Where are all the female transport planners?

I began writing this piece thinking romantically of the Waterloo Bridge (my favourite of all the London Bridges). I had been told from an early age (by parents who told me and my two siblings that whatever your gender you could do anything you put your mind to) that women built the bridge while the men were away fighting the war.

This must have been, if not the start, of the move for equality in transport and construction, at least part of the story?

But could I think of any famous female transport planners?

There must be some surely? But where are they?

Half the population are women. We all use the same transport infrastructure so how can it only be designed and planned by half the population ?

I still couldn't think of any .....

Inequality has been a theme throughout my career

When I started my working life twenty years ago this summer, I was fresh out of Derby University with a degree in Environmental Science and Geography. I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A chance conversation eventually led me to a job working in what was the County Surveyors department at West Sussex County Council. The rest, as they say, is history ..... well not quite.

I've got used to the fact that the profession I chose always seemed a male dominated profession, with few female leaders and role models to look up to.

I remember a couple of years into my career when I worked in the Highways Maintenance Department (and went through a phase of obsession with surface dressing and gritting!). I went to a well-established conference on this topic and, walking into the conference hall, realised I was the youngest person in the room and also one of only two females at the event! What must the other delegates have thought? (Even that didn't put me off.)

Why we need gender balance in transport planning

So why is a lack of gender balance in transport planning an issue? Well, I believe passionately if transport is to be successfully used by all the population then representatives of all the population should have a say in how it is built and used.

I welcomed the campaign by Sustrans and supported earlier in the year, 'Are We Nearly there Yet ?' which examined the role of gender in active travel and I was, frankly, shocked by the findings:

'Most political committees and advisory boards have less than 15% female membership and none have equal representation (Transgen, 2007)'

The report also found there is a lack of evidence to show how women participate in creating transport policy and planning in the UK. Currently, transport has the lowest percentage of women in senior posts within the public sector in Scotland, with women representing only 6.25% heads of transport bodies. In addition, the transport sector accounts for only 22% of female workers UK-wide.

And, in fact, the number of women working in transport has declined since the Sustrans report was published. The latest data shows we're now down to 20% of the transport workforce being women.

But then I say I was shocked, but I wasn't. Because, like similar statements and campaigns running this year, I was shocked that I wasn't shocked. Over the years, I've just learnt to accept these truths as that's how it is.

What we can do to improve gender balance

It doesn't appear to me good enough anymore. That's why I welcome the Transport Planning Society's revised Principles (outlining what transport planners should be seeking to achieve, and how the profession should conduct itself while working towards those outcomes). I particularly welcome the focus on people:

'Focus on People: Be led by clear quality of life objectives, to understand the impacts of transport plans and projects on individuals as well as society as a whole and to listen, understand and acknowledge the views of all those affected (whether users or non-users).'

Of course the focus should be on 'people' regardless of their gender.

Also the Transport Planning Society is running the 'Transport Planning Day' Campaign to ensure the bar of transport planning is raised high. We want the Society and the work our members do to be fit for all and not just the half of the population.

That's the thing with transport planning, it doesn't exist by itself, but for the movement of people and goods. Those movements need to fit within everyone's expectations and needs otherwise you are alienating half the population.
So I'm heralding this a rallying cry of sorts to all of you:

  • to the women who currently work in transport planning,
  • to the men who work in transport planning, and
  • to everyone who needs to get themselves or anything anywhere using transport.

We need to refocus on how our transport can be planned, built and used the best for everyone, and that means engaging with the whole population.