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Leading from the Front: WSP’s Women Leaders are Paving the Way to a More Equitable Future

Leading from the Front: WSP’s Women Leaders are Paving the Way to a More Equitable Future

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The AEC industry is at a critical juncture with the passage of infrastructure funding and grappling with climate change.  The BIL passage is expected to create 800,000 new jobs and will provide significant funding to infrastructure projects across the country.  As these new jobs are created and projects are laid out, the AEC industry has a tremendous opportunity to shape the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  One key to shaping a diverse, equitable, and inclusive future for the AEC industry is to engage a new generation of engineers.

One of the firms leading the way at this critical moment is WSP who have built equity into their mission, believing it to be a defining measure of progress.  This is particularly true within the transportation industry as it is a vital service for connecting people, places, and opportunities.  Four of the top leaders for WSP’s national transportation and infrastructure industry organizations are women.  These leaders and their organizations are dedicated to the advancement of women and minorities in transportation.

Perhaps the most significant issue facing the transportation sector is managing the new influx of infrastructure in light of a national labor shortage.  This challenge is further compounded when viewed through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as the AEC industry works to draw interest from a diverse talent pool.  Alva Carrasco believes that the first step in tackling these challenges is companies being more intentional in their recruitment and retention practices.  Carrasco was a Vice President and Market Lead for WSP’s Transit and Rail West region.  She is also the President of the Board of Directors in Latinos in Transit (LIT), which advocates for, and connects, underrepresented Latinos and other minorities in the transportation industry.  When speaking about solutions to these challenges, Carrasco says, “[they] require commitment and support from multiple entities, which should include local, national, and/or global private firms, school districts, higher learning institutions, and the federal government”, further adding, “an obvious solution includes building a talent pipeline directly from disadvantaged communities to infrastructure jobs.”  On top of attracting young adults through educational opportunities, internships, and subsequent employment, Carrasco further believes that these practices must be supplemented by mentorship, education, and training for these individuals once employed.

When looking at the AEC industry as a whole, there is a clear need to strengthen the workforce pipeline to the transportation industry.  Tanya Adams, WSP’s Senior Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity, points out that when it comes to diversity in the AEC industry, only a small percentage of persons of color, women, and persons with disabilities are represented.  Adams believes that, within this lack of diversity, there is an “opportunity to focus recruiting efforts on historical underutilized communities, where the talent pool is strong and we can find different perspectives about the industry as a whole.”  Adams, herself the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), knows that professional organizations offer strong value in reaching diverse populations with job opportunities, paid internship opportunities, apprenticeships, and training programs.  Utilization of professional organizations such as COMTO and LIT will be significantly beneficial to strengthening the pipeline from historically underrepresented communities to the transportation sector.

Another major factor in strengthening this pipeline and increasing diversity in the transportation sector is representation. Jannet Walker-Ford, who is a Senior Vice President for WSP’s National Transit and Rail Business and 2022-24 chair for the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) International Board of Directors, points out that engineering has historically been a challenging career for women and minorities to break into.  Walker-Ford strongly believes that, “increasing the visibility of the many women and people of color in leadership roles at WSP” will provide role models for others who are looking to get into engineering roles.

While the transportation sector continues to strengthen workforce pipelines and become more diverse, there is also a tremendous opportunity to promote equity through infrastructure.  As such, the AEC industry, particularly the transportation sector, have a tremendous opportunity to ensure their projects unite communities and ensure access while also promoting sustainable practices to combat climate change.  Walker-Ford highlights this opportunity, saying, “transportation is a critical sector for addressing equity.”  She continues, “historically, people who live in more vulnerable communities have to travel further to get better jobs, secure educational opportunities, and receive quality healthcare.”  For Walker-Ford, the importance of creating access through better transportation solutions is a “social responsibility we cannot ignore.”

Part of promoting equity through infrastructure comes with using new advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help in urban playing and transportation practices.  Paula Hammond, who is a Senior Vice President and National Transportation Market Leader for WSP, notes that “designing connected data environments and technologies like digital twins allow us to test climate-related scenarios virtually in order to build more resilient solutions.”  For Hammond, who became the first woman board chair of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association in October, AI is key to thinking more equitably, and that leveraging this data can be used for a number of equitable solutions to problems including: storm impact, emergency response, or resource allocation to name a few.  Harnessing and leveraging this data will allow us to elevate existing services and develop innovative approaches that support equity.

The AEC industry is making significant progress in building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future, and WSP is one of the leading forces behind this push.  WSP’s leadership is exemplary of the old adage that a rising tide lifts all ships.  As we strengthen our pipelines to underrepresented communities and attract more women and minorities to the AEC industry, we are better equipped to plan and respond to future challenges in a way that benefit a wider and wider swath of the population.