Women in Nordic ITS: How can we promote gender equality in the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) sector? 

In the area of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), like in so many transport-related sectors, gender inequality extends beyond mere wage gaps and under-representation in leadership roles. These disparities are deeply ingrained in societal norms and values. 

“If women’s norms were reflected in the whole transport sector, it is estimated we could reduce our transport CO2 emissions by 30%,“ said Christian Dymén, Team Leader for social sustainability at Trivector Traffic – a partner of EIT Urban Mobility – at an event in Copenhagen. He underlined the pivotal role that gender diversity plays in fostering more sustainable transport. 

“Unconscious bias in transport and mobility reproduces privilege and subordination,“ said Hilda Rømer Christensen, associated professor and head of the Coordination for Gender Research at University of Copenhagen. As an example, she mentioned the fact that our society is dominated by the car, which is used more often (and for longer distances) by men than by women. 

On 30 November and 1 December, EIT Urban Mobility and Trivector Traffic convened representatives from Nordic and Baltic ITS associations for a workshop to discuss the challenges of gender diversity and equality in the transport sector and how gender disparities are affected by cultural norms and values. 

Drawing on years of research, Hilda Rømer Christensen emphasised the need for an intersectional perspective to design a more equitable transport sector. An intersectional approach considers factors such as gender, sexuality, age, social class and ethnicity. Christensen presented findings from her research showing that municipalities that have politicians with more diverse backgrounds, both in terms of gender and ethnicity, often are more progressive on these issues. 

Examining the Swedish context, Christian Dymén underscored that gender disparities within transportation are deeply rooted in societal attitudes and values, including for the decision-makers who influence transport policy. Surprisingly, women in leadership positions within the transport sector still often make decisions according to so-called “technical masculinities,“ norms that are based on economic rationality and top-down decision-making – perhaps because such norms have dominated transport policy-making for decades. 

Dymén concluded that the transport system’s organisation depends heavily on the values and standards that influence decision-making processes. 

The two-day workshop in Copenhagen helped kick off the Women in Nordic ITS (WIN-ITS) project of EIT Urban Mobility and Trivector Traffic. This new project, which is funded by Nordic Council of Ministers, will investigate gender diversity and equality within the ITS sector and help establish a network among women that work in Nordic and Baltic ITS associations. 

The workshop provided a space for participants to discuss and reflect on the impact of values in their own organisations, emphasising the need for concrete efforts to promote gender diversity in ITS. Challenges were highlighted, particularly the dual struggle of women in a male-dominated environment who need to overcome normative hurdles while advocating for change. One very concrete issue raised during the workshop is that women invited to speak as experts often tend to pass on the invitation to “more senior,” often male, colleagues. 

The discussion concluded with a question: What new norms are needed to promote a gender-diverse ITS sector? To explore the challenge further, EIT Urban Mobility and Trivector Traffic will distribute a survey to investigate and collect data on gender diversity among organisations that work with ITS in the Nordic and Baltic region. The results of this study will be published in spring 2024. 

The Women in Nordic ITS (WIN-ITS) project is co-funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, EIT Urban Mobility, Trivector Traffic and other project parties.