December 11, 2017
Thomas Avanzata is UITP Europe Director. Based in Brussels, UITP is the international association representing public transport stakeholders. In the European Union, UITP brings together more than 400 urban, suburban and regional public transport operators and authorities from all the member states and is consequently recognised as a key interlocutor for the European institutions and other bodies.
It can be argued that public transport is perhaps the most visible agent of social inclusion in our urban environments, but while inclusiveness is a value deeply rooted our sector’s DNA, it is unfortunately less noticeable when looking at gender representation in the professions that are driving our activities.
Employing 2 million professionals in Europe, the public transport sector is amongst the largest employers at the local level, but only 17.5% of this workforce are women. This figure is particularly concerning when compared with what the reality is in the overall economy, as the same indicator reaches 46%.
This sad reality is partially explained by the type of professions in the sector, as technical and operational jobs are the biggest employment category in public transport. More broadly, women have to cope with three main barriers when trying to access the public transport sector. These obstacles are contextual, related to the absence of facilities and discrimination.
More than just a mere image issue, this male culture has concrete impacts on the public transport sector. It affects the attractiveness of jobs and competitiveness of the industry. The increased presence of women would integrate more talents and complementary skills, as well as a broader view on innovation in companies. More women would also mean a better work environment.
Concrete actions can be taken to achieve what should remain a shared objective to offer equal opportunities to all. Measures will need to be adopted at all levels, including within the industry. These actions can range from recruitment policies, to facilitating access to training, offering work-life balance environments, improve workplace security and equality in wages.
Of course, a change of organisational culture should also be implemented, as male working culture tends to incite gender stereotypes. No matter how many measures are put into effect in an organisation, for any gender-related actions to be effective, the top management itself has to be convinced and engaged in breaking what could be seen as a vicious circle.
UITP is a strong advocate of equal opportunities for women and men in the urban mobility sector in Europe and abroad. In 2016, we have organised a conference on women employment to discuss the remaining barriers and exchange best practices on that topic. In 2017, we have co-signed the WISE II report on Women’s Employment and Gender Policy in Urban Public Transport Companies in Europe and more recently we have joined the Women in Transport-EU Platform for Change as founding members.
The Platform has developed a Declaration on equal opportunities for women and men in the transport sector. As a signatory, we encourage all actors in the urban mobility sector to read the Declaration and join their efforts in changing this situation by signing it.
The public transport sector is often perceived as innovative and modern, two adjectives that it can’t totally embody until the disparities between genders in the workplaces are not filled. As a front-line industry to customers we should set an example by setting ambitious objectives to offer gender equal opportunities. Signing the Declaration is one concrete action and UITP is inviting you to stay the course by sharing best practices and implementing always more effective measures to evolve into a gender-balanced sector.
UITP Europe Director