By Sonya Byers, Chief Executive, Women in Transport

Women are 50% of the working-age population globally but remain underrepresented, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields, including transport.

Women in Transport is a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to advance women working in transport through networking, professional development, and mentoring. We also act as the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for women in transport, campaigning for gender balance in the UK transport workforce. 

In June 2020, Women in Transport celebrated 15 years of advancing women in transport. Our industry-wide UK network is open and inclusive, representing more than 160 different organisations and more than 300 different roles across transport (8% men). We have built an online community of more than 15,000 and reached almost a million people through our social media channels in the past year.

We work collaboratively across the transport sector to support greater diversity and inclusion, including an initiative led by the UK Department for Transport (DfT) to bring the industry together to examine barriers preventing women from joining and progressing in the sector.

The DfT estimates there will be around 341,000 unfilled jobs in the transport sector by 2033. The DfT’s Infrastructure Skills Strategy aims to achieve gender parity with the working population by 2030, acknowledging that hiring more women is essential. 

However, the latest Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce found that women currently represent just 18% of the transport sector workforce, so significant progress must be made in the next ten years to achieve the ambitious target for gender parity in transport. 

Looking at STEM in general, there are some positive signs of improvement, as shown in the latest WISE Annual Core-STEM Stats Round Up: 2019-20; there are approximately 350,000 more women in core-STEM than a decade ago, and women comprise 24% of the core-STEM workforce.

There are many practical ways that companies can support greater diversity and inclusion in transport. To encourage diversity and inclusion, companies can promote the industry as an attractive and desirable career option, implement family-friendly and inclusive workplace practices, targeted recruitment, support and development programmes, and share best practices.

There is no doubt that the current COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the transport sector. The UK Government recognised transport workers as essential workers. Many have continued to work in frontline operational roles; others have seen their roles transition to remote working or furloughs. As we emerge from the crisis, there will be both challenges and opportunities for our sector.

There is a potential impact on gendered inequalities, so monitoring, assessing, and mitigating these risks through Equality Impact Assessments will be crucial. Working mums have been particularly affected during the lockdown, which could impact their career progression. Government guidance is to avoid public transport as much as possible. Walking, cycling, and driving private cars is being encouraged. Women are significantly less likely than men to drive, and therefore more likely to rely on public transport where social distancing will be challenging. There is also a risk that the gender pay gap could increase by up to 15%. 

At Women in Transport, we recognised that the pandemic disproportionately impacted women, and there is a real risk to the progress made to date on gender equality. In April 2020, we joined forces with WISE and 20 other organisations to issue a joint statement on keeping gender on the agenda during COVID-19 and beyond. We also set up a portal of pooled resources to support women and girls in STEM.

One of the positives of the pandemic has been the rise of remote working Businesses that previously resisted remote working had to provide tools and infrastructure to enable employees’ remote work environments. We hope this will result in more flexibility, innovation, and inclusive workplace practices as companies recognise the long-term benefits of output, productivity, and well-being.

On a final note, the World Economic Forum estimates that globally, it could take nearly 100 years to achieve gender parity. In the UK, the gender pay gap was 17.3% in 2019. Gender pay gap reporting is suspended for this year, but it is more important than ever that businesses and governments continue to push to close the gap.

My question to the transport sector is: what will you do to ensure we keep gender on the agenda, and how will you ensure we continue to build a strong, diverse workforce for the future? 

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