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SEPTA's Lillie Claitt Receives WTS 2012 Diversity Award

Kristin Geiger
Press Officer

Women's Transportation Seminar (WTS), an international organization geared toward advancing women in the transportation industry, recently announced the Philadelphia Chapter's 2012 Award Winners and SEPTA's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program Director Lillie Claitt is this year's Diversity Award Recipient.

"When I first learned that I received the award, I immediately thought; what an honor to be recognized by an organization as highly respected as this one," Claitt said. "It is a wonderful thing to be recognized by my industry peers."

Each year, the Philadelphia chapter of WTS recognizes individuals in several different categories who have made significant impacts in the transportation industry. Claitt is receiving the award for working to maximize opportunities for small, minority and women owned businesses throughout her career. She has amassed over 20 years of experience in all aspects and objectives of the DBE program and is recognized in the transportation industry as an authority in DBE program management, compliance, and outreach. She officially receives her award on December 12th during the Philadelphia Chapter's Annual Awards Dinner. During the dinner, the Chapter will also present scholarships to deserving young women who are pursuing careers in the transportation industry.

A longtime member of WTS, the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Capital projects Subcommittee, National Association of Female Executives, Claitt has continuously sought opportunity and is Chairperson of the Pennsylvania Unified Certified Program Oversight Committee.

Claitt's SEPTA career began on November 1, 1982 when she was hired as a secretary III. After one year, she pursued a position in the Regional Rail Division as a Revenue Control Analyst.

"The economy was really bad when I came to SEPTA and I was glad to be here. I had young children and there were times that I had to work two and three jobs just to make ends meet," said Claitt. "Whether I was a secretary III or a manager, I always gave my best and in return, I got everything out of SEPTA that I expected."

She takes great pride in her mindset, "You've got to go out there and test the waters, believe in yourself-don't allow yourself to be intimidated." And to her credit, Claitt has seemed to successfully achieve everything she sets out to do. While working at SEPTA full-time, Claitt attended Rutgers University part-time. She earned her degree in Business Management and finished with a 3.7 grade point average. Claitt is also a graduate of the APTA's Leadership Class of 2005.

From the Regional Rail Division, Claitt became the executive assistant to the director of the Office of Civil Rights. It was in this capacity that Claitt received her first taste of the DBE program and found her career niche.

An opportunity arose to become a DBE Specialist while Claitt was the Administrative Assistant to the program's Chief Administrative Officer and she hasn't looked back since. After successfully landing the position, she was promoted to DBE Liaison Officer before becoming Acting Manager of the entire DBE program.

During her time as acting manager, SEPTA restructured many of its departments and positions. The DBE Program Manager position was eliminated along with the office of Civil rights and Claitt resumed her post as a DBE Liaison Officer. Instead of being discouraged, she chose to view it as a learning experience and threw herself into the next big opportunity - the Market Frankford Elevated Line Revitalization Project in West Philadelphia.

In September of 2007, she was finally promoted to Director of the DBE Program Office. Once she became director, she made a promise to SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey that she would turn the Authority's DBE Program into a first class program.

"Whenever I go to City Council and discuss DBE, Council always refers to SEPTA's program as a 'gold star' program and I believe that's due to Lillie's hard work," Casey said. "She created the outreach program which is constant and has helped to create relationships. The feedback we've received from our prime contractors is that the process is so much better."

The effervescent Claitt is never without a smile and positive attitude. But if you really want to see her smile, just ask her about the DBE program.

"What I like most about what I do is that we're a face of SEPTA," Claitt said. "We represent a commitment to our outside stakeholders and when we speak, people listen."

One of the accomplishments Claitt is most proud of occurred in June of 2012. SEPTA's DBE Program Office launched its Small Business Outreach program. She proudly recalls being one of the first agencies to "roll-out" its program. Since the Authority's program was so successful, other agencies are looking to SEPTA as an example of how to set their respective programs up.

Looking back over her 30-year career at SEPTA, Claitt never thought she'd work for the same company for so long. In those 30 years, she's overcome a number of milestones, sees herself as an example to other women in the transit industry and urges everyone to put their best foot forward while always looking for the best in others.

In her free time, Claitt sings with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, a renowned choral arts group and spends time with her husband, five children and seven grandchildren.

After being recognized by the SEPTA Board for being named recipient of the 2012 WTS Philadelphia Leadership Diversity Award, SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey (left) and Administrative General Manager of Business Services Neil Patel (right) congratulate Claitt (center).

In her office, Claitt reviews a DBE document with Contracts Support Coordinator Ileana Garcia.

During SEPTA's DBE Program Office Small Business Outreach Program launch in June, a line of people wait for a chance to speak with Claitt.