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Women in Transport: Good for Business

WTS London and the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT) jointly organised a parliamentary breakfast reception on Tuesday 22nd October 2013, generously sponsored by Parsons Brinckerhoff. The breakfast meeting was hosted by Louise Ellman MP to provide a forum for discussion focused on finding practical ways to:
 
2013-10-22T17-29-48_4 Engage business leaders and share best practice to support women in the transport industry 
Maximise this crucial resource effectively in the business environment
Highlight the successful role played by women in the transport sector
 
Guests included influential representatives from the engineering and transportation industry, politics, and the public sector and our fantastic panel of speakers included Lord Berkeley, Baroness Prosser, Trudy Norris-Grey and Amanda Fisher.  View full biographies can be viewed here.
 
Louise_Ellman
Louise Ellman MP: Chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee
Louise emphasised how vital transport is to everything we do and the need for more diversity within transport to create a better service for everyone. Whilst there are certainly successful women within the industry, as evidenced by the recognition of women’s contribution at the recent National Transport Awards, women are still significantly underrepresented. Louise discussed some of the reasons; offputting image of ‘dirty work’, barriers getting women into STEM areas in education and progression issues.  She raised the question - what can we do to push the doors open and improve the transport sector?
 
Sheila_HoldenSheila Holden: President CIHT
The CIHT was established in 1930 to support engineers building the nations road infrastructure providing support, networking, technical guidance and qualifications.  Today the organisation has over 12,500 members who plan, design, build and operate all modes of transport across the UK.  Sheila entered the historically male dominated arena of engineering at an early age encountering the usual ‘girls don't do things like’ when she expressed an interest in bridge building at school.  She spent 30 years in local authority eventually becoming a director and is now a director in an independent consultancy and significantly the first female president of the CIHT. She made the important point that an essential part of her success and progression has been the encouragement and support by a great many engineers (mainly men). She expressed concern over the retention and progression of women in the industry highlighting that just 10% of CIHT fellows are women (41) equating to one woman to every 30 men. However the profession is changing and young women joining CIHT represent a quarter of membership in the younger age group. Sheila asked how the industry will develop and change to meet the challenges of the future and bridge the skills gap highlighting the need to attract and retain more women to deliver more effective business outcomes. She hoped that young people would not be faced with a stark choice between career and family.  Shelia challenged us all to commit to change and welcome diversity.
 
Camilla_WeenCamilla Ween: President WTS London 
Camilla introduced WTS London and explained our origins as part of the American organisation with the mission of attracting, promoting and retaining women in transport.  Our unusual name originates from the fact the members in America could not attend events unless they were seminars.  She commended the bravery of the CIHT in appointing a female president and the vision of Parsons Brinckerhoff in sponsoring our joint event. Camilla shared some of her own experiences and anecdotes from her fascinating career in the industry.  She posed the question why do so many women leave the industry? Camilla highlighted that even organisations like TfL with attractive maternity policies struggle to retain talent particularly when people decide to start a family. Camilla emphasised the need to challenge and overcome the unrealistic expectation of ‘superwomen’ and the idea that it is unacceptable to have a personal life that interferes with your career.  Importantly, Camilla highlighted that if women do achieve a senior position in the industry they are respected and have credibility so we need behaviours to change to ensure that more women can get to the top of the profession and key to this change is both men and women.
 
Amanda_FisherAmanda Fisher: Managing Director, Balfour Beatty Living Places
Parsons Brinckerhoff is the professional services arm of Balfour Beatty and Amanda is the first female MD in the business and has been actively engaged in connecting women and addressing diversity issues. Parsons Brinckerhoff has been involved in high profile transport projects including Crossrail and HS2 and Balfour Beatty Living Places is focused on building communities.  Amanda’s role has opened up communication within Balfour Beatty with lunches providing a forum for women across the business to meet and share their knowledge and experience. Just by being accessible and taking the time to listen, Amanda has been able to help retain six women in the company that were considering leaving.   Amanda stressed the need to inspire the younger generation with the exciting opportunities and interesting projects within the industry. We need to influence teachers, career advisors and start early to demonstrate that the transport industry is an inclusive and exciting place to work.  Amanda underlined the importance of changing the image of the industry, removing barriers and creating the environment to allow survival and growth.  Crucially, men and women are in this together and men are often the silent voice in the challenges that women face. Men too would welcome the opportunity for flexibility in the workplace.  Amanda suggested a trust based approach is the answer and recognition that one size fits all policies are not appropriate - fit the jobs around the people rather than the people around the jobs!  
 
Baroness_PBaroness Prosser OBE
Baroness Prosser stressed the need for investment (money and time) to be spent on career advice and encouraging people into the transport and engineering fields.  We need an extra 20,000 engineers in the coming years to meet the needs of the country but how much are we investing in attracting the right talent. Most of the money spent is on older people and this has its place but we have a vast pool of talented young people that are not being adequately advised. There needs to be better links between employment and educational establishment – there is a lack of energy and synergy between business and schools. Baroness Prosser stated that men will make the difference – they are the decision makers but women also have to be more determined.  We need a diverse workforce – this will lead to better environments and a happier workforce overall.  Her suggestions included bringing forward slightly older women and more than one at time into apprenticeship roles so that they felt less overwhelmed and more able to deal with the male dominated environments of transport and engineering.  Baroness Prosser also shared some amusing and fascinating anecdotes from her experiences and highlighted recent examples of thoughtless discrimination emphasising that we have a long way to go to change existing mindsets.  
 
Lord_BLord Berkeley: WTS Patron
Lord Berkeley has vast experience in the transport industry having been instrumental in helping to build the Channel Tunnel and is a champion of success for women in transport as patron of WTS London. He highlighted that women are at the bottom of the pile particularly in the rail industry despite some stand out exemplar women in the transport industry overall. In his experience, he reckoned that 1 in 100 people he met when dealing with HS2 and Network Rail were women.  He emphasised that these women stand out and it was obvious they worked hard to get to their positions. In talking about the fact that women bring a different perspective, Lord Berkeley highlighted synergies with the differing approaches of men and women to cycling and safety with more women being killed by hanging back and playing by the rules then men who get out in front and run through red lights.  He suggested that better, safer environments and solutions could be arrived at by getting more women involved in transport.  Lord Berkeley echoed the recurring idea that we need a diverse mix in our workforce – both men and women to provide balance and perspective across industry.  He questioned if it was time for a step change and to go faster to get more progress.  Should we adopt the Norwegian approach and have a blanket 50% women on all boards until the situation improves? 
 
Trudy_NGTrudy Norris Grey, Chair of WISE
Trudy spoke of her entry into engineering as one of eight kids faced with a choice to leave the ‘country’ to be become an accountant or secretary; alighting on the computer industry led to a very successful and challenging career. Trudy stated that the case for change has already been made – there is lots of evidence that more diverse organisations are more efficient and profitable now the key questions are what can we/should we be doing to encourage more girls into STEM subjects, how do we keep them and how do we help them in their careers. We need to encourage girls and encourage parents through increased communication, careers advice and role models that demonstrate the viable and attractive career choices across the industry. In terms of retention and growth, Trudy emphasised the importance of networking, embracing diversity, challenging the norm and inspiring others as senior and successful professionals in the industry. Importantly, she noted the need to recognise that it's not a sprint it's a marathon.
 
2013-10-22T17-29-48_17Discussion
The session concluded with some debate and discussion around the issues raised by our speakers.  The audience contributors included Victoria Hills (Head of Transport, Greater London Authority), Ruth Waring (Chair, Women in Logistics) and Antony Oliver (Editor, NCE Magazine). 
 
There was a general discussion of the appropriateness and value of women only initiatives. Victoria Hills highlighted the value of WTS London and other similar organisations for maintaining networks and connections particularly during career breaks as well as mentoring and coaching. Ruth Waring echoed these sentiments and emphasised that Women in Logistics has over 3,000 members and welcomes men with 20% of the membership being male. 
 
Jean Venables, past president of the ICE, underlined the need for organisations to recognise ‘parental responsibility’ and flexibility for both men and women. She felt strongly that promotion should be on merit not based on quota as this would lead to a lack of authority and credibility for women. Baroness Prosser differentiated between quotas for employees which is illegal and on boards and committees which can and does work to create more balance.
 
Sharon Field of FM Conway highlighted the success of their work experience programme in encouraging more women and young people into the industry. Katie Carpenter of Jacobs shared an incredible successful personal account of individual mentoring through GCSE to graduation resulting in a new young woman joining Jacobs.  
 
Conclusion
In conclusion, it was clear that both career advice and individual connections and networks are required to attract and retain women in the transport and engineering fields. Retention is multi layered issue needing belief, expectation, confidence and political push from senior people in government.  Whilst there may no longer be a glass ceiling, there's a sticky floor and even one person standing by you can help get you moving on and up.
 
So what can we do practically from today? 
 
2013-10-22T17-29-48_0 Spread the message – for those of you with interesting and exciting careers in transport and engineering – share your experiences, get involved in networking, careers events, mentoring
 
Get men on board – encourage employers and employees to get involved and step up
 
Encourage initiatives and sector pathways for women to offer better opportunities
 
Create dedicated programmes e.g. getting older women (25 years old upwards) to take up apprenticeships and retrain, after school clubs for girls
 
WTS London is very grateful to Louise Ellman for hosting the event and to Parsons Brinckerhoff for their generous sponsorship and support.
 

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