By Jennifer Cohan, Industry Lead, Rail and Transit, Aurigo Software
It is no secret that there is a need for more female voices in every industry. However, their representation is urgently needed in the transportation industry now more than ever before. Why this sense of renewed urgency? The answer is simple, there is $1.2 trillion in investments coming into infrastructure and the transportation industry in general through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and without women being engaged in planning on how to guide these investments, an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past to build a better and more inclusive transportation network for the future will be missed.
Women and minorities are the majority of public transportation users in the country. While we have seen slight changes in recent years, women are also still the number one caregivers of children and seniors, making their transportation needs unique. Surveys have repeatedly shown that women rely more on public transportation than men. The International Transportation Forum, an arm of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), puts the percentage of women using mass transit systems at 55%. Why is that number significant, and why the urgency to get more women in the transportation field? Let me put that in perspective.
The current transportation system, both infrastructure and public transportation, was designed and built mostly by men. The consequences of this have created “pink gaps” in our transportation system, which disproportionately impact women.
For example, women tend to bundle their trips around work, childcare, and doctor appointments for seniors. Our current public transportation does not usually account for the needs of these types of trips. Things like strollers, car seats, additional baggage, or accessibility for seniors are not always available. As I never tire of saying, an ounce of lived experience is worth a ton of empathy. Women should be involved in the planning of public transportation at all levels. Their input will ensure we produce a more equitable and accessible system. Diverse input will address safety and security issues specific to women, and will also provide the `first-mile, last-mile’ connectivity solutions necessary to make investments a success for all.
Having chaired and served on numerous transportation organizations at local and national levels, I have felt the acute need to bridge this gender gap. Admittedly, there is encouraging data on things like the growth in micromobility—the use of scooters, shared or otherwise, electric, or otherwise—by women to solve issues around short trips, safety, and the challenges around ‘first-mile, last-mile’ connectivity. Data on e-scooters, for example, from Denver and Portland, shows a 70/30 and 64/34 split, respectively, between men and women. While this data shows an improvement in mobility equity, we still have work to do. These numbers do not reflect women who are caregivers, certain minority women, and those with disabilities. I am hopeful that over time and with deliberate and concerted efforts, these numbers will be spread out more evenly between all people. We need to address these disparities before this once in a generation level of investment spending begins.
Aside from the short-term need to include more women in transportation decisions, there is the question of getting more women interested in the broader transportation industry. How do we achieve that? It has been proved that it is critical to get girls interested in STEM fields to get them involved and invested as early as possible. I recently organized a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) event in Delaware in an attempt to get young girls (eighth and ninth grade) to consider professions such as construction, space travel, nuclear physics, engineering, and transportation. Young girls need to know that the transportation industry is ‘cool.’ This issue is not new and is being discussed in almost all areas of our transportation industry. But, if you will excuse the pun, there isn’t a lot of rubber hitting the road. The talk isn’t translating into an increase in women in the industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not made this task any easier. As a McKinsey & Company report points out, women are more burnt out than men. One in three women, says the report, has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career. This is a significant increase from one in four in the first few months of the pandemic.
What will it take to bridge the gap in women’s (and other minority and under-served communities’) representation in the transportation industry? With the pandemic, we need to make a conscious and concerted effort to fix the problem. Do I have a ready-made solution for the problem? I will not pretend to have a data-driven perspective on every dimension of the problem. But this is certain if the people that are planning, designing, and constructing our transportation system do not look like those it serves, we will fail.
We need to go beyond the conversations and buzzwords and seek solutions to ensure adequate representation and participation in the transport industry, identify the failures and barriers of the past, and systematically fix them going forward.
Industry Lead, Rail and Transit, Aurigo Software
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