All Member Forum

National Engineers Week 2020: Empowering Professionals in Transportation

By Mrs. Cathy Leong P.E posted 02-18-2020 12:23 PM


Most of the time when we talk about empowering a group of people in the transportation field, the discussion typically centers around the inclusion of women. Although I think we still need to actively pursue this, there are other groups that I think also deserve some consideration. I’m a female transportation professional from an island in the Pacific. I sometimes think that being from such a small place is more of a hindrance than being a female. Why? In my experience there is a bias in some people’s perceptions of professionals from smaller or more rural areas. I sometimes find myself guilty of this as well and need to remind myself that where you come from does not limit what you know or can contribute. Diversity of experience is a critical part of developing successful projects that improve our communities. This means including not only the female point of view, but perspectives from different backgrounds. We need to actively work on encouraging these different points of view to make sure their opinions, ideas, and experience continue to be a part of developing transportation solutions.

But how do we empower these professionals to continue contributing their voices to our discussions furthering our profession as a whole? I don’t have all the answers, but these are some guidelines that I try to live by:

Be a mentor: A mentor can be the difference between success and failure. Everyone needs someone to help them along the way…provide advice, serve as a sounding board, make a connection, lend a hand. For me, that person was Zaki Mustafa who has done all those things, as well as pushing me to continue adding my voice to the conversation.

Share your passion: Share your passion for transportation with students, young professionals, and colleagues. Your energy and enthusiasm for our profession can inspire them to invest as much of themselves as you do. Leading by example is a tried and true formula for success.

Encourage engagement: Everyone can make a difference, but only if they choose to get involved. This could be involvement in their workplace, professional society, and/or community. If I hadn’t volunteered to serve as the LAC Chair for the 2006 District meeting, I may not have met professionals from outside of Hawaii like Zaki who pushed me to do more. I would not have served on a District Committee, run for District office, or had the opportunity that I have now to participate in steering the future of ITE. Choosing to remain involved has kept me engaged with transportation for the past 20+ years.

Avoid absolutes: There are very few absolutes in life so make sure that you don’t inadvertently discourage contribution by speaking in absolutes. Over my career I have encountered this more than a few times. Absolutes stifle discussion and discourage contribution. If we want to continue to encourage diversity, we need to ensure that we are creating an environment where professionals aren’t afraid to share their thoughts and ideas.

Every one of us has a role in ensuring that our profession is diverse and inclusive. These guidelines seem very simple, but they can make a world of difference to the student you are inspiring, young professional you are mentoring, group you are leading at work, or community you are engaging. Collaboration with people from different perspectives ensures that we find successful solutions that will move our profession forward.