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To mark International Women’s Day earlier this month, I was delighted to be asked to write an editorial. Having worked at UITP for well over a decade, I have been involved in many facets of the organisation: managing committees, a trainer in training programmes, participating in EU-funded projects, regional officer for North America, project managing the Global Public Transport Summit. However I had never attended a Policy Board meeting. As Head of the Secretary General’s Office, overseeing this Board on behalf of the Secretary General is one of my new responsibilities. As I sat around the table at my first meeting, I observed the scene with a curious mix of awe and dismay. I was in awe at the sheer calibre of members. I was dismayed at the lack of women present. Here were top executives of 80 public transport companies, people that shape the day to day existence of millions of people around the world, all coming together to discuss how we can do it even better. But I couldn’t help but notice that I could count the number of women on two hands. As I stepped up to the microphone to present UITP’s commitment towards improving gender balance in public transport, I can assure you the irony was not lost on me.
I observed the scene with a curious mix of awe and dismay.
UITP’s commitment is two-fold: it addresses, on the one hand, the need for gender balance in public transport as an industry, and on the other hand, the commitment to reflect gender balance in UITP’s working bodies and activities. We have just enshrined the latter commitment in our recently updated Bylaws. Driven by our Secretary General and Executive Board, the intention is clear: with the current participation of women currently estimated at around 19%, we need to do better.
One of my last responsibilities before changing positions was to design the programme of the IT-TRANS conference in 2018 . We set ourselves the unofficial challenge of improving the gender balance of the programme compared to the 2016 edition which stood at 18%. The challenge was confounded by the fact that only 11% of papers received in the call for papers were from women. 11%! The women were not coming to us so we went out to look for them. We knocked on doors, we scoured our database, we asked their male colleagues. And we found lots of them. In the end, 31% of the IT-TRANS programme were women bringing a variety of expertise and knowledge from the technical to the strategic to the visionary. There was not a manel* in sight. This was a good result. But it’s not even close to being balanced.
Women have a natural place in an industry which serves more women than it does men.
At the Global Public Transport Summit in Stockholm in June we are organising a session on “diversity and inclusion” which will address this topic, among others. In the coming months the Policy Board will be working on specific actions to ensure better gender balance in our activities as we go forward. It is a collective responsibility and we need all members to step up and engage with us on this.
So I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to UITP members far and wide. Women have a natural place in an industry which serves more women than it does men. Women of UITP, I know you are out there, because when I looked for you, I found you. UITP invites you to be active in the organisation. We need you to join our working groups, committees and boards. And men of UITP, we need you too. We need your grace to share your association with your female colleagues, to support them and champion them.
Women of UITP, I know you are out there, because when I looked for you, I found you.