This subject has been a part of my involvement in public transit from the very beginning and is extremely relevant to me personally. In one of my first managerial roles, I was asked to address a concern raised by a disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) vendor. I was not given any context for the issue; rather, I was only told that the vendor was "unhappy," and my company seemed reluctant to engage. After meeting with the vendor, I learned that we had already committed to working with them, but for some reason, we did not make good on that promise. So I entered into an agreement with the vendor and became the happy recipient of several years of excellent work as a result. The question is, why was this portrayed as a problem at all? Why the reluctance to engage, and more importantly, why the hesitation to follow through on a commitment? While I was never able to trace this circumstance to any particular person, it did educate me on how critical it is for organizational leaders to espouse the right values and to be mindful of their role in shaping organizational culture.
I also have spent the majority of my career serving the disability community, and this has given me another important perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion. While the disability community has had many talented and influential advocates over the years, and even with the wonderful Americans with Disabilities Act now 30 years in implementation, we still have many societal barriers for people with disabilities. Diversity is one thing, but inclusion is quite another. People with disabilities are much more visible in our society, but they are still grossly underrepresented in leadership and not included nearly as much as they should be in policy and decision making. One of my proudest accomplishments was my appointment of an extraordinary person with a disability to serve as director of paratransit at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Through her own hard work and talent, she has now become the highest official overseeing the nation's paratransit services at the Federal Transit Administration. This one individual has had such an impact -- imagine how many more are out there waiting for such an opportunity. We need to be the ones to ensure it is accessible to them. The same is true for all minority groups -- not only on the basis of race and disability, but also gender, sexual orientation, and religion.
One of the gifts of working in public transit is that it contains a tremendous wealth of diversity -- in the constituencies we serve; the employees we serve with; and the surrounding communities. That diversity, however, does not always find its way to the top of the organization, either in senior executive positions or Boards of Directors. Because of this, vital perspectives are often omitted from key policy discussions, and the overall effect is a weaker product. Regulations, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, require public participation by, proper representation of, and equal benefits for minority groups. Nevertheless, social inequity has worsened in recent years, and this is diametrically opposed to the purpose and mission of public transit. Now more than ever, we must affirm to our colleagues and customers that we are committed to equity for all of us, but also diversity and inclusion in positions at all levels of the organization, right up to the top leadership positions. Furthermore, as leaders in the industry, it is our responsibility to ensure a level playing field for minority-owned businesses to have an equal opportunity to win transit business on the basis of merit and fairness.
I make this commitment every day as I conduct business in the industry I love through the various leadership positions I hold -- whether chairing an issue or task-based committee; serving on a board of directors; facilitating procurements; making recommendations as a consultant; or searching for candidates as an executive recruiter. (As an executive recruiter for one of the leading firms in the transit industry, I am able to tout that 40% of our CEO placements have been minority candidates. I am working actively to continue this trend, not only in placements but also in mentoring and connecting candidates and agencies with resources they might not otherwise know about.)
I will continue to fight for fairness in our industry; speak out when I see injustice; ask questions when it is unclear if others are being treated fairly and/or properly represented; and I will model these values in all that I do.
One of the best ways I have been able to channel my passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion has been through my long membership with the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). I have served on the Board of Directors for the last four years, and I have assisted that organization in the selection of its board members and CEOs. My presence as a non-minority Board member is living testimony to COMTO’s doors being open to all who believe in its mission, and I have been able to recruit many individuals and businesses to COMTO by personally delivering an invitation that some
may have been waiting for. This not only broadens our constituency but also increases
our base of support. We also established the Accessibility Advisory Council at COMTO in 2017, broadening the organization's definition of diversity, and there is more to come.
COMTO is more than an association to me; COMTO is a philosophy and a family that seeks to unite what is otherwise an increasingly divided world. My involvement in COMTO is one of the few ways in which I feel I am actually doing something to make our world a better place, and it is extremely satisfying to see the power of COMTO at work as our diverse members assume industry leadership positions and thrive, demonstrating how the diversity of their backgrounds, personalities, experiences, and views is beneficial to everyone.
Our industry and our country are blessed with an abundance of opportunity. Let's make sure those opportunities are equally available to everyone.
Copyright © 2018 Christian T. Kent, Transit Management Consulting, LLC - All Rights Reserved.
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