Here’s a think-piece written by Suzanne Iuppa, one of our Co-ordinators- inspired by the Women in Transport in Wales event in the Senedd in early March. Read in full below….
Transport: The Mobility Sector? by Suzanne Iuppa, for Renew Wales.
Suzanne has worked for 25 years as a community worker in Wales, specialising in environmental conservation, arts and wellbeing. She brings this experience forward to support Renew Wales’ work as North Powys Co-ordinator.
In a special reception at the Senedd on the 11th of March, just when the health impacts of coronavirus were starting to become evident in the UK, Ken Skates AM announced a new Working Group on Transport Diversity in Wales. The Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales revealed plans to attract more women and under-represented groups to consider a career in transport.
The Women in Transport event, held to celebrate International Women’s Day, was hosted by Christine Boston, Director for Wales at the Community Transport Association and featured a panel discussion of female and male engineers, transport managers and designers from our Transport For Wales network, local community car schemes and Sustrans. The panel was introduced by Jo Foxall, award-winning Managing Director at Traveline Cymru, who started with the company in a junior role and worked through the ranks, and whose husband works at home to help provide their family’s childcare. Good to know!
I went along as a community worker and conservationist who has also worked in health and social care in Powys, who understands the health and income inequalities faced by women in my rural county and how those are inextricably linked to lack of transport. Renew Wales has been supporting Open Newtown, an environmental regeneration agency, to start low carbon car schemes, so people can hire EVs (Electric Vehicles), send lifts for people can’t drive through our community car schemes, or share journeys. The low cost of electricity compared to petrol fuel, both in terms of our personal budgets and cost to the planet, make the dawn of EVs an exciting chance to develop public mobility platforms using cars, instead of going down the same old consumerist model of private ownership. Developing our plan for this type of flexible community-owned public transport also levers in grant funding to improve our public charging network in Wales.
Topics – such as the need for equal pay, overtime arrangements, rest days and part-time working – were discussed in the event but uncomfortable discussions were had too. Talented female engineers and managers talked about facing gaslighting in male-dominated workplaces, sexist remarks and being told there was no budget for their development or training. All the while working doubly hard to develop suitable and exciting career pathways to support not only themselves, but their family members and anyone else in the community they care for – 58% of the 7 million carers in the UK are female.
My question for the panel, ‘Will the current need to develop low-carbon transport open up new opportunities for women?’ interestingly, drew a blank. I wanted to hear how our zero-carbon revolution offered equality in the workplace for new leaders, policy professionals, engineers and designers. Currently 1 in 5 people working in transport are women, making up 20% of the workforce, while the majority of people using daytime buses, trains, and ringing for community cars – at least in Powys, which makes up all of mid Wales – are females, and disabled adults. Hold that thought.
New careers in transport, which was described strikingly by one attendee as “the invisible sector”, now stand a chance to be packaged as rewarding and meaningful by providing a solution-based focus to our climate crisis. For the first time large corporations in the energy, technology and services sectors are joining forces to trial EV fleets for delivering our post or checking our smart meters. If we look at the diversity of people represented in the climate protests worldwide, and the impact transport has on our harmful emissions -the sector is responsible for 33% here in the UK- it is easy to imagine the migration and flourishing of diverse talent to transport solutions; if political will is a back-stop. This will make our greener transport sector in Wales sustainable financially and systemically able to pay real wages and help more families move out of poverty. We have just had our transport needs radically disrupted and NOW is the time to put our lowest-possible, nearest-to-zero-carbon brilliance at the forefront of transport development. Diversity, social justice and equality in the workforce will follow. How do i know this? I’ve seen it and experienced it first-hand, in the public consultation for our Powys shared-EV transport platform.
I’ve held corporate workshops, Chat n’ Chips events at local pubs, community engagement sessions and spoken to people while they are bringing items to Repair Cafes. Engagement sessions have been held in different times, venues and locations with nearly 100 attendees thus far. This topic has without fail attracted an equal proportion of men and women. Men have wanted to talk about the structure of the community business, the technology of the cars and the software we will be using. Women are coming to see if they can be a one-car family through occasional EV use, or if they can use the EVs to get to work in a very rural environment, so that the rest of the time, they may not need a car at all. All the participants ask questions, want to imagine the system and how it would work, and want to talk about the financial case. All have been very emotional when talking about their wish to travel with the least impact on the planet possible. All have expressed a need for safety, accessibility and reliability to be built into this travel system and that safety is a basic requirement; which is very poignant considering the danger our key workers in the transport sector face today, from COVID-19.
After recent unprecedented circumstances, we are now moving into a recovery position with our economy and trade. According to The Bevan Foundation (April 2020) one in six people in the Welsh workforce have lost their income due to coronavirus. This is uncharted territory, but it is also a chance for system innovation and women should be fully involved in re-design. It is recognised internationally by aid organisations that women should be central to recovery planning after crisis; that they can identify risks to resilience for themselves and for girls that may not be understood by male planners. They can also help build security for their families, including increased income or awareness of personal preparedness and health.
Will more women be recruited into transport now, as we ‘reopen for business’ as part of a low-carbon future?