Being a young woman in the transport industry right now is both equal parts empowering and frustrating. The world is finally waking up to the importance of diversity and the myths around stereotypes are starting to be bulldozed down, as a result the opportunity at my feet is far greater than it was for many of the women that came before me. But change frustratingly takes time, and this is particularly evident within the transport industry, which carries a historically masculine vibe which is proving difficult to shake. We are tied in so many ways (roads, railways, cars, trains, buses) to a world created hundreds of years ago during a time where men, machines and industry ruled.
Yet all I really want is to work in an industry that actually reflects the vitally important role that transport plays in people’s lives.
I like to point out that transport is the best thing to talk about after the weather, every one of us has something to say about it. Transport impacts everybody’s life in so many ways, and successful transport solutions demand so much more than just machinery and technology — they require a fundamental understanding of people and their lives. It is therefore vitally important to have proper representation from across the diverse society we live in within the industry and profession that influences it.
This is why I was so happy to volunteer as one of the organisers of Transport Planning Camp, an event where we provided an unbiased space for a truly diverse mix of participants from across the transport industry to talk about what really matters to them.
After the event I did some analysis on what happened on the day and by categorising the suggested topics of conversation I found found that the topic most people wanted to talk about was equity and accessibility. Alongside this the topics with the highest votes were sustainable transport and user-centric decision making.
This delighted me so much as fatigue was starting to set in after attending event upon event where the crowd is much less diverse and the main topic of conversation is technology with a lack of focus on social good.
The fact that Transport Planning Camp attracted a far more diverse crowd than the average corporate transport event, especially in terms of gender, age and ethnicity, gave me a surge of excitement around what the future of our industry could be if it becomes more diverse, and what the focus of the conversations within it could be.
Since the event, I feel as though I have been flung back into the industry with a powerful secret. That people on the ground care about more than the conversation that is being driven by the powers that be. That we need to widen the discussion around the future of transport by talking about how we can make a real difference to the world and our lives within it. Who gives a sh*t about the electric autonomous hyperloop space travelling future if it doesn’t meet the needs of real people after all? Has anyone stopped to ask people what they actually want? Do we even stop and ask ourselves what we really want?
Is it enough to sit back and hope that over time, people do start prioritizing the topics that we now understand people really care about? I don’t believe it is. That is why I am prepared to work hard alongside my fellow Transport Planning Camp colleagues James Gleave, Laura Putt and Pawel Bugajski to ensure that we continue to shine a light on the importance of topics like equity and accessibility, user-centric decision making and sustainable transport within our beloved industry.
I feel as though a good place to start is by encouraging people to become active brand ambassadors for transport both inside and outside of the industry. This could help to create a more diverse mix of people in the industry by drawing attention to what transport is actually all about — people!