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Yolanda Romero: Finding Her 'Niche'

A career in workers' compensation and the transportation industry was not the route Yolanda Romero had mapped out for herself. However, after more than 28 years in the field - almost 13 at SEPTA - the Authority's Director of Workers' Compensation is recognized as a leader in that specialty and is often called upon to speak at national conferences and assist agencies across the country.

"I began my career in workers' compensation quite accidently at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia," said Romero. "I started there as Labor Relations Assistant and was promoted to Workers' Compensation Claims Coordinator within a year." Working closely with legal counsel, Romero found that litigated claims "sparked her enthusiasm." A single parent who was attending Philadelphia University part-time while working full-time, Romero "was lucky to be working in a field that I loved while pursuing my education." Just before completing her bachelor's degree, she was promoted to Manager of Workers' Compensation.

Romero joined SEPTA in 1998. "Honestly, transportation was not the initial draw for me," she said. "It was the opportunity to continue my career in workers' compensation that led me to SEPTA. I felt that the skills I had could greatly benefit the Authority."

At SEPTA, Romero can be likened to an orchestra conductor, making sure the nine members of her team are in concert so that the workers' compensation program works in the best interest of the Authority and its employees. The team investigates and processes the claims of employees injured at work. As director, Romero oversees two outside administrators for Workers' Compensation and Family Medical Leave (FMLA) and supervises the Authority's internal staff accountable for reporting to the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, Medicare, State of Pennsylvania and SEPTA.  She is also in charge of the staff of the Vocational Rehabilitation/Return to Work programs and Family Medical Leave; serves on the Authority's Work Modification Committee and manages all legal workers' compensation claims.

Romero still finds her job rewarding because it allows her to use her creativity to continue her team's growth and improve SEPTA's Workers' Compensation program. For their efforts, in 2003 Romero and her team were honored with the Theodore Roosevelt Workers' Compensation and Disability Management (Teddy) Award from Risk & Insurance magazine - the first time an organization in the public sector was recognized. "I know I have the best of both worlds at SEPTA," Romero said. "I am working in a field that I love and a fascinating industry that is ever changing."

Along with her hard work, Romero's career success is due to her commitment to being fair and just and in giving back to others. These values were instilled in her by her parents, who were "tireless volunteers to many causes" and her mentors: renowned leaders Robert N.C. Nix, Jr., Pennsylvania's first African American Supreme Court Chief Justice, and Reverend Leon Sullivan.   

Romero's family and the Nix family were neighbors in Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood and Romero often babysat the Nix children. When Nix launched his first campaign for the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court in 1971, Romero, who had recently left her studies in secretarial science and business, served as his campaign office secretary. "He introduced me to and made me passionate about law. After working with him, I knew I wanted to work in a legal environment although not necessarily as a lawyer."

Following Nix's election, Romero went to work with an attorney she met during the campaign. She was beginning a career that would continue her family's legal dreams. "My grandfather wanted to attend law school, but illness kept him from reaching that goal," Romero said. "My father had a law degree from Fordham University Law School, but when he graduated, there were no jobs for African American corporate lawyers in New York."

Romero spent seven years at the law firm, but it was her three years working with Sullivan at his Opportunities Industrialization Centers International (OICI) that gave her the extra push to go back to school and further her career.

"At OICI, I learned about the Sullivan Principles, an international campaign to seek divestiture in South Africa until apartheid was abolished," Romero said. "I also encountered many people from third world countries who valued education and freedom far more than anyone I had ever met before."

"Rev. Sullivan also instilled in me the need to share knowledge with others," Romero said. In 1986, Romero and a group of about 15 friends formed a "girlfriends' network" to support each other professionally and to mentor young women regarding their careers. She has also been a member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) for 11 years and has chaired or been a member of the Philadelphia Chapter's Scholarship Committee since its inception 10 years ago. The annual COMTO Youth Symposium introduces young people to the myriad of job opportunities in the transportation industry.

"Mentoring youth who are seeking higher education is my passion as they are the next generation of leaders and it is critical to be sure minority children are prepared for and included in future decision making." The mother of one daughter and grandmother of two added, "The truth is, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction when I see young people achieve their goals."


Yolanda Romero



Romero and her team in their daily "huddle."



Romero and her team are always up for the challenge.



Romero in her office