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#IWD2020: A road less traveled to a rewarding career as a leader

Maria Su is TransLink’s director of research and analytics. Her team uses complex data to produce sophisticated solutions that resolve business challenges and improve the customer experience.

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a dedicated day to acknowledge the work that needs to be done for gender equality around the world. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual. It highlights that working towards equality is something that is the responsibility of every individual.

Part of this work is recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in our workplaces. We’re proud to share the stories of those that work at TransLink and its family of companies. 

In 1996, Maria Su was hired as a transportation engineer on the team that was tasked with creating Metro Vancouver’s first regional transportation authority, which would later be known as TransLink.

She explains that at that time, she was perfectly content pursuing a strictly technical career – she went to engineering school after all, not business school. She had no desire to manage budgets, programs or people.

Today, Maria serves as TransLink’s director of research and analytics, overseeing a team of 24 analytical and planning specialists and dozens of advanced programs.

Despite her preconceived notions of what a leadership role involved, Maria is confident that this detour towards management has provided more career fulfillment than she could have ever imagined:

“When I was asked to lead this team in 2012, I wasn’t sure I could do it – I was working on policy planning at the time. I didn’t do computer modelling or particularly enjoy managing a big team of people, but life has a way of throwing you unexpected twists. Until you take a risk and try something new, you have no way of knowing if you’re going to like it. But I am so glad I did. Building this team from the ground up has been immensely rewarding.”

Part of the Research and Analytics Team’s job is to use complex data to produce sophisticated solutions that resolve business challenges and improve the customer experience.

One recent example is the team’s collaboration with our Business Technology Services division on the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to train 18,000 models to provide customers with highly reliable bus departure time estimates.

The result is a 74 per cent improvement in bus departure predictions, with riders spending 50 per cent less time waiting. Microsoft recently featured this innovative work on their website.

“I tell my team that no idea is crazy but should always be useful. We have many different viewpoints and very robust debates. It’s okay that we don’t all sing from the same song sheet.”

Maria explains that her role is to create an environment that enables her team to do their jobs as best as they can. She is fiercely passionate about making it as safe, equal and inclusive as possible:

“I have the most brilliant mosaic of individuals on my team. I have engineers, mathematicians, data scientists, market researchers, business professionals, planners, economists and geographers from all different backgrounds – this variation is what makes us strong. It helps us design efficient, well-rounded solutions that benefit our customers and advance regional goals.”

Reflecting on the theme of An Equal World is an Enabled World for International Women’s Day 2020, Maria believes there are things that we can all do to help accelerate equality, especially in the workplace:

  • Don’t limit or label yourself – “It’s one thing for others to label you, but it’s another to label yourself. Don’t create barriers for yourself or let your label be your excuse. If you limit yourself, you’ve already done the most damage.”
  • Advocate for those who think differently – “It takes courage to champion the people and ideas that go against popular thinking. I endeavour to promote and defend those who think independently and critically. They are often the ones with the most innovative solutions.”
  • Find something you’re passionate about and pursue it relentlessly – “Find your niche and become the best at it. With conviction, passion and excellence, you’ll prevail, regardless of obstacles.”
  • Respect one another – “Deep down, I view my team members as my equals, if not my superiors. They do things that I can’t do. They have amazing specialized skills and can deal with incredibly complex ideas and several billion lines of data without flinching. I trust them wholeheartedly and have a lot of respect for each of them.”

Looking to the future of work, Maria recommends that anyone looking for an inclusive and dynamic career consider analytics:

“By definition, data is ageless, genderless and colourless. It’s the field of the future.”

 

Author: Rebecca Abel

 

Read Other Stories from our #IWD2020 Series:

#IWD2020: Qiu-ing up for success

#IWD2020: “I wear a duty belt of tools. But the most important tool is my voice.”

#IWD2020: Envisioning a fairer world with Tasia


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