The National Academies

NCHRP 08-152 [Pending]

Strategies for Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Transportation Planning Profession

  Project Data
Funds: $350,000
Contract Time: 20 months
Staff Responsibility: Mike Brooks


Transportation planning is central to addressing community needs and identifying transportation projects, programs, and policies to meet those needs. To be successful, transportation planners must bring diverse and inclusive perspectives to their work. Transportation planners make fundamental choices about how the planning process will be structured, who will be involved, what qualitative and quantitative data will be analyzed, what transportation investments will be considered, and how competing or conflicting needs will be balanced and prioritized. If transportation planners are unaware of, misunderstand, or dismiss the needs and perspectives  important to people who have been historically marginalized, the plan is less likely to fully address those needs and be aligned with community context and values, and, at worst, could set the stage for decisions and outcomes that harm these communities and perpetuate chronic disinvestment. Although training and experience can promote more inclusive planning practices, transportation planners undoubtedly have persistent and underlying cultural biases that shape their work. When the planning staff at a transportation agency are all from similar backgrounds and hold similar perspectives, these biases can influence the outcomes of the planning process, particularly equity outcomes.  Relatedly, transportation planning as a field has been slow to address racial, cultural, and gender-related concerns in data collection, analysis methods, public engagement, and plan development.

Women and people of color have been historically, and continue to be, underrepresented in the field of transportation planning. Although understanding of the extent and impact of this underrepresentation is incomplete, anecdotal evidence indicates women and people of color are less likely to seek degrees leading to careers in transportation planning; less likely to be recruited and hired to planning positions; less likely to be promoted to leadership roles; more likely to be subject to racism, sexism, and exclusion in the workplace; and more likely to abandon the field during their early career. Similar patterns—and similar effects on planning practice and transportation outcomes—may be found for other groups, including people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+ people. Because decisions about education and careers are complex and influenced by a range of personal and professional factors, addressing underrepresentation requires a multi-faceted approach that requires involvement from across the agency, not only from the office of human resources and/or diversity.

Research is needed to identify ways that transportation agencies can more effectively advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals within agency transportation planning divisions and, in turn, in the communities they serve.


The objective of this research is to identify meaningful and effective strategies for state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other transportation agencies to increase and sustain diversity, equity, and inclusion of their transportation planning staff. The strategies will be specific, focused, and designed to foster an inclusive work culture for agencies where DEI in transportation planning is a priority. Strategies will address but not be limited to:  

  • Recruitment, promotion, and retention of a diverse transportation planning staff;
  • Allocation of agency resources to support DEI goals and priorities;
  • Ensuring contributions by all staff are valued;
  • Increasing agency-wide accountability for DEI goals;
  • Building staff capacity in fostering respectful, welcoming, and constructive professional relationships; and
  • Collaborating with educational institutions to sustain DEI for the future of the transportation planning profession.


Potential tasks include but are not limited to: 

  • A scan of recent trends in women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups in the transportation planning profession; trends may be identified using existing data (e.g., annual reports on student and faculty composition published by the Planning Accreditation Board; demographic data on planning professionals from the American Planning Association; data from universities, public agencies, and private firms).
  • A focused review and synthesis of literature on management and workplace practices that attract and retain underrepresented groups in professional careers and in the public sector.  
  • Assessment of disciplines that provide additional opportunities for recruiting candidates from underrepresented groups for transportation planning positions (e.g., data science, geographic information systems, public administration, public policy, public health, science communication, and futures studies).
  • In-depth interviews to understand the motivations, barriers, and perceptions that influence the career decisions of women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups to enter, sustain, or abandon a career in transportation planning.
  • Development of organization-level case studies that serve as examples for transportation agencies.
  • Analysis of characteristics and practices at transportation agencies to identify the conditions and changes needed to increase representation in transportation planning. 

The final deliverables will include but not be limited to:  

  • A report addressing the following:
    • Recent trends in representation in the transportation planning profession.
    • Common themes and patterns from career journeys of women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups in transportation planning, potentially presented in the form of personas.
    • Case studies that provide transportation agencies with examples of effective DEI strategies.
    • Strategies for transportation agencies to increase and sustain DEI of the transportation planning staff. For each strategy, describe what is needed to implement the strategy (e.g., characteristics and conditions that indicate organizational readiness, who needs to lead the implementation, and required resources). Strategies are anticipated to address but not be limited to:
      • Innovative approaches for identifying and recruiting talent that increase the diversity of transportation agency staff.
      • Management techniques to more effectively use the full talents and capabilities of women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups in transportation planning.
      • Assessing the allocation of resources for staff training and development programs with DEI goals for staff retention and promotion.
      • Ways to develop the capacity of all staff in building respectful and rewarding professional relationships with colleagues from underrepresented groups.
      • Tailoring mentoring and internship programs in transportation planning to better meet the needs of women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.
      • Creating accountability across the agency for an inclusive workplace culture and for advancing DEI goals.
      • Strengthening relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Serving Institutions, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other Minority Serving Institutions.
      • Collaborating with educational institutions to attract and retain students from underrepresented groups in programs that can lead to a career in transportation planning.
    • Additional topics identified during the research. 
  • A stand-alone conduct of research report that documents the entire research effort and presents key findings.
  • A stand-alone technical memorandum that identifies implementation pathways, key implementers of the results, and well-defined scopes of work for further dissemination and pilot implementation of the methods. The technical memorandum should provide adequate detail about how state DOTs and other transportation agencies can implement the results of NCHRP Project 08-152 (e.g., timeline, budget, and needed staff resources. 


STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.


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