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Why it’s time to address gender imbalance in the transport industry

Posted: 4 August 2021 | | No comments yet

Tamara Eelsing, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at STIB, the public transport operator in Brussels, Belgium explains how the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group she heads at UITP, is proud to be doing its part on challenging the gender imbalance in leadership.

Why it’s time to address gender imbalance in the transport industry

Why place the focus on women in leadership? I am sure those of us working towards bringing a better gender balance to their own sector are familiar with this question.

For me, it is simple; the research and evidence available tell us what a gender-balanced management and staff brings to the workplace. Multiple studies have proven that gender-balanced boardrooms lead to better results, regardless of the sector. A balance within leadership brings complementary visions and skills, which leads to better decision making, more creativity and innovation. Besides, women in leadership are great role models for women inside and outside their companies.

Many industries face the same daily struggles with bringing about gender equality. Public transport is no different. So why place a focus on women in leadership? I think the answer is quite clear.

A transport workforce that reflects society

Every single day, all across the globe, public transport networks serve people from all walks of life. The workforce keeping our cities moving is made up of all different types of people, as are the passengers boarding transport services in those cities.

Half of our populations are women, yet public transport networks and services have traditionally been designed, operated, and maintained by men. If we can work towards bringing a better gender balance to our own workplace, we should absolutely do this.

As Diversity and Inclusion Manager for STIB, the public transport operator in Brussels, I work every day on attracting women to, and retaining women in, our organisation – and if they choose to leave STIB at a certain moment in their careers, then they do so as ambassadors.

I’m very proud to say that STIB has recently appointed a female Deputy Chief Executive Officer for the first time in our history. Tamara de Bruecker is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion, and it is inspiring to see her take on this position within our company.

My position within STIB has brought me closer to the work of UITP and the commendable focus they have placed on diversity and inclusion for all, and in particular on gender equality with their Women in Leadership initiative.

I was proud to take on a new role for UITP as Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group where members from around the world bring their expertise, insight, and passion to the table as we consider what needs to be improved, and how best to implement those changes, in the discussion on gender equality and equal leadership within public transport.

There is a lot of work to be done to attract more women to jobs across the public transport sector in order to become more representative of our customer base and redress the imbalance we currently face.

By taking a closer look at the issue of gender, we can work together to best address what these challenges are, and how to bring about lasting change. No one is saying it is an easy task… but the tough questions are always worth asking! Action speaks louder than words and I am confident we can make our mark.

There are challenges ahead, for UITP, STIB and every other company in our sector… but that does not mean we should shy away from what is in front of us.

STIB Brussels

Tamara Eelsing is the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at STIB in Brussels

Where do we stand and what needs to be done?

Currently, at a global level, less than 15 per cent of the workforce within public transport are women.

We live in a visual society and we see that our cities are made up of all different types of people – yet our sector still needs to reflect this better; our sector is behind the curve when it comes to representation between genders.

If women are not present in all levels of public transport, then it will not seem perfectly normal for them to reach the very top of the sector. My motto is “you cannot be, what you cannot see.”

A woman bus driver is a leader and role model for boys and girls on their daily bus route. If children grow up seeing both male and female bus drivers, they will not question the relevance of the job for either gender.

A woman CEO is a leader and role model to all staff within her company. A woman at the highest level normalises for her entire staff the idea of a woman in a leadership position, especially if she is supported by a gender balanced board and/or top management team.

A woman board member of UITP is a leader and role model to all UITP members. It tells other women that there is a place for them in UITP and inspires them to be active.

Over the last few years, steps have been made to bring about gender equality within public transport, with new recruitment drives and focused campaigns, but as significant as these steps may be, more still needs to be done. We see that a lot of focus goes to attracting women to our sector, but we must not forget that we also need to make these women feel welcomed and psychologically safe in our sector. We need to make sure that women do not come in through the front door, but leave through the back door within a year or two.

As a member of UITP, it is exciting to see the progress made in some areas so far, but there is always more to be done. By bringing a focus to the role of women in the workplace, and their leadership potentials, this benefits all of us.

In order to attract and involve more women to a sector that clearly increases the quality of life by transforming our cities and societies, our women role models need to be more visible.

By promoting these leaders, we hope to attract more women and other diverse talent to the sector, ensuring that public transport in the future draws on a diverse range of skills to better serve the whole of society.

There is much to focus on, and much to achieve. I am proud to play my part in helping to move that progress forward.  

Tamara Eelsing has been Diversity Manager at STIB since 1 January 2019 and previously worked at ING Belgium for 3.5 years as Diversity & Inclusion Manager and Consultant Leadership Development. Her mission is to help people and organisations on their journey to more Diversity and Inclusion.

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