Momentum Issue #140

March 5, 2024

Investing in Women and Accelerating Progress: ITS America Leaders on Women’s History Month

Introduction by Laura Chace, ITS America President and CEO

In 1987, when I was 13, Congress designated March as Women’s History Month.  At age 13, I was not aware of the significance of that moment, or of how celebrating would become a clarion call for me nearly 4 decades later.  Today, I can’t help but think about my own daughter who just turned 14.  She is acutely aware of female empowerment, gender equity or better yet the many inequities present in society.  She keenly observes her mother, a female in a male dominated industry, attempt the delicate and often imperfect balance of advancing a career and individual goals along with raising a family.  She and her friends sing Taylor Swift’s song “The Man” like an anthem – although they haven’t yet personally experienced the challenges it calls out. She is aware of the impacts of policy decisions that reduce her rights.  What will the future hold for her? 

This year, on March 8th, the United Nations recognizes International Women’s Day with a theme of “Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress”. So what does it mean to invest in women?  How do we truly accelerate progress?  What does it mean to our daughters?   In 2024, it transcends mere recruitment and pay equity, extending to robust support for women’s professional advancement and ability to live balanced lives and pursue opportunity.  As the UN notes, we continue to see serious deficits in gender-equality measures that continue to grow. We know that women’s rights are human rights, and that better investment in women can directly impact the strength of our economy, our communities and pull families from the verge of poverty. Nowhere is this more vital than in transportation, an arena where women are underrepresented in the workforce, and expend more both in cost and in time for mobility that meets their needs. 

To get a diverse view of what investing in women means, we reached out to several leaders in the ITS space and asked for their thoughts about their own personal experience, advancements in their organizations and their expectations for the future. 

Joanna M. Pinkerton, ITS America Chair, President/CEO Central Ohio Transit Authority

Investing in women is vital for the transportation industry to embrace because women have unique life experiences that can help us imagine, build, and operate our systems in transformative ways that are centered around positive human and economic impact.  Decades of research and performance show women’s involvement helps increase productivity, enhance collaboration, inspire dedication and outcomes, and improve fairness of solutions.  By challenging us to think more broadly, women’s voices can accelerate the advancement of this important profession. There is already a rich history of impact and innovation from women in the United States – even during times when women were not welcome as equals in the workforce. From Sarah Clark Kidder who was the first woman to run a railroad company in 1901; to Helen Schultz, a pioneer and first woman owner of a bus transportation company in 1922; to Bessie Coleman the first African-American female to hold an aviation pilot’s license who went on to also be the first known to earn an international pilot’s license and stretched the boundaries of early flight equipment and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, who explored space in 1984 and then dove into the deepest parts of the ocean in 2020, women have made indelible contributions to all modes of transportation. 

At COTA, the impact of women in the industry does not go a day without being noticed. We invest in crucial programs for women and their families, from tuition reimbursement and student loan stipends to an industry-leading paid family leave policy. We hear suggestions from our female employees which influence how we operate, how our equipment is designed to accommodate the majority of the population (women), and how we can develop solutions to issues facing a wide array of neighborhoods and cities. While women only make up 15% of the transportation industry across the nation, they comprise 35% of Team COTA . . . and that number is growing. We are also proud to say that two-thirds of our leadership team are women as well.  We celebrate that women are willing to give and contribute and keep us rolling. 

Laurel Straub, ITS America Treasurer, Assistant Vice President, State Farm

“Investing in women is not just a choice, but a catalyst for progress. It is a recognition of the immense potential, talent, and unique perspectives women bring to the table. By empowering and supporting women, we accelerate progress towards a more inclusive and equitable society.” 

Perspective on how the organization is accelerating progress: 

We believe diverse leadership is crucial in realizing our vision at State Farm. By actively engaging women in formal and informal leadership roles, we foster an inclusive culture that embraces different perspectives and drives innovation. 

At State Farm, we understand the importance of investing in women as a key driver of success. Through our Wnet and Women & Technology Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), we provide a platform for women to thrive as leaders in our organization. These ERGs enable us to tap into the diverse skills and experiences of our women employees, facilitating their development and retention in leadership positions. 

As we look towards the future, we are committed to accelerating progress by investing in women. By harnessing their talents, promoting their leadership, and creating a supportive environment, we are confident that we can drive positive change and create a more inclusive world for all. 

Tilly Chang, ITS America Board Member, Executive Director, SFCTA

“The SFCTA is proud to join ITSA in celebrating Women’s History Month and echoes the call for parity in the transportation industry for women’s leadership at all levels,” said San Francisco County Transportation Authority Executive Director, Tilly Chang. “We’re proud that our agency is composed of 55% employees and 62% of management who identify as females, and 58% and 50% respectively who are persons of color. We are part of a region that is making progress as shown in the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Transportation Seminar’s latest Glass Ceiling Report #5 (WTS Bay Area Chapter, November 2023), though challenges remain and much work remains to be done.” 

In the WTS Glass Ceiling #5 report, a majority of Bay Area employers reported having 20%-29% women in managerial positions in 2022, a rate that remains steady from 2020. That rate has risen since prior years (2010, 2012) when it was under 10%. And the proportions of organizations offering telecommuting, mentoring, and diversity training has increased to the highest rate since the survey effort was first initiated. However, women are still significantly under-represented in management ranks and women of color are disproportionately affected by economic and societal factors impacting pay and advancement, particularly as they face the “broken rung” problem of being bypassed for that first management promotion more often than white female and male counterparts. As noted from a McKinsey and Company report (Women in the Workplace, 2022) referenced in the Glass Ceiling report, “for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 WOC are promoted.”  

Laurie Matkowski, ITS America Board Member, Vice President, Gannett Fleming

As one of the few women in my college engineering classes, I often found myself standing alone. Yet, this solitude fueled my determination to create a more inclusive future for women in STEM. I’ve dismantled stereotypes, championed diversity, and ensured equitable representation in the projects and teams I create and collaborate with. But my mission extends beyond the present—I commit to carving a path for future generations of women in the transportation field and beyond. We need to consistently nurture our network of women to lift each other up. Whether through involvement in organizations like ITS America or WTS, or other forums, these connections are our lifelines. They open doors, amplify our voices, and remind us that we’re not alone on this journey. 

Recently, I stood at a crossroads. An incredibly talented woman who worked under my wing faced an irresistible opportunity—a chance to spread her wings at a different firm. I encouraged her to seize it. Why? Because growth isn’t a zero-sum game. Her success accelerates the entire industry, and my pride lies not in holding her back, but in propelling her forward. 

I share my experiences openly. My insights and wisdom are not mine alone. They belong to every woman who dreams of taking the next step in their career, forging a non-traditional path, standing up for themselves, and shattering glass ceilings. Together, we navigate challenges, set ambitious goals, and create maps of resilience. 

Monali Shah, ITSA Past Chair, Transformation Catalyst

 For a good portion of my career (and life), I learned how to be a chameleon. I molded myself to the environments I was in so I could blend in as seamlessly as possible. I found myself in various settings, including on the factory floor, in tech companies, and with public sector officials. I dressed the part, adjusted how I spoke, and only shared ideas when they were fully developed. I became so proficient at “fitting in” that I almost subconsciously adjusted myself to what I perceived as necessary. 

Several years ago, I attended a women of color summit, where I was inspired by the empowering perspectives of countless incredible women. I specifically recall Michelle Obama saying, “What if the ideas you are holding back are the things we need to move things forward in a better way for everyone?”  This statement sparked a significant shift within me. 

It made me recognize the responsibility and privilege I had to influence the design of products, services, and policies to be more inclusive. I also didn’t realize how much energy it took to do my shape shifting…to assess my surroundings, gauge what would be comfortable to others, and carefully construct myself to show up in this form.      

This prompted a shift in my mindset, from blending in to breaking through. I came to value my voice, my lived experiences, my unconventional ideas and my responsibility to the voices that were not present in the room.  

MJ Maynard, ITS America Board Member, CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada 

As CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, it is not lost on me that I am leading and working in a male-dominated industry. Prior to joining the RTC, I spent 25 years in the private-sector hospitality industry, which also gave me a front row seat to understanding the importance of advancing women. With this perspective, I look for opportunities to encourage, promote and support others, especially women and minorities – those who may not see their full potential, but who exhibit ability, perseverance, aptitude, and passion for their work.  

During my tenure with the RTC, advancing women in transportation has become one of my top priorities. I am fortunate to walk in the footsteps of the RTC’s previous CEO, another strong female who set the bar high and from whom I learned much as her number two. Together, we made it our personal mission to find and elevate talented female professionals in the organization. Today, I proudly continue carrying on this initiative. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than boosting the career and position of deserving and worthy employees, especially women and minorities.  

It is very important to me to lead by example and to champion diversity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond. The RTC has a strategic plan called RIDE – Road towards Inclusion, Diversity and Equity – to ensure we have concrete demonstrations in place of our commitment to employee engagement, education, advancement, and progress. At the RTC, we seek to shape and support an agency culture that empowers individuals to feel comfortable in their own skin, and for employees to accept and celebrate each other’s differences.  

I am always on the lookout for talented people in our community to connect them with professionals, workplaces or resources that can help advance their careers or businesses. The RTC’s RiSE (Resources, Involvement, Support and Education) certification program is designed to help connect Nevada’s small and diverse businesses, which include women-owned firms, to all RTC-funded transportation contracting opportunities. Our goal is to award eight percent of construction and two percent of professional service contracts to local small or diverse businesses, metrics that I am proud to have met.  

Wary of resting on our laurels, I remind myself daily that there is always more work to be done, especially around advancing women and minorities within the transportation industry. To that end, I am grateful and appreciative of my opportunity to serve on the national board of WTS (Women in Transportation Seminar), something that enables me to play a role in influencing the development of   programs and initiatives tailored specifically to the needs and talents of women who want to make their mark in our incredibly dynamic industry. Ladies, let’s go, together!  


We thank all the members of ITS America for taking the time to share their thoughts with us.  It is important that we share these experiences, memories, and actions as we continue to shine a light on the need to invest in women to accelerate true progress.  

We hope that you will join us at the ITS America Conference and Expo in Phoenix, where we will host a number of sessions on focused on Gender Equity including:

Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM
SIS03: Allyship in Transportation

Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM
SIS24: Gender Equity Roundtable – Making Changes and Moving Forward Together

Thursday, April 25, 2024 | 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM
Gender Equity Workshop

Thursday, April 25, 2024 | 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
SIS49: Women in Transportation (WTS) Speaker Panel