When I was an undergrad and I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t know that planning or transportation planning, for example, was a profession or something you could do with your life. And I had no idea until a friend of mine was like, yeah, you could, you could do this if you wanted to. I was in like a city class in in undergrad, in geography class. And they’re like, oh yeah, this is a a thing. You can actually continue to do this for, for the rest of your life. And I had no idea. And so , I’m wondering how you kind of attract people that may be interested earlier on in life and not know that this exists a transportation profession because I didn’t know it existed. And I know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t know, even when I talk to people now, they’re like, oh, that’s a thing. Like you’re a a city planner.

Jeff Wood (21m 8s):
What’s that? What is that? And how, how could I have done that? ’cause that sounds really cool.

Sara Stickler (21m 13s):
It is incredible coming into WTS, how often I have heard that people like fell into transportation, which for me as a young child, my first grade teacher is who solidified education for me. Like I knew from first grade I was going to be a teacher. I worked at Chuck E. Cheese in high school because I thought it would give me an edge. Like, ’cause it was around children, right? I wasn’t allowed to teach yet, but I could, I could work at Chuck E. Cheese. And, and so coming into transportation, , I’ve heard so many times of , I I fell into this. I didn’t quite know that’s what I wanted to do. And then someone told me. And so you’re absolutely right. How do we get to young students early? We know for young girls that especially getting into that stem, into that steam, it needs to happen by sixth grade or we lose you.

Sara Stickler (22m 0s):
And so if you don’t have that spark, if you don’t have that interest by sixth grade, odds are you’re not going to get it by then. And being a former teacher, I know that to be true. It’s sometimes unfortunate, but by sixth grade you are already on a path. Are you engaged and involved in sciences and arts or are you think that you are not good enough there? And so I think we need to get more education to younger students. There are a lot of organizations that do that. We have partnered with some of them. We have our own transportation U program as well that goes out, each of each of our chapters have a transportation U program that goes out into their local area, connection with schools, connection with afterschool programs, girl Scouts, boys and girls clubs to bring transportation to the students and to bring the students to transportation.

Sara Stickler (22m 50s):
And I think that’s something that is also very critical and is something that we are really proud of. All of our chapters as they hold their transportation u programs as we bring students into the capital summit is we’re putting you on multiple modes of Transportation as well. , if you are coming from a part of the country that does not have robust Transit systems, we’re putting you on the metro ADA here in dc right? You’re taking that ride, you’re understanding what it’s like. And I think that’s critical too is that we’re not just going into the schools and talking to you about it. Our chapters are great at holding field trips and bringing students out. We’re gonna give you a tour of the airport, we’re gonna give you a tour of the operations facility in our transit system.

Sara Stickler (23m 33s):
We’re gonna take you on on a bus and help you learn how to ride the system. And so I think it’s that hands-on knowledge that really sparks people and it’s, and and young students and, and even I would even say , it’s some of the most impactful pictures, but it’s also some of the most impactful moments that we’ve seen. When that girl gets to put on the yellow vest and the hard hat and walk into , it just, you just, you just kind of see them light up a little bit and get a little pep in their step and say, Hey, I could do this. I’m having, I’m having fun. And I think it’s that experience that is going to ignite young students to actually pursue transportation from a young age and not necessarily just fall into it.

Jeff Wood (24m 13s):
You mentioned earlier there’s training available from kindergarten. I’m wondering what that kindergarten training looks like.

Sara Stickler (24m 19s):
It is. That’s an area, our current chair of our board, Janet Walker Ford and the chair of our foundation board, Karen Good. Janet’s with WSP and Karen Goods with the city and county of Denver. They have been from day one. We’ve gotta get into the younger age and the younger groups and we say and I’ll look, I’ve got two and a half year old twins. They know how to pull up the, the camera on their phone, right? Like they know how to manipulate and use technology in a way that we never did. So if they can learn that swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe writing exactly right. And I will pull up my camera to take a picture of my kids and they’ll say, I wanna see, like, I’m like, oh my gosh, you’re already approving pictures here as a female. Yeah, I know.

Sara Stickler (24m 59s):
But , their, their, their brains just work differently and they are going to have . I can remember opening encyclopedias to do reports and having to go to the library and open those encyclopedias and now they have laptops and cell phones and Chromebooks and and whatnot, right there in their hands. And so from a former second grade perspective, it’s that interest into steam and stem. How do things work? How can we design things? What are the impacts of designing things? It’s interesting, my, my daughter at two years old is already looking at how to build things and when they fall apart, , it’s okay, I’ll fix it and I’ll make it differently and, and change. And so I think it’s just ensuring that we are promoting that level of curiosity and making sure that our students are inquisitive and it’s all genders, right?

Sara Stickler (25m 47s):
And that , if someone doesn’t necessarily have that innate interest in it, that we give them a chance and keep pushing because maybe they just haven’t been pushed yet.

Jeff Wood (25m 56s):
Another thing that’s kind of tangential care infrastructure has gotten more attention of late and from a transportation standpoint and research, what, what I’ve seen a lot is because more care work trips are taken by women, but also you also see the lack of it and the impacts on, on transportation workforce as well. And so I’m wondering how could better care infrastructure help this process of getting more women into transportation as a profession in addition to all the other things that we talk about from , getting people to where they need to go and access and, and to healthcare and for taking care of older and younger folks as well.

Sara Stickler (26m 29s):
Yeah, I would say that caregiving is a huge opportunity and a huge challenge right now from both sides. So it’s, it’s caregiving of young kids. It’s caregiving of an aging population. And one of the things I think we need to really look at is the access to affordable care and starting with kids, , my kids are in in daycare and there’s a parameter that if, if you get a call that your child is sick, you have to be there within an hour. And so that really does as you think about, well what is my trip from my house to daycare to the office? What does that look like?

Sara Stickler (27m 10s):
And , can I do that in an hour? And is , is the bus schedule going to allow that? And am I then constrained to where I can and cannot go? And then right now we have a, we have a shortage in teachers. And so , I know my, my own kids’ daycare, they used to close at six 30 and they had to bump it up to six because they didn’t have the staffing to maintain the, the correct ratios. And so with that , you have a lot of people that say, well, if I can’t get off work and until five can I make it there by six? And and so there’s a lot of accessibility issues and as we think about , our systems And, what we’ve built, it has been based off of , the commute in from a male’s perspective, right from the home directly to the office and back.

Sara Stickler (27m 53s):
And there’s, there is a lot of trip chaining and, and going to the grocery store and going to daycare. And then I think from workforce perspective is it’s that access. And when we think about a typical nine to five, that’s not what most of our, our workers are working. And so how can we support daycare and how can we support care outside of those hours so that we can bring women into other shifts and to support them into different careers within transportation. And we also have to understand that when we don’t do those things right, we talk a lot about, well, what is, what is the cost of that? What would be the cost of an agency supporting childcare and supporting different types of bene family benefits?

Sara Stickler (28m 36s):
Well, I think the bigger question is what is the cost of it? If we don’t, and that is that we are losing that perspective of a woman in the workforce, they are going to opt out. We know they are going to opt out, and when they opt out, our economy loses. And they not only do we as a, as a population and the economy lose, but they as an individual lose. And and that’s something that the women’s bureau through the Department of Labor produced a study with the Irma Institute on the cost of caregiving. And that when women elect out of the workforce to care for family, what does that cost to them? And through the loss of wages and the loss of, of retirement savings, , it is, it is upwards of a couple hundred thousand dollars that a woman is losing when they opt out of the workforce.

Sara Stickler (29m 19s):
And that’s on top of then, right? Their normal loss of wage for inequity in pay. And so the impact is, is is really significant as it relates to caregiving. And I think that’s an opportunity where we can use transportation to help. I don’t think it’s , it’s not necessarily a transportation only problem to solve all of caregiving, but we can definitely help.

Jeff Wood (29m 40s):
I think the framing of that is really interesting. Thinking about costs versus investments, right? Investing in people and And, what that means. And I know that during the pandemic, or at least towards the kind of the waning of the height of the pandemic anyways, a lot of the office buildings that were frustrated because people were staying at home or working from home and the vacancy rates are really high and they’re still really high , a lot of folks at those offices were like, well, what’s the investment that we can make to get people to come back? And one of the top ones that they heard from people was like, if you have childcare, I’m in. Right? Yeah. Like that’s like a big thing. And so this investment that we need to make in childcare is huge because of the, like you said, the lost opportunities that people have in the lost value that’s created, that disappears, that, that just kind of wanders off into the, into the moonlight.

Jeff Wood (30m 22s):
And it’s frustrating to see that we continue to have this conversation when we know that there’s benefits to making these investments.

Sara Stickler (30m 29s):
And I think something that’s, that is interesting to see in the data with that is that request isn’t just coming from women. And I think that’s incredible progress that we’re making. It is, it is dads that are saying, I wanna be part of my child’s life and it’s sons that were raised by dads that maybe we’re working quite a lot and not as present. And they’re saying, I, I want to be more present in my child’s life and I want those benefits as well. I want that access to daycare so that my kids can come to work with me. I want that paternity leave so that I can be at home. I want that flexible work schedule so that I can participate in extracurricular activities. And so I think that is something that gives me hope we can see that in younger generations is that it is everyone asking for these benefits.

Sara Stickler (31m 16s):
It is no longer just women.

Jeff Wood (31m 18s):
Are there transportation types that are worse than average or better than average in terms of workforce participation from women? Because it transportation’s a huge spectrum of things. There’s trucking, there’s transit driving there, but there’s also engineering and things like that. So I’m wondering if there’s like some that are below the average and some that are above the average.

Sara Stickler (31m 37s):
Yeah, I would say we know there are a couple industries that are below the average and, and that tends to be more in the construction side of things, trucking as well. I would say that , a lot of that has to do with the safety and workplace violence. And that’s something that, especially from a trucking perspective, is the safety culture, maritime as well, the safety culture around workplace violence. I know that’s something that this administration and the Department of Transportation are very focused in on. It’s something the Department of Labor is focused in on as well is that goes back to that culture piece is that we have to ensure that the workforce is safe for women and that they are able to enter that workforce and participate fully.

Sara Stickler (32m 21s):
And so I think safety culture is, is a big impediment to, to some of those industries we see right from the public sector side of things. They are a little bit further ahead as it as it comes to hiring diverse candidates. They have accountability, me measures, dashboards, metrics, key performance indicators that they are looking at in their hiring. And that’s important. And that’s something that we promote across both the private and public sector.

Jeff Wood (32m 48s):
What do you wish more people knew about WTS?

Sara Stickler (32m 51s):
That’s a great question. I wish that people knew the full breadth of our resources. We have a very strong and powerful network and that mentorship and opportunity to connect into the industry is something that we are well known for. We are working to build that knowledge around the resources that we have around workforce development, professional development for companies that look at family friendly policies and how to best implement those, our advocacy work. So I, I wish that our members and non-members knew more about all the resources that we provide.

Jeff Wood (33m 29s):
I’m also curious how the pandemic impacted your work and the outreach abilities that you all had, the work that your members do. I’m curious like what that impact has been like on folks that you interact with.

Sara Stickler (33m 41s):
We at WTS International, there was a lot of lessons learned during the pandemic and some of those were great opportunities. We realized that we were able to reach a larger percentage of our membership through virtual offerings. So I think that was a big win for us being able to provide different opportunities. I think from a WTS perspective, we were also able to bring our members together in that virtual space and provide that moment of sanity and normalcy in a life and, and it, it seems odd, but just those virtual happy hours, those check-in moments of of mentally and emotionally, how are you doing as your child is virtual learning now behind you during the workday.

Sara Stickler (34m 26s):
And so those were great opportunities. I would say the challenges and lessons learned that we experienced during the pandemic is a, the, the loss of women in the workforce, which we’ve spoken about, but I think B is across the board for all genders, but I would say more for women is the loss of boundaries that happen during the pandemic . If we think about a traditional nine to five job that our, that our grandfathers went to, right? You, you got into the office, you left at five o’clock, you didn’t have a phone in your pocket, you didn’t have your computer at home. You could check out at five o’clock and you could spend that time with your family and you could have evening activities and not have to report back to the next morning.

Sara Stickler (35m 8s):
I think during the pandemic we lost those boundaries, right? Everyone was at home. And so everyone knew that you were available at any time of day and sometimes that time of day was actually better at night or early in the morning before your kids woke up and they were learning at the table right next to you. And so we are now out of, out of the pandemic, we are into the post pandemic endemic and those boundaries haven’t come back. And so I think we are in a place where burnout is becoming very real and we are still , women are still responsible for most of the unpaid work that happens in a household. And they are doing that now with less boundaries than they had before and how they can balance and integrate that work life.

Sara Stickler (35m 53s):
And , we’re also in a moment with the bipartisan infrastructure law that transportation and And, what we are all trying to do is booming. And so there’s the stress that comes with that. But I would say that there’s, there’s a little bit of, of burnout that has happened coming out of the pandemic and, and the potential of reset that we need there. And I think we’re seeing that we’ve all heard of the, of the glass ceiling where women are breaking through the glass ceiling and, and the first and the onlys. But what we’re starting to see now and CNN deemed this term is the glass cliff. And that’s where we’ve put women in positions, especially chief diversity and equity officers. We’ve put them in positions where men have, have not been successful or have not accomplished certain goals for decades.

Sara Stickler (36m 38s):
And now we’re putting women in these positions and we’re expecting them to succeed in ways that their counterparts could not. And we’re giving them short tenures to do that and women are burning out and they’re then opting out. And we’ve started to see that in some high profile positions. We saw that the new New Zealand Prime Minister resigned and simply said, I’m, I’m burnt out, I need to need to step aside. And we’re seeing that, right? The average tenure of a chief diversity officer over the last few years has decreased from 3.1 years to 1.8. And so we’re seeing people , they’re brought into these positions and they’re not fully supported and and they burn out. And so I think that’s something that we need to be aware of because that is impacting women.

Jeff Wood (37m 19s):
How do you all reach out to professionals in the field and how do they learn about your work? Generally?

Sara Stickler (37m 25s):
We have a lot of different outreach mechanisms through membership engagement at different associations. We have partnerships with seven other associations, memorandums of understanding. So we , because we are all modes, we don’t wanna reinvent the wheel within each, within each mode. So we partner with associations and trade associations to get into their membership and help provide that gender equity lens and gender equity engagement. Because we do have 69 chapters. I would say maybe most people’s interaction with WTS first and foremost would be at that chapter level and that would be engagement at transportation related events and and gatherings. , because we are a workforce professional organization, it is ingraining ourselves into agencies, into companies.

Sara Stickler (38m 14s):
And that’s something that we’re working really hard on is that support from a company perspective is that you have that support from higher up from leadership to get engaged, get involved in WTS, to be a chapter leader, to have that volunteer experience. And that’s something that , I will say has been another impact of, of, of the pandemic is . There was less funding around that during the pandemic and that’s one of the first things that a lot of companies cut were was that reimbursement and that engagement into membership. And so we’re working to build that back up and to really show the return on investment and the value of the engagement in WTS. From an employer perspective, what

Jeff Wood (38m 51s):
Does success look like for you all? I mean, you said you have 9,000 members, 69 chapters. What does success look like in the future? Is it like 20,000 members and 150 chapters or is it another metric that maybe is a little bit more low key?

Sara Stickler (39m 4s):
I would say yes and yes. Our vision for the organization is continued growth but strategic growth. And that is both within North America but also globally. What we’re experiencing here in the US is not unique. It’s also happening in Europe, it’s happening in Asia, in Australia. And so we’ve had recent interest from a global perspective. And so I would say success for us would be the continued growth of that network truly to that international global scale. I would also say that success is going back to those data points of the number of women at a couple different places. Entry into the transportation industry, fixing that broken wrong into that first manager position and then also looking at c-suite positions.

Sara Stickler (39m 51s):
And I would say it’s not only just the entrance of those women but the retention of those women in those positions as well. And so those are some data points that we measure to see the impact and the success of of WTS.

Jeff Wood (40m 6s):
So where can folks find out more information about WTS if they wish to look up what you all are doing or join a chapter or anything along those lines?

Sara Stickler (40m 16s):
Yeah, our website is WTS international.org. that.org is important. Fun fact there is a WTS international spa company that was created a few years before WTS. So if you go to WTS international.com, you will go to that spa management company. We encourage you To, Join both ’cause both are important, but we would prefer you go to WTS international.org.

Jeff Wood (40m 40s):
Awesome. Well Sarah, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time. Thank

Sara Stickler (40m 44s):
You so much.

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast


…the first thing I read every morning is the newsletter to see what’s been out there. It’s great to have an aggregator that pulls everything together so nicely.

Joe Cortright, City Observatory

I think that the email newsletter that you do every morning is the best one that I get, and I get a lot of them.

Mary Newsom, The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Really is the best daily urban newsletter out there.

Eric Jaffe, Editorial Director Sidewalk Labs


To Receive The Overhead Wire in Your Inbox Daily

Premium Daily Subscription

The Premium Daily Subscription is our most information packed offering, chock full of over 30 pieces of news every single day. Included are popular features such as the quote of the day and the most read article from the previous day. Also included is our weekly roundup for times when you are strapped for time but need to know what’s going on.

Premium Weekly Subscription

The Premium Weekly Subscription is for professionals constantly under a time crunch. We take the most read items from the week before and share them with subscribers along with more in depth analysis of a single popular topic.

Learn More and Subscribe

Video of the Day

Friends of The Overhead Wire

Back To Top

Welcome to The Overhead Wire

What Can We Help You Find?

Try Our Newsletter For Free