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How can the transport sector get better at serving the needs of women – both as customers and as employees? On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2020, Sharon Masterson spoke to Emma Latham Jones about women innovators, why getting girls interested in STEM is not enough, and inspiring female voices at the transport ministers’ Annual Summit
How can the transport sector become more attractive for women?
ELJ: Innovation will be the core theme of the ITF Summit in May 2020. What is the role of women in innovation?
SM: There have been women among transport innovators throughout history – they just weren’t acknowledged. Think of Katherine Johnson, a woman and mathematician who worked for NASA. Her trajectory calculations were critical for successfully sending the first humans into space. Despite her enormous contributions to space exploration, she remained mostly unknown until the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” made her a household name – at the age of 98. Sadly, Katherine Johnson passed away this 24 February; she was 101 years old.
NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson at the 2017 Academy Awards
ELJ: A powerful reminder of both of the impact women can have and how little their contributions are often valued! I know you have a strong interest in developing female innovators and leaders. When you look at the emerging next generation, what do you see?
SM: I am more than interested, I am passionate about the development of the next generation. If I look at the young women of today they are strong and not afraid to claim their space at the decision- making tables. They know exactly how to make their voices heard – and others are listening!
ELJ: Can you give me some examples?
SM: This February, I was at the Global Ministerial Road Safety Conference in Sweden. One of the largest delegations at that conference was the delegation of the World Youth Assembly for Road Safety. Their co-chair, Omnia El Omrani, a medical student doctor, made an impassioned plea to all present for safer and more sustainable roads and cities. She demanded “no false promises or fake commitments”. She made the very poignant point that today’s youth feel that their future is uncertain and not enough importance is given to critical issues that affect it.
If we think of sustainability, and in particular climate change, it is also a young female activist, Greta Thunberg, who has the largest following. Her message is a very simple one: listen to the climate experts and the science, and then act upon their advice.
Young women are making their voices heard
ELJ: How can the transport sector attract more girls and women?
SM: The sector is working hard on this, but there is a still a lot to do. Last year the ITFs Corporate Partnership Board organised a workshop on “Hiring and retaining a diverse workforce”. Two of the many interesting findings from that discussion were the need to address unconscious bias in the workplace and to put measures in pace that ensure diversity of applicants in the recruitment process.
To get there, the transport sector has to raise awareness about all the different types of jobs that exist in transport and mobility. We produced a video aimed at encouraging girls and women to consider a career in the transport sector, to simulate their curiosity.
One of the things I would point out is that while there is a lot of emphasis on getting girls interested in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the professions related to the STEM subjects, there are many non-STEM jobs in the transports sector, for instance in transport policy, tourism, or urban planning.
#WomenInTransport: ITF Corporate Partnership Board event on 8 March 2019
ELJ: Transport ministers and delegations from more than 70 countries attend the ITF Summit. How present will women be? Which remarkable women will ministers be hearing from at the May summit?
SM: First of all, there is an increasing number of female transport ministers. This traditionally male-dominated portfolio is led by women in ITF member countries from Albania and Austria via Italy and the Netherlands to Korea and the United Sates. They are still in a minority, but things have clearly begun to move.
At the Summit in May we’ll have a host of remarkable women speaking at our Summit. If I had to pick just one or two from that list, I would highlight Mary Robinson and Sinéad Burke, because they’re Irish and Ireland holds the ITF presidency this year.
Mary Robinson is a former President of Ireland, and she will give a keynote at eth Summit. As an Irish woman myself, I remember her election as the first female President of Ireland well. In her acceptance speech she stated: “I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system”. Since her presidency she has gone on to do other very important things in many areas, including advocating for climate change and human rights.
This article first appeared on transportpolicymatters.org
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