Bridging the gap with women in urban mobility

The EU-wide network has built a strong community of female leaders but more work needs to be done

More women are needed in the urban planning and mobility sectors, especially in management positions – Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash 

Although women are the main users of public transport and other forms of urban mobility, their role as planners, city leaders, and engineers, is still limited. “Mobility was and is often designed by men, but most users are females. This is not logical and we need to fill this gap," acknowledged Joan Maria Bigas, head of the mobility, transport and sustainability area of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB).

To this end, EIT Urban Mobility has been working with UnternehmenTUM, CARNET, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and JA Bulgaria to establish and grow the Women in Urban Mobility network. 

Apart from raising awareness about the challenges of making the sector more gender-diverse and ways to overcome those, the community encourages women to gain essential skills in the sector, enter the sector at leadership levels, and provides a space for female peers to network and find support. It also welcomes male counterparts that champion their cause. This year, it also began offering online training courses.

Kshitija Desai, a business development manager at Skyroads, an urban air mobility start-up in Germany, was keen to enrol in the course. In her company, she's the only one of the four women there who has a technical background. With a degree in mechanical engineering and business administration, Desai is used to being in the minority, having studied with only six other women in her class of 70 students in total, and knows that the aviation sector has traditionally been male-dominated. Things are changing she said, but women still need to be encouraged and learn how to speak up and be heard.

Desai's experience is not unique.

Looking at trends of some technical employment sectors in urban mobility, much work remains to be done. Polis estimates that only 20% of Europe's transport workforce are women, and while recent figures show that the gender gap between male and female scientists and engineers in Europe is closing, some sectors remain underrepresented.

According to a Eurostat article from February this year, only 22% of scientists and engineers employed in the manufacturing sector are women. There are also disparities across countries and regions. 

Yet there are also signs of major progress. In Bulgaria, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, Denmark, Spain, and Portugal, the majority of scientists and engineers are women. Plus, the trend shows that women will continue to increase their presence in these fields. 

Making sure salaries are equal for men and women is also crucial to attract and retain qualified women as the gender gap in pay could be one reason why some women choose not to enter the sector in the first place. New Scientist magazine reported that female engineers and scientists earn 19% less on average than their male counterparts in the EU. This reflected similar patterns in the U.K. and the U.S. with gaps of 20% and 11% respectively.

Furthermore, concerns about women's safety in public spaces, longer trip times, more affordable and accessible public transport, and accounting for their needs as carers, are other important reasons to advocate for more women decision-makers in urban mobility.

Oliva García, chief research and development officer at Nommon Technologies, explains how the multi-tasking nature of day-to-day life for many female carers affects their mobility patterns.

“The movements of people in charge of caring for others or of the household are specific and complex. When caring for someone the accessibility … becomes more complicated. Think for example of a woman taking care of a child or a person with special needs or carrying a trolley that has to climb staircases or has to make a series of connections to get from origin to destination … We really need to consider accessibilities and reduce the number of connections," García said.

According to the European Institute on Gender Equality (EIGE), a European Parliament resolution from 2012 declares “that it is necessary to introduce more walking and cycling routes and shorter distances to services to improve women’s transport opportunities."

Bigas is one male champion advocating for such change. “Most of the users of the public transport are women. Therefore, the most important challenge to close the gap is to project, even to force, women’s perspectives in the design and configuration of public transport," he said.

More female planners could make cycling routes more user-friendly at night for women – Photo by Lennart Schneider on Unsplash

That's exactly what the new online training course, Female Innovators in Urban Mobility, aims to do. The six modules cover how to negotiate better and core innovation competencies.

A total of 22 people have enrolled in the course and already undertaken two of the six modules. Participants hail from the mobility industry including shared taxi service companies and the urban air mobility sector, as well as professionals from research institutes, start-ups and universities.

For Desai, the sky's the limit. So far, she's found the practical workshops on applying design-thinking approaches to mobility interesting and fun, as well as learning about the urgent need to adopt new ways of moving to conserve energy or use it more efficiently. “It was also very exciting to learn from the experts who shared their experiences about how they are working towards more sustainable mobility and more innovative mobility; that was quite inspiring," added Desai.

In the upcoming modules, she's keen to apply what she'll learn from the sales and negotiation sessions, and curious to know more about being an authentic leader – which even she admits is a buzzword these days – but sees herself in a senior leadership role in her company in the future and wants to hear the experiences from current female leaders. For Desai and her female peers, involving women in all facets of transport and mobility is common sense, but considerable change is needed before gender parity across the mobility sector is achieved at all levels.

To learn more about the online course, the initiative's partners and mission, and to register for one of their events, please visit the Women in Urban Mobility website.