Monday, June 27, 2016

An Unfortunate Missed Opportunity of Engagement, Leadership and Professional Mentorship at ITS 2016

As many of TransportiCA’s followers may know, I covered the ITS America 2016 national conference in San Jose, 12-16 June.  Being a transportation enthusiast, former planner, and current sustainability scholar, I was incredibly excited about the conference. (Not so much “increase his dosage” excited, but I knew this would be an amazing few days.)

Intelligent Transportation Systems (“ITS”) was not an element of transportation I followed, nor even took a cursory glance at in my studies.  I always felt that ITS was more an engineering / technical aspect, and I was solely focusing on transportation policy and legislation.  However, because of the convention’s foundation of public-private partnerships – the basis of my current MBA/MPA pursuit, I knew I could not miss this event.

Obviously, being Californian, and having the conference in the Bay Area was enjoyable, not only for the professional scholarship obtained, but the proliferation of diversity – whether sexually, ethnically or professionally, in addition to the many references of ITS and social equity.  Despite being in Silicon Valley – a region undergoing significant scrutiny for its lack of employee diversity, the convention reflected a myriad of experiences, cultures and contributions to the industry.  Below is a Tweet I sent out in this spirit.

(My absolute apologies for the above photo, as I mention the “high level of diversity here,” and yet only males are pictured.)

On the third day of the convention, while in transit from Sacramento, I tweeted about being excited, as the day would conclude with a reception of Women in Transportation.  This would be an excellent opportunity to experience even more perspectives regarding ITS, and further look into the conference’s diverse perspectives.

As an undergrad at UC Davis, I was a Planning Assistant at Unitrans, in addition to a Student Assistant at Caltrans’ Division of Rail.  During this time, I attended many WTS Sacramento events, and enjoyed the professional atmosphere and institutional advancement provided to student attendees; these experiences were worth their wait in gold.  As you can see in the above Tweet, I also “cc’d” WTS International, WTS Los Angeles and San Francisco chapters, as well as, various ITS affiliates.

Day three (14 June) progressed as other days had.

After the last workshop, I was joined by a fellow reporting partner of mine in the media room.  As we finished-up notes and edits for the day’s coverage, we headed to the exhibit hall to cover the Women in Transportation reception.

Upon arrival at the main ITS America booth, we asked if the reception had begun.  We were immediately told by a male staffer,* “no men were allowed.”  I looked at my partner with dismay, thinking this was a sad attempt at humor on the staff’s part.  However, he repeated this again, and even stated he was not allowed to attend. 

At that moment, an ITS consultant came to speak to the male staffer, and we inquired if such an “admission policy” was true and in-place.  She responded, that is what she heard, and it sounds crazy.  At this point, my reporting partner, again, could not believe this, and wished us a good night. 

Not believing in such a reactionary – and let’s face it – allegedly discriminatory response, I expressed my frustration, if this “policy” were at all true.  The consultant went over to a reception staff member, and spoke to her for some time.  When the consultant returned, she stated the reception was “by invitation only.”  I countered, stating that was not at all printed on any of the literature, and the same language for all other exhibit hall events accompanied the reception’s publicity; hence, no mention of exclusivity associated with the reception.  (See attached official program listings at the end.)

I sat down nearby, as another consultant came to speak with the first consultant about the situation.  The second consultant inquired as to what I was reporting-on with the reception, and I responded such coverage corresponded with the diversity coverage at the conference, and I wanted added perspectives on ITS.  As mentioned prior, I reiterated that none of the promotions for the reception stated “invite only,” and the event had the same language as other events where a nametag was needed.  After the latter statement, the second consultant responded, “I know…how weird.”

I also informed the consultants I do not drink, so I would not be cutting into their beverage stock.

As the consultants began head back to the reception staff again, I informed I had no interest in pursuing this further, and I instead wanted to catch my return train trip.  Further, I had the feeling if I ultimately attended the reception, those who knew of my the issue at hand would not be as hospitable as others would.  Both consultants apologized, and I asked them, “who organized this event,” and “is it sponsored in any way by ITS?”  The second consultant inquired to the reception area, and another reception staff member responded, it was jointly organized by “Women in Automotive Tech and ITS.” 

Again, I reiterated that there was no distinct or exclusive language printed on the reception literature, and when I tweeted about the reception this morning, no ITS addressee replied with a clarification of such attendance.

As I walked away, one of the consultants said to me, in an uncomfortably-humorous fashion, “please don’t write about this.”

I decided to walk to the train station from the convention, as my mind was racing, and I was still in disbelief, if the “no men” response had any foundation, and the “invitation only” clarification was solely a quick-fix, legal-/PR-buffer.

When settled on my train, I sent-out the following Tweet:

First and foremost, I understand quite well there are many reading this with the perspective this is simply reverse sexism; it happens to a lot of people everyday with no publicity or recourse, and further, now I know what it feels like…

However, I do know what being shunned and ostracized for who you are feels like: I was raised Mormon, and am gay.  From this childhood, I care not to repeat any potential instances in which exclusivity based on biological factors occurs, and if I can, in some way, work to end such instances, so be it.

Whether or not the “no-male” or “invitation only” was the official reception policy, I am without confirmation / clarification as of this writing

The main takeaway from this event, though unfortunate, is the missed opportunity for everyone – male, non-male and other – to gain additional professional insight, unique cultural perspectives, and, of greatest importance to me, transportation enrichment from the Women attending the reception.  This is a national professional conference, and I hoped to have learned from these Women’s experiences and wisdom, not only regarding ITS, but for transportation, overall.

Next year, when the national ITS conference is in Montreal, my hope is no such event, exclusivity, misunderstanding, etc., occurs, and all registered attendees are able to welcome each other, gaining further professional advancement from all who attend the convention.

Greg Justice

*The ITS staff member and consultants mentioned are not named, as they were not a part of this unfortunate exclusion, and worked hard to remedy what occurred.

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