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Poor gender diversity in transport – what can be done?

Understanding the honest views and opinions of both the men and women at your organisation will lay the foundations for developing meaningful interventions that bring about positive change

Where are all the women in the transport sector? As it stands, just 22 per cent of transport workers are women (of which 1 per cent are drivers), despite various initiatives trying to increase female representation in the industry. So how can more women be encouraged into the sector?

The first step must be to determine what’s broken or is being neglected in your organisation so that the right interventions can be put in place, and this means nurturing a feedback culture so that regular and meaningful conversations are commonplace.

Understanding the real issues

Finding out why women are still so woefully underrepresented in the sector is complex, and improving gender diversity will take many years; however it’s perfectly possible to bring about considerable change. For instance, female participation in the rail sector increased from 8 per cent to 17 per cent within five years due to effective interventions.

But determining what the right interventions are can’t be done in isolation at board-level. It requires a full understanding of the issues, restraints and workplace cultures that are impacting women ‘on the ground’. And so, organisations must introduce feedback mechanisms to learn from employees how women are being treated, what is and isn’t attracting them to the industry, and whether they’re being given the opportunities and support to develop and grow.

Regular, anonymous feedback is key

One-to-ones and team meetings give employees a voice, however the focus must also be on carrying-out regular, anonymous surveys to ensure everyone can give their opinions honestly and without fear of reprisal. Using quick and simple online surveys that can be completed on employees’ mobile devices as well as on ‘kiosks’ in depots/break areas, means that opinions can be collated, dissected and analysed. What is and isn’t working can then be assessed and action plans put in place.

Ideally, the surveys should be broken-down into manageable chunks so that each survey delves into a particular element that could be preventing women from entering the sector, and/or progressing. These might cover the following, which the Department for Transport has identified as shared problems facing the UK sector (Enhancing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Report – Winter 2021): Training and development opportunities; progression pathways; shared parental leave and biases; onsite facilities; working arrangements (such as job share, flexitime, compressed hours); and personal conduct/workplace culture.

A survey covering training, development and progression pathways for women, for instance, might reveal that women aren’t encouraged to apply for leadership positions; female apprentices are subjected to both conscious and unconscious biases; and that women entering the industry tend to be steered away from the more manual and hands-on roles.

Similarly, a survey focused on working culture and workplace conduct may reveal that sexist jibes and sexual remarks are commonplace and simply aren’t being ‘called out’ (instead being viewed by male colleagues as “harmless banter”). Plus, the workplace facilities – with their lack of privacy and no sanitary bins – may be found to be unsuitable for women. The uniforms/workwear might also be ill-fitting due to being tailored to men’s bodies.

Understanding the honest views and opinions of both the men and women at your organisation will lay the foundations for developing meaningful interventions that bring about positive change (so long as leaders are held accountable and follow-through). These interventions might include simple changes, such as introducing separate toilets and safe spaces for both men and women, through to introducing leadership training and a mentorship programme to better support women and avoid unconscious bias.

Driving forward change

Knowing that the transport sector is welcoming of women, is supporting them with their growth and development, and is working towards an inclusive culture, will naturally help to attract more females into the industry. It’s therefore up to leaders to drive forward the changes to make this a reality, and this is only possible when there’s a robust employee listening strategy in place that asks the right questions, listens to the feedback and then acts on the insights!

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