A woman’s place . . . is in the transport sector

Attracting more women into the industry is essential, says Debra Charles, to rid the sector of stereotypes and make a difference in leadership roles.

This week saw TfL launch a new legacy campaign, setting out its vision for women in transport and looking back at all the things we’ve achieved as an industry through the 100 Years of Women in Transport campaign. The general consensus was that we’ve made a great start since it all began in 2014, but there’s a long road ahead of us. 

For example, while HR roles in transport are mostly held by women, only 10% of engineers are women. As Mike Brown, TfL commissioner put it: “We simply don’t reflect the human race, and this is completely unacceptable.” So how do we put things right? How do we encourage more women to take up careers in transport, inspire the next generation of pioneers, and make a real difference in our industry? 

I believe the secret lies in our diversity and showing people how their individual strengths – whether that’s numbers, design, communication or simply helping people – could be used in a variety of different roles. There’s so much choice, whether people want to be out on the tracks, behind the wheel or in the control room, so we need to be spreading the word and going into schools to let pupils know how wide their options really are.

This isn’t diversity for diversity’s sake, by the way – having a more balanced workforce has a huge impact on productivity. A McKinsey report found that boards that aren’t represented by both genders significantly underperform. If the number of women in HR and communication roles is anything to go by, we know attracting women to the general industry isn’t a problem – it’s about how we get rid of stereotypes and make sure people don’t get put off a role because it’s a “man’s job”.

I do feel a personal sense of responsibility to help reignite the energy that the first women in transport showed us over 100 years ago. I’ve always felt that transport is the backbone of the economy and has the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives. It’s one of the main reasons I founded Novacroft, believing that if transport was to continue to play its part in society, it needed to get with the times and embrace technology. And that’s just another example of a path it could take you on.

So we’re proud to stand united with this fantastic initiative, engaging young women early on to encourage them to join an industry that is always going places. It’s the heartbeat of every city, connecting us all and enabling development in towns and communities across the UK.

It’s not going to be easy to rally the troops – it’ll probably take some time before we get to a representative workforce. But with the Women in Transport campaign working hard to inspire future generations, I’m excited to see what we can do to build on where we are now, and to meet the transport leaders and innovators of tomorrow.

Debra Charles is CEO at smartcard technology company, Novacroft.