Women in transport

and truck drivers, and CEOs, and...
and truck drivers, and CEOs, and…

Magdalena Olczak-Rancitelli, International Transport Forum

The role of women in the transport sector is something that needs to be addressed. Women account for only 17.5% of the workforce in EU urban public transport for example, and hold less than 10% of technical and operational jobs. In the United States, women comprise only 15% of transport and related occupations and only 4.6% of commercial truck drivers are women.

Changing these numbers to achieve inclusivity and gender balance in the transport sector is a very ambitious agenda. What is transport-specific about the gender issues? What are the catalysts for change? How can different stakeholders support this aim?

These questions were at the heart of a debate during the recent International Transport Forum’s 2015 Annual Summit in Leipzig, Germany. Under the theme of “Women Shaping Mobility for a Connected World, transport ministers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, civil society and academics shared their experiences and good practices, and emphasised the message that a strong transport system depends on a vibrant and diverse workforce which includes women and men.

Closing the gender gap in the transport sector is a priority for many governments. “People should succeed because of their training, ability and commitment. Transportation will always be a major factor for all nations around the world. We will need all skilled individuals to operate and manage our networks”, highlighted the Canadian Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, for whom promoting women’s leadership is of paramount importance. Half of the senior executives in the Canadian Ministry of Transport are women, and similarly, gender parity has been achieved across the boards under the Minister’s responsibility.

For Susan Kurland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Aviation and International Affairs, “Women bring a unique perspective to the issues facing a modernising global transportation system. When women are given an equal opportunity to succeed in transportation careers they unlock new pathways for growth and profitability.” This reflects the strong engagement of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), at the highest level, to attract, retain, and advance the careers of women in the sector. The Department aims to build an economically compelling case by leveraging a growing body of research that outlines bottom-line benefits to transport systems that have greater numbers of women.

The USDOT is fully engaged in these endeavours at national level, and also international level, where it leads APEC’s Women in Transportation (WiT) initiative to increase women’s economic engagement in the transport sector throughout the region. A four-pillar approach is taken to achieve this: ensuring access to education, creating access to jobs, increasing retention, and providing a path to leadership. A data framework is being developed in the context of this initiative to enhance opportunities for women’s employment in the sector, as well as to improve the sector’s infrastructure and services to women as consumers. The results of the survey will be presented at the APEC WiT Forum and Transportation Ministerial in October 2015, in Cebu, Philippines.

But not only women are supporting stronger presence of women in the transport sector. New Zealand’s Minister of Transport Simon Bridges indicated that his government promotes parity on boards: 30 % of board members of key transport agencies in New Zealand are women. Similarly, Tunisia’s Minister of Transport, Mahmoud Ben Romdhane saw value in having more women as part of the workforce at all levels in transport, including at board level, and indicated he was proud to announce that he has appointed women as CEOs of two major transport companies – Tunisair and the national rail company SNCFT.

Also in the corporate world, leadership and role models are needed. Women in senior management positions can impact board dynamics and broaden a company’s knowledge as well as raising its profile. The effect of more women on boards can also trickle down to management and other levels in the hierarchy.

Jessica Jung, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility of Bombardier Transportation,
pointed out that in order to increase the number of women in the male-dominated transport industry, it is crucial to set specific targets, develop road maps to reach these, and implement regular monitoring. Setting targets in the recruitment process is also important. To avoid cognitive biases, Bombardier decided to ensure that a balanced gender mix of candidates is invited to the final interview round.

More women means bringing more talent to transport and a broader view conducive to innovation. For Robin Chase – founder of Zipcar, Veniam, and the author of the recently published book “Peers Inc” – diversity is vital for creativity. Robin provided the example of Lyft, a car sharing company, intended to be a more woman-friendly option than taking taxis. For Lyft, where 60% of passengers and 30% of drivers are female, gender diversity in decision making is critical to the company’s experience-based growth strategy. Fourteen of Lyft’s 30 executives at director level and above are women, and these include leaders in engineering and operations.

Women’s skills and perceptions are central to addressing different gender requirements in access to transport and mobility, as well as to safety and security. Silvia Maffii, Professor of Transport Planning at Milan Polytechnic, and co-author of the CIVITAS policy paper “Gender equality and mobility: mind the gap!” showed how women and men use transport modes differently. Often, these differences have not been taken into consideration in transport planning, neglecting problems of accessibility and safety and thus limiting women’s social participation.

Moreover, neglecting women’s preferences of transport and mobility may also limit women’s economic participation. A recent analysis carried out by US researchers shows a negative correlation between commuting time and women’s participation in the labour force. An increase of 1 minute in commuting time in metropolitan areas is associated with an approximately 0.3 percentage point decline in the women’s labour force participation – reflecting women’s mobility patterns: they do not simply commute but do a lot of additional travel.

Gender sensitive mobility planning should be also seen as an opportunity to promote urban sustainability. A study from Malmö shows that women choose sustainable alternatives to a greater extent than men. Men use cars for 48% of their transport needs, while for women the figure is 34 %. If men started travelling like women, CO2 emissions would go down by 31%, particle emissions would decrease by 21%, nitrogen emissions by 25%, and the noise level would go down by 1 decibel. Reduced negative effects on the environment, accidents and noise imply annual savings of 300 million kronor (32 million euros).

This debate proved how rich the issue of women in transport is and that the enhanced participation of women, with their unique skills and perceptions, is an opportunity that the sector cannot ignore. Next year’s Annual Summit, “Green and Inclusive Transport”, will certainly be an occasion to continue this multi-stakeholder dialogue. So, mark your agenda: 18-20 May 2016, Leipzig, Germany!

Useful links

Help shape APEC’s WiT data framework by contributing your views as private sector stakeholders: responses via survey.

Networking Breakfast “Women Shaping Mobility for a Connected World”, International Transport Forum’s 2015 Annual Summit in Leipzig

OECD work on gender

Key data on gender equality

Unsuitable for wives and servants?

Only one of us still goin' strong, Bobby Baby

Apart from the OECD and the Bobby Darin Dream Car, this year marks two other major anniversaries, both linked to books: the publication of the King James Bible in 1611 and DH Lawrence’s  Lady Chatterley in 1961.

By the time you get to the end of this article, I hope to have thought of an OECD link for the KJB, but for the torrid tale of her ladyship and the hired help, there are a couple of possibilities, the first and most obvious being the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.

In 1930, this raised import duties on thousands of items coming into the US and is now widely condemned as having made the Great Depression worse, since America’s trading partners retaliated. President Hoover said that the Smoot-Hawley Act was “vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious”.  Today of course, what you’d be more likely to get is something like: “While we share the concerns of Senators Smoot and Hawley, we feel more discussion is required on certain aspects of their proposed solution”.

That said, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría was less mealy-mouthed the other day at the OECD Global Forum on Trade  when he talked about the “phantom of protectionism again showing its ugly face”. Smoot himself could actually be quite entertainingly odious. He opposed an amendment to his Act that would have stopped US customs from censoring “obscene” books using Lady Chatterley as an example, explaining that it had been written by a “man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell”.

Lawrence’s book was published in 1928 in Italy, but the first unexpurgated version was not openly published in the UK until 1960, and in November it was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act (as it would be in similar trials in many other countries). The defence was based on the literary merits of the work, but the turning point for many people was when  chief prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones asked the jury if “they would let their wife or servants read” this kind of book. Apparently they would, and the book was published again without a problem early in 1961. 

Griffith-Jones’ question was outrageous even by the standards of 50 years ago, so has much changed since? Attitudes to sex and sexism have certainly evolved, and women have improved their lives in some respects. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2010, the 134 countries covered, representing over 90% of the world’s population, have closed almost 96% of the gap regarding health between women and men and almost 93% of the gap regarding education. However, only 59% of the economic gap has been closed and the figure for political rights and representation is even worse, at only 18%. A report on the OECD Gender Initiative also talks about “persistent inequalities”.

How about your staff? For much of the 19th and part of the 20th century, domestic service was the main job in the urban areas of advanced economies. Manufacturing employment rose and fell, and now services are once again the main sector in OECD countries and elsewhere. The gap between masters and servants (or their modern equivalents) hasn’t closed much though, and in fact it’s been widening.

Movements like Occupy Wall Street in the US or the Indignados in Spain are one manifestation of the sentiment that even when there is progress, the rich get more than their fair share. To return to Gurría’s  speech to the trade conference, he pointed out that thanks to NAFTA, his home country Mexico has annual exports “close to 300 billion dollars a year, becoming one of the top exporters in the world. But the benefits of NAFTA need to be better distributed.” According to this OECD report on the two decades before the crisis, “In a large majority of OECD countries, household incomes of the top 10% grew faster than those of the poorest 10%, leading to widening income inequality.”

So, it’s still dream cars for some and increasingly overcrowded buses for the rest.

How about that link between the King James Bible and the OECD I promised you? Well, the best I can do is that it the King James translation was actually done by a (seriously underfunded) committee and when we were preparing our booklet on the OECD 50th Anniversary, one of the invited contributions started: ”One of the most exciting things about the OECD is the impressive range of its committees”. I think some thrill-averse subeditor deleted that bit though, so if you can think of anything better, let us know.

Useful links

OECD work on trade

OECD work on gender


OECD work on income distribution and poverty

Chinese demography: One child, many consequences

Photo courtesy of Jacques Bron

Coinciding with the China Development Forum in Beijing, the Insights blog is focusing on China this week

How many wedding dresses does it take to change the world economy? That’s right, lots. And how? High saving rates in certain countries, notably China, contributed to housing price bubbles and the global financial crisis. Shang-Jin Wei of Columbia Business School and Xiaobo Zhang of IFPRI have an intriguing explanation as to why China’s saving rate is so high (around 50% of GDP in 2007 just before the crisis started): blame it on the brides.

Or rather, blame it on “competitive saving”, one of the unintended consequences of the one-child policy, introduced in 1978 to slow population growth. The government claims that thanks to the policy, the population is three to four hundred million fewer than it would have been, but since families prefer boys, many of the missing millions are girls, including victims of female infanticide and sex-selective abortions.

The normal ratio of boys to girls is around 106:100, an evolutionary corrective for the fact that male babies are more likely to die. In China, however, the ratio is much higher. The exact figure is not known, but estimates range from 119:100 to over 130.

What is known though, is that there are now tens of millions more young men of marriageable age than women. So to improve their son’s chances, a family saves to be able to buy a nicer, better furnished house than rivals and give the young newly-weds a good start in life. According to Wei and Zhang, even families who don’t have a son to marry off have save as much, since prices are driven up. Families with sons save more than those with daughters, and savings rates are higher in regions with higher gender imbalances.

Another unintended consequence is the rapid ageing of the population. In 1975, just before the one-child policy started, there were six children for every person aged over 60. By 2035, there will be two over-60s for every child. Population ageing is happening all over the world, but it is happening much earlier in China’s economic development than in OECD countries.

As Richard Jackson and his colleagues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies point out, when the elderly share of the population was the same in the US as it is China today, per capita income was four times what China’s is at present. Some Chinese express the fear that the country will grow old before it grows rich.

China’s growth has depended on what some media like to call limitless supplies of cheap labour. But the working-age population will peak in 2015, and will shrink by almost a quarter by 2050, with an even sharper decline for people in their 20s and 30s. Total population will still grow, because people will live longer, and China will have an older population than the US in 2050.

Given that this elderly population will not be able to count on large numbers of children to support them, how will they live? The government’s goal is universal coverage for the basic pension system by 2020 and it has also taken a number of steps to encourage schemes to complement this.

Yet public pension coverage remains far from universal, and has large unfunded liabilities for early retirees from the state-owned sector. Moreover, benefits are not fully portable, so workers often have to choose between job mobility and retirement security, and the rate of return on personal pension plans is too low to replace a salary.

At the same time, the decline in the working-age population may allow employees to negotiate better pensions as part of their pay packages. Labour shortages have already been reported in some regions, partly because rural migrants who went home during the worst of the recession don’t want to come back. Last week, the Guangzhou Daily reported that the local authorities had raised the minimum wage from 860 yuan to 1030, a higher rate than Beijing even.

All this is leading to calls to abandon the one-child policy. Especially since China is now suffering from a phenomenon that has cursed every country that ever existed at every epoch in world history – kids today are not as nice as us. Or, as the People’s Daily complained last month: the one-child policy is breeding brats.

Useful links

China in the 2010s: Rebalancing growth and strengtheneing social safety nets

2010 年代的中国:经济增长再平衡和强化社会安全网 (Chinese version)

OECD work on China

The OECD’s Chinese-language site – 网站(中文)

China at the OECD Development Centre

Photos by Jacques Bron