International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women in Transport

Susan Evans Banner

Today is International Women’s day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world as well as marking an important call to action for accelerating gender parity. As Chair of the Community Transport Association I’m proud to have joined a sector where there is a really positive story to tell about this.

The ratio of male to female heads of community transport organisations, for example, is 3:2 which compares favourably to the gender balance for such positions across the commercial transport sector, where only 24% of managers are women. Of course, it’s not just in managerial positions where women make such a difference: from volunteer drivers to mechanics to Chief Executives, women work every day, across all four corners of the UK, to provide accessible and inclusive transport to those who need it.

Women working in transport have an incredibly important voice in championing the achievements of women across the sector. In this blog we hear from a number of voices sharing their experiences of being a woman in transport and their hopes for women entering our sector in the future.  Their stories encourage and amaze me – I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.


Sarah Leyland-Jones, Senior Officer Community Transport & Training, Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO)

The most challenging times in my 15 year role has been when delivering training, as some still don’t believe a woman can really drive nor have the necessary knowledge on the subject. On occasion when working at a higher strategic level where most around the table men are, it can take a little longer to forge the relationships and gain the respect.  Overall however, I love what I do and the ability to stay connected with those who actually make a difference to people’s lives.

I would like to see more women in the higher level roles within the overall transport sector.  I feel we have a great deal to offer particularly from a social perspective.  With the introduction of the Social Services & Wellbeing (Wales) Act and the Future Generations Act, there is an emphasis on a truly person centred approach to the delivery of our services, which is something inherent in the third sector.  I feel there is a greater role for women to play in ensuring this is realised at the higher strategic level, and learning from our community up approach.

Samantha Walker, Customer Experience, Stagecoach Rail

I get a chance to design the future of UK transport with real customers in mind. We provide a service for lots of different people, all with their own likes and dislikes, so it’s important that we employ a diverse mix of people so that we can really understand how we can make things better for everyone. You don’t need a degree in engineering to know what you would change – get involved! 

Liz Collins, Finance Director and Deputy Managing Director, First TPE

Our Executive team of ten also includes four, female directors which provides great balance to decision making. Despite this, there is still more work to be done when it comes to addressing gender balance, creating a more diverse team that reflects the communities we serve. Currently, women make up just 20 per cent of the rail sector and this is something that we need to change.

Anna Whitty, Chief Executive, ECT Charity

Why is International Women’s Day so important? Above any other reason, it is about inspiring women to aim high and believe in themselves.  This is particularly important in the transport industry, which is very male-dominated, particularly within the older demographic.

When I was growing up, I was expected to play with dolls, but Lego was my passion: finding a way to fit the bricks together to build something strong and stable.  This mind-set has stayed with me throughout my career; for me, transport is about detailed planning in order to implement a top-quality end product.

At ECT Charity, most of our management and supervisory roles are taken by women. These are women who believe in themselves and seized the opportunities presented to them. Ultimately, they were appointed as they were the best people for the job.

This International Women’s Day – and beyond – let’s all stand tall and proud.

Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport and manufacturing, Institution of Mechanical Engineers

I am a Chartered Engineer who entered the profession due to a love of motorsport, my career has been fast paced and exciting. Since the days of my F1 work experience I have moved around the transport domain. The UK is lucky enough to have great access to transport links both locally and if the need takes us the opportunity to travel to far off places. But we need to do more, pulling through innovations to develop sustainable, efficient and robust transport offerings. It is not only our own travel needs but the movement of the products that we buy. Particularly when this is done online with an expectation of next day or same day delivery. However, with this increase in access it adds to the levels of congestion which with our current vehicle mix means a rise in air pollution. There is a real opportunity to improve the movement of society by designing cleaner, greener vehicles both in terms of the technology they use as well as their overall design. The UK has many large infrastructure projects now in the pipeline so now is the time to get involved to create the solutions that you want.

Bethany Simmonds, Chair, Community Transport Organisation (Australia)

In Australia, female Community Transport workers in positions of leadership outnumber men 2 to 1.  Compare that to other road transport sectors here and the number plummets to an estimated 1 to 5.

Our organisation now has a practice of identifying women with potential and nurturing their careers.  This has without a doubt contributed to our growth and success. On this International Women’s Day I wish all people of all persuasions happiness in their transport work, and remind you all not to overlook that ‘little secretary’.  She may be your future boss.

Laura Wright, Head of European Policy, Rail Delivery Group

I am the fourth generation- but first woman- of my family to work in the rail industry. I am sure my Station Master grandfather would be very proud if he could see me now, but when he worked for BR women were few and far between; “I bet you wouldn’t see her in the four foot” was a common comment when a woman entered the depot.

I have found rail to be an interesting industry to work in with countless opportunities; my current role has enabled me to travel from Brussels to Basel and Paris to St Petersburg. Contrary to my preconceptions when I joined, there are many inspiring women in the industry who want to support others progress. Plus, all of these ladies have “been in the four foot”.

Chloe Williams, Consultant, SYSTRA

I have been working in the transport sector for 4 years. SYSTRA is a great place to work for both men and women, offering equal opportunities to develop and progress careers regardless of gender. Whilst my experience to date has been positive I know and understand that more can be done to encourage women to work within the transport sector. Women still only account for 17.5% of the urban public transport workforce and hold less than 10% of technical and operational jobs in transport. Increasing these numbers to achieve gender balance and inclusivity in the transport sector is an ambitious agenda but one that is not unachievable.

We should ultimately aim for women and girls to work in the transport industry by active choice rather than by accident. I know from my own experience growing up and making formative career choices that there is nothing more powerful for young women than to hear first-hand experience from women in business. Transforming people’s perceptions of the industry and gender stereotypes is not an easy task but with continued awareness raising, committed action and strong leadership it is possible to start to remove some of the barriers that prevent women from working within the transport sector.

Claire-Louise Lawlor, Office Manager, Redborne Care Group

I grew up with transport in my blood as my father owned a car dealership. After I graduated from University I entered the transport world again. At that time the car industry was mostly male dominated however this didn’t deter my passion and drive and I enjoyed great success in being one of only a few women managers at that time.

After being a full-time mum for several years I decided it was time to get back to work. Now my role is very different in Community Transport, however transport non-the less.  I am office manager for Redbourn Care Group organising transport for Redbourn residents to and from outings, hospital appointments and managing over 120 volunteers.

Working in the transport industry is great. It’s always changing and lots of fun. I would definitely recommend the transport industry for women and I am really excited to be part of International Women’s day.

Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive, WISE

Inspired by this year’s strap line for IWD, ‘Be bold for change’, I have 2 messages:

Show girls that in terms of their future, anything is possible.

Show the transport sector that with women on board, anything is possible.

Maggie Lawson, Development Manager, Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport

When I first joined the community transport world almost 20 years ago, I didn’t really know anything about transport. My previous job had been working in the public sector supporting community development and business start-up.  I always thought transport was a guy’s thing, but how wrong I was.

For me, working in a 3rd sector transport organisation is a whole different world; it is an absolute pleasure, as it gives you such a feel good factor when you can help people in your own communities.  You learn more about things at grass roots level and to me I call that “the real world”.

Transport is really just the cog in a wheel; it is the enabler for people to have a greater social interaction which reduces social isolation.  It provides so many opportunities for people that improve their lives.

Women in community transport can develop a wider role, not just through transport, a role which includes social development and well-being.  More women should consider joining, they would love it!

Louisa Perry, Customer and Stakeholder engagement, Atkins

I #lovetransport because I get to ask customers what they want and then help shape designs around their needs

Deborah Boden, Manager, Down District Accessible Transport

I have been working with Down Community Transport based in Northern Ireland for just over a year. Before that my only transport experience was driving a minibus for a Youth Group and booking transport for Community Groups. Of course there have been a few in house comments about my ability as a woman to understand minibus maintenance but I have not experienced that a wider level from external companies and suppliers.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of women managing community transport in NI and by the level of support they have been willing to give a new female manager. In DCT we have 1 female driver and I hope with time more might come on board.

I would encourage more women to get involved as community transport as it is all about the people you transport and the personal relationships you build.  The practical mechanics of the minibus can all be learnt as there is lots of support and training available

Asiya Jelani, Business Development Director, Arriva Bus UK

It is heartening that the number of women at all levels in transport is increasing which means that organisations will increasingly shape and develop services that have more breadth and depth. Personally I would like to see a greater gender balance across senior teams in all function areas.  I think the industry needs to challenge itself and ask if it could be doing more to encourage this? The answer is a firm yes.

Margaret Urie, Transport Manager, South West Glasgow Community Transport

Being a woman within the CT sector has really been an experience.  I think when you talk about transport you think awe that’s a man’s world but it is not within the CT sector.

I have met many brilliant women who work in this sector and like myself love their job and I don’t feel they are the least inhibited working in what some people would say is a male dominated industry. I have never felt that I was treated any different than my male counterpart.

My hopes and aspirations for women in the CT sector are come into this kind of employment with your eyes opened it changes from day to day you are always learning and the people you meet on your journey will stay with you forever.   They are from all walks of life young, old, people who have disabilities these are the ones you will help get a better quality of life through the work done by Community Transport services.

My hope for the future as I retire is that Community Transport will go on and rule the world as it has been the best job I have ever had rewarding, fulfilling and the people I have met along the way have become my friends and some even have taken me on as a honorary daughter so that means we are doing a good job.

Ankeeta Munsi, Media, Digital & Campaigns Manager, Office of Rail and Road

Transport, literally, makes the world go around. I find it very exciting working on big projects, seeing them emerge from planning and design stages to construction and public use. Each phase requiring highly skilled experts such as architects and civil engineers to make these ideas a reality. I’m drawn to working in this sector because of the many inspiring people I’ve met who have a passion for solving complex problems to help improve lives of people by connecting different regions and communities.

Midge Curry, Co-ordinator, Grimsby and Cleethorpes Dial a Ride

Twenty years working in nature conservation to “On the Buses” – who would have thought it!  After eight years on the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides, there I was in Derbyshire looking for a job that would keep me out of trouble.  Bakewell & Eyam Community Transport were looking for someone to kick start their new Dial-a-Ride scheme and I have been in Community Transport ever since and would have it no other way.

After 10 years at Bakewell I returned to Lincolnshire intending to retire.  That lasted 6 months!  Bored rigid I bought the local paper looking for a little part time job where, to my great surprise, Grimsby & Cleethorpes Dial-a-Ride were advertising for a Co-ordinator.  Fate had to be involved in a big way here.

Up against 3 gentleman I didn’t hold out much hope;  however, having convinced the interview panel that I really did know my alternator from my rear axle, I was offered the job and have now been in post for nearly 8 years.  I have had tremendous support from my Trustees and wonderful suppliers who drop everything to keep us on the road.  Community Transport is one of the best sectors to work in for women.  It encourages all of us in a positive and inclusive way and I, for one, am very proud to be a part of it.

Sally Buttifant, Mid Cheshire Community Rail Partnership & Women in Community Rail

I feel privileged to work in the transport world – community rail links communities to their railway and is about a can do, creative culture. I work with some fantastic volunteers both male and female, in fact unlike the rail world in general we have a good gender balance. Community rail is a good gateway in to the wider rail sector and careers in transport and offers flexible part time roles and opportunities to gain volunteer experience.

I would say to young women – don’t think that transport is a male career – there are so many brilliant opportunities to make a difference and have a career enabling people to access work, leisure and services. Excellent transport networks underpin economic growth and regeneration and are at the heart of sustainable communities. #Beboldforchange and join us on the journey!!

Sue Leighton, Manager, South East Dorset Community Accessible Transport

Our Organisation Manager suddenly took early retirement in 2012, I was asked to ‘hold the fort’ whilst decisions were made.  In the early days there was definitely some conflict with male colleagues who didn’t like some of the changes that I was trying to make and I distinctly remember sitting at a staff meeting with the Trustees present when one of the male staff said that I had difficulty managing the drivers who were all male because I wasn’t, unlike the previous Manager who was a man!

Attending the CTA conferences and other events around transport it is clear that there are now a lot of woman involved which makes it easier for other woman who might be interested in working in the sector. I think the qualities which woman often display; practicality, communication skills, good problem solving / organisational skills and tenacity can be used to great effect in the Transport sector which particularly relies on good Organisation and communication. I hope that young woman feel more empowered to step into these traditional male dominated sectors, confident that they can do a good job without compromise; there are certainly some great role models in transport who are very inspirational.

At SEDCAT we have had female students on work placement who have loved the experience; the teachers who have come over to assess them have been really interested to find out more too.  I’m sure that the students we have had would now consider a career involving transport in the future.

Stefanie Browne, Assistant Editor, RailReview

I’ve worked in the transport sector for ten years now and, like all good relationships, it still has the capacity to surprise me every day. Working for the media means I have the luxury of meeting people from all across the industry in all different kinds of roles and I witness the passionate, intelligent and driven way that they all make a tangible difference to people’s lives. I challenge any woman not to want to be a part of that! It would be too easy to dismiss the transport industry as being ‘for the boys’ because trains, planes and buses are ‘boys’ toys’. But transport has come a long way from its traditional roots – there are countless opportunities for creative, passionate and resourceful women to make a difference. As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that message reaches them.

Donna Atkinson, Chief Executive, Little Green Bus

My experience of being a woman in transport has always been mainly positive, perhaps because when I entered the (community) transport sector in 2007, I very quickly undertook the Manager CPC.  This provided me with all the essential information that was necessary to effectively manage an organisation that provides a variety of transport services to the local community.

I have only had one experience of stereotyping when we changed our MOT provider and my Transport Coordinator, also a woman, and I went to meet the MOT centre to carry out our own professional checks and to ensure that the MOT process and paperwork were of the required standard.  On arriving at the MOT centre the owner asked ‘where the gaffer was’ as he had never seen a woman transport boss.  Needless to say, I quickly disabused him of this fact and we had a positive working relationship from thereonin.

I don’t feel the need to compete with my male counterparts just because I am a woman and feel that I am treated as an equal locally and regionally when I attend a variety of transport events, giving presentations about both Little Green Bus and, Community Transport in Lancashire, as Little Green Bus is the Lead Body of the Lancashire Community Transport Consortium for the purpose of holding the County Council Community Transport Contract.

Bryony Govan, Business Improvement Manager, CrossCountry

The transport industry supports society in so many ways; by connecting people, opening up opportunities for work, education and leisure, as well as access to essential services.  There is much more for us to do to meet the evolving needs of our customers. We need good people with good ideas to help us do that.  Women, along with people from all other walks of life, have a role to play in moving the industry forwards.

Lucy Prior, Membership Development and International Trade Director, Rail Alliance

When I started in the transport sector over ten years ago, I had no idea just how big a family I was joining.

Ten years on and I still don’t think gender should be an issue, but I do feel I have been lucky in terms of not having been challenged by gender-stereotype. However, there can be a marked difference between how a woman or man might be viewed within our industry. Men aren’t ever tagged as “the gutsy one” or the “bossy one”.  We need to challenge the existence of the “pale, male and stale” upper-echelon (PMS in rail takes on a whole new meaning) and make it, the upper-echelon, more representative of our wonderfully diverse workforce.  That said, I have great many people to thank, the most of whom are men, for teaching and mentoring me through my career to date.

What is really great to see is the rising number of females in the sector – from operational to directorial level.  True, we do need more people in general in transport (and not just engineers, not just women, not just i-gen, not just BME).  The more gender parity we can encourage at entry level, the less need there should ever be to encourage specific demographics in the future into our sector.  I am proud to work with many, many amazing people, and yes, the larger proportion of these is men.  But it’s also not their fault they have tradition to contend with.  I do hope that in that future we are more about inclusive talent attraction – where capability and suitability to a role is the only consideration, not whether we have the X or Y chromosome.  In the meantime, I hope I do still stick out at events, but more for the fact that I am one of the older people in the room.

Rachel Milne, General Manager, DAB Plus Driver Training and Dial-a-Community Bus

I’ve been working in transport for 17 years now since Dial-a-Community bus was a small two bus community operation. We’ve grown organically over the years and added Social Enterprises and new businesses to our portfolio.

DACB has never really worried about gender so I’ve never really thought about being a “woman in transport” although I’ve been aware of regularly being one of only a couple of women in a meeting, and sometimes the only woman. That’s never really bothered me because if someone has a problem with me or my business decisions, they need to evidence that appropriately. The world is changing in spite of some dinosaur-like attitudes from certain worldwide public figures.

My real hope for anyone coming into transport is that they are judged on who they are, not “what” they are. That is as relevant for all our diverse populations as it is for women.

However, I do feel that we need to improve attitudes towards childcare and young mothers. I was given every chance by DACB to work and to raise my daughters when they were young. Work life balance was definitely very important for them, and that attitude helped me work and grown the businesses.

We are continuing this ethos for a young mum working for us currently. She’s the best person for the job by far, so why would we lose that talent because we can’t make a few compromises?

Being a woman in transport is fun and a great place to be. I love my job. But my real and deep hope is that future generations will just see a “community of transport professionals”.

Inspired to share your story? Contact us at hello@ctauk.org

 

 

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