“We know that our work serves diverse communities. Having diverse voices influencing those projects results in better outcomes for our communities.”
Principal Engineer Susie Wright began her career at a time when women role models in senior engineering positions were few. In the early 2000s, women comprised about 20% of new engineers, and an estimated 5% of engineers over age 49.
Susie was drawn to what she saw in the careers of women in engineering and planning positions at Kittelson, including Senior Principal Engineer Julia Kuhn, who encouraged Susie to get involved with Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS)—an organization on a mission to advance the transportation industry through getting more women into transportation leadership.
As she took on more responsibility and leadership at Kittelson, Susie also became increasingly involved with WTS. Susie’s journey with WTS has taken her through 14 years of leadership opportunities, including serving as Portland Chapter President and Northwest Region Council Member and Chair, and provided her with a community of other trailblazing women who have helped to shape the professional she is today.
At this stage of her career, Susie is more passionate than ever about the value of being involved with such an impactful organization. Along with other longstanding WTS members at Kittelson, she has become a self-appointed ambassador for the organization, encouraging her fellow transportation professionals to learn about and consider getting involved with the work of WTS.
Advancing Women, Advancing Transportation
WTS is an international organization that was founded in 1977 with a mission of advancing the transportation industry through advancing women in the field. Today, there are more than 50 local chapters who connect transportation professionals (women and men) within a geographic area. Its emphasis on networking provides opportunities for leadership development and relationship building, opening the door to get more women into transportation leadership at all levels.
“The focus on leadership and relationship building is what separates WTS from other industry organizations,” said Principal Planner Jessica Josselyn. “WTS has given me significant exposure within the transportation profession that has given me the opportunity to build relationships with elected officials and other transportation leaders in South Florida.”
Pictured: Jessica Josselyn with Congresswoman Lois Frankel in 2015.
Other ways WTS chapters advance the profession include matching mentors and mentees, organizing events and presentations on timely transportation topics, recognizing leaders through “Woman of the Year” and “Employer of the Year” awards on both local and international levels, connecting with local schools and providing scholarships to the next generation of transportation professionals, and sponsoring additional initiatives pertaining to the experiences of women in the workplace.
“The people involved in WTS cover a huge range of interest areas, technical areas, and positions at the national level,” said Senior Principal Engineer Julia Kuhn. “In all corners of the profession, I’ve run across people that I’ve gotten to know at WTS conferences over the years, and all those connections have proven invaluable.”
What WTS Means to Kittelson Staff
Since our firm’s inception, involvement with WTS has brought immense value to the Kittelson team members who have gotten involved. Julia, who was the firm’s first woman engineer, remembers attending her first WTS meeting in 1993.
“Gary Katsion [a former Kittelson employee] took me to a WTS meeting when I had been at the firm for a month. He told me, ‘These are people I want you to meet. They’re going to be invaluable,’” she recounted. “I am so thankful that he had he wisdom to bring me to such an amazing organization that early on. As a young person entering into a profession where I was not in the majority, the opportunities for public speaking and getting active with committees helped increase my confidence when I walked into a room.”
Since that time, Julia has served as president of WTS Portland and gotten involved at the international level, serving on the WTS Foundation’s board for 10 years, including one year as Chair of the Foundation. Julia says that the most meaningful outcome of her involvement with WTS has been the relationships she has built over the years.
“There are so many opportunities to get involved and work side by side with people—both with people you’re on the same side of the table on, and people you’re not. Engaging with this range of perspectives has been so rewarding to me personally and professionally. I still get together regularly with people I met at WTS years ago.”
For Principal Engineer Bailey Lozner, WTS is what led her to transportation and Kittelson.
“I had an interest in transportation but was working along another career path,” recounted Bailey. “I would show up to WTS meetings and ask a lot of questions. I had the chance to speak with people in the public sector, planners, engineers. Jessica Josselyn was on the WTS South Florida board at the time and invited me to get lunch. She talked to me about transportation and Kittelson and encouraged me to apply. That’s how I found my dream job.”
Bailey went on to become a WTS committee chair, board member, and treasurer, and to receive the President’s Award for outstanding service. At Kittelson, she is now a member of the Executive Leadership Team, overseeing the offices that comprise our Northeast Region. She credits WTS for not only shaping her career path, but also causing her to consider how her identity and experiences give her a perspective that’s different from that of men in transportation leadership roles.
“It’s influenced the type of leader I am,” she said. “Early in my career, I struggled with the notion of how to show up as a woman in a professional setting. There were times when I swung the other way of being too regimental or ‘business only.’ WTS created the space for me to show up as a woman and a leader. It’s every woman’s own journey; for me, this organization has played a big part.”
Pictured: Bailey Lozner poses with her President’s Award in 2015.
Associate Engineer Benazir Portal, who has served as WTS South Florida Chapter President and on the Southeast Regional Council, says the mentorship she received through WTS has benefited her as she navigates relationships both inside and outside of work.
“When I was just starting consulting, I developed a successful relationship with my WTS mentor and it’s been amazing to see that relationship flourish over time,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to pay that forward to mentor folks within my immediate work environment. It’s even impacted how I relate to friends and find opportunities to give back to others in my community. It showed me a way to have an open forum and communication about common themes that relate to being a woman in the workplace.”
Kittelson’s Women’s Initiative
WTS has also benefited Kittelson on an organizational level. Especially noteworthy is the influence of WTS in launching Kittelson’s Women’s Initiative.
“A handful of years ago, the WTS San Francisco Chapter started a Glass Ceiling Task Force that examined the experiences of women in the transportation industry. Their survey and report got recognition from WTS International, then the person who stared that relocated to DC and our region did a similar report,” said Bailey. “That task force is what inspired me to engage Mark Vandehey [Kittelson’s CEO at the time] to start the Women’s Initiative at Kittelson.”
Since its founding in 2018, Kittelson’s Women’s Initiative (which has since expanded to become the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee) has been at the helm of a number of organizational conversations and changes, including an independent analysis of compensation practices, an anonymous survey of staff experiences and barriers to upward mobility, the establishment of Employee Resource Groups, and internal forums to raise awareness of the experiences of women and minorities in the firm.
Giving Back to WTS
Through the contributions of individual staff as well as corporate sponsorships, the Kittelson team strives to give back to an organization that has given so much to our profession. You’ll find Kittelson team members active in WTS chapters across the country, including serving in leadership positions and completing WTS mentorship programs. Kittelson staff are current or former chapter presidents in Portland, Charlotte, Baltimore, and South Florida.
Most recently, Kittelson was honored to be named 2021 Employer of the Year by WTS Portland for the firm’s support of women professionals through inclusive hiring practices, internal training and mentoring, reimagining benefits packages, placing women in leadership roles, and sustaining a longstanding relationship with WTS.
In her acceptance speech of the Employer of the Year award, Susie highlighted the symbiotic relationship between WTS and Kittelson that has brought value to each organization, and especially to the individuals involved.
“Kittelson values WTS because of how much it gives back to our employees,” she said. “We support our employees’ time in serving WTS because we see how that time comes back to us, helping our staff grow and develop to become informed, more connected, more able to practice as leaders.”
At the same awards banquet, Senior Engineer/Planner Camilla Dartnell received the President’s Award for her impact in the Portland chapter. Among many other contributions as Luncheon Co-Chair, Camilla introduced “equity moments” at the beginning of each meeting, a meaningful tradition that has stuck with the chapter.
We are grateful to WTS and everything they do to advance the transportation profession, and proud of our staff who have committed time and energy to be a part of the work. Our industry has a bright future because of WTS, and we’re glad to be part of the story.
The Next Generation of Women Transportation Professionals
As part of their engagement with local schools, WTS chapters give away tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships every year to support the ambitions of future transportation professionals. More information about the 2022-2023 scholarship season, which will open soon, can be found by going to wtsinternational.org/chapters and viewing the “Scholarships” tab of your local chapter.