One of 2019's most popular books addresses gender bias in planning and decision-making. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a Worls Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez, exposes a simple truth about bias in our societal structures. She delivers many examples to illustrate that a simple underrepresentation of women in decision making and research, translate to the design of systems that do not meet their particular needs. Engineers make decisions every day based on data. Is our data delivering the full picture?
A colleague of mine and fellow transportation researcher recently delivered a speech at TedX Amsterdam about gendered transportation systems. Women's daily mobility patterns have traditionally differed from mens' (1). While this is changing, there are still important differences. More complex trip chains and less regular commuting patterns, that are not adequately catered for in the planning of our transportation networks. Caroline Perez of Invisible Women provides a fantastic example of this point. A city in Sweden changed its snow ploughing priorities in favour of minor roads instead of major roads. The minor roads were used more frequently by women to carry out daily errands. The effect was a significant reduction in accidents and healthcare costs associated with women’s harm from unsafe sidewalk access (2).
This is not just a matter that concerns women. At a conference I recently attended, Transforming Transportation, a question was raised about the fairness of designing 'walkable' streets that did not consider different abilities. In response, Maria Vassilakou, former Deputy Mayor of Vienna, answered “Walkability presupposes that you have an optimal division between public transport and public space. A city that does not provide links for different access needs is not walkable enough”. Is your city truly walkable?
One way to ensure engineers are designing an inclusive city is to ensure diversity in out teams. Unfortunately, statistics suggest there is an entrenched imbalance in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) professions.
"Studies show that women researchers are squeezed out of science careers by structural barriers. The loss of such expertise is a significant waste of knowledge, talent and investment." (3)
I am proud to work in the Engineering Department of a University that encourages employees to be personally accountable for ensuring diverse faces are seen, and voices heard, in every forum. Monash University encourages its staff to agree to the 10 Principles of the Athena Swan Charter (4). The Charter is a useful call to action for staff, and a valuable point of reference for embedding diversity and inclusion in organisations.
ITE leadership is also taking important steps towards offering value for a diversity of members. I am heartened and inspired each time I read about a woman in ITE's journey with the organisation in a social media post. The next great leap, and one that is not automatic, is ensuring events, forums and resources are inclusive, which means delivering on the needs of diverse members in a way that is respectful to all.
This is not a linear journey. Often in our haste and enthusiasm to share ideas, the loudest voices are heard and these may sometimes lack diversity. It is up to each and every ITE member to seek different voices, quiet voices, voices of women who may be juggling so many balls that while she might have a story to tell, she doesn't have the time to find her platform. It's up to us to find these people, and give them a platform. It is also important to ensure a diversity of expertise and stakeholders are heard. Long gone are the days where transportation was the domain of engineers. Only by seeking out diverse perspectives can we deliver inclusive transportation networks that fully harness available knowledge, talent and investment.
1 - Yamini J. Singh, 2018, “The gender gap affects women's access to key activities”, TEDxAmsterdamWomen. https://youtu.be/6Z2rhkVJK7k
2 -99pi, 2019, "Invisible Women", [podcast]. https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/invisible-women/
3 - Science in Australia gender Equity 2016, "Gender Equity in STEMM". https://www.sciencegenderequity.org.au/gender-equity-in-stem/
4 - Science in Australia Gender Equity 2020, "The Athena SWAN Accreditation Framework". https://www.sciencegenderequity.org.au/the-athena-swan-accreditation-framework/