A place for quotas in the transport sector?

On 23 February 2017, WTS London brought together a panel of experts to discuss the role of quotas in supporting the advancement of women in transport, with an audience of over 90 women and men from across the sector.

The panel debate included Mark Wild, Managing Director of London Underground - responsible for a workforce that supports over a billion Tube journeys a year; Valerie Todd CBE, Talent and Resource Director at Crossrail - celebrated for bucking the trend on gender diversity for Europe's largest construction project; and Vicky Pryce, economist and commentator and author of 'Why Women Need Quotas'.

All three speakers, saw a place for quotas in supporting women in a sector where only 22 per cent* of the workforce is female, but had different ideas about how they should be implemented and at what level. 

Another clear theme was the need to continue to challenge workplace culture in transport. Equal pay, flexible working, shared parental leave and zero tolerance to bias or discrimination were seen as key to creating a positive environment for all.

Change needs to be led by the very top of the transport industry but there should be dialogue between men and women at all levels on how to improve diversity. 

Jon White, UK Managing Director of Turner & Townsend, who hosted the event said: "As an industry, we are on a journey towards diversity but there is more still to do. We must work together to continue addressing the gender balance through raising awareness and promoting the positive impact it provides to organisations and the construction sector."

Commenting on the need for quotas Valerie Todd said:  "We shy away from debating the use of quotas in employment because we have convinced ourselves it undermines meritocracy. Quotas can help rectify women’s under-representation and make it entirely normal for women to take up any role suited to their skills, abilities and ambitions; making quotas consistent with a barrier free meritocratic system." 

Talking of Women in Transport (and the men that support it too), Vicky Pryce said "They have impressed me with their complete determination to drive equality in the workspace and also with what has already been achieved in this area. I hope that they can all serve as role models so that many more women enter and stay in the sector which is crying out for greater engineering and wider skills." 

At the end of the panel discussion, Camilla Ween, President of WTS London concluded:  "I have to admit that I have been a sceptic, feeling that surely in a sophisticated democracy we can achieve parity without quotas.  The arguments have been compelling and I have now changed my mind, but it is clear that this cultural change in the workplace will be difficult and we need to support that change."

* EU Transport Scoreboard 2016

WTS London has a great line up of events including our Autumn Reception on 19 September 2017 where we will be addressing the skills gap for the next generation of major infrastructure projects with Sir Terry Morgan, Chairman of Crossrail, as our guest speaker.