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Equality, diversity and inclusion: three perspectives from the frontline

Tom van Vuren chaired one of the sessions at last month’s Local Transport Summit, exploring “how do we better reflect the diversity of our places and their people in transport planning and in our own organisations?” The panellists were Jo Field, president of Women in Transport; Sharon Kindleysides, founder of the Women in ITS Special Interest Group; and Hanif Khan, transport portfolio holder for Hounslow Borough Council. Here, Tom van Vuren reports on their responses to his questions

16 December 2021
Hanif Khan
Hanif Khan
Sharon Kindleysides
Sharon Kindleysides
Jo Field
Jo Field

 

Tom van Vuren: It must sometimes be disheartening to promote equality and diversity, with change happening slowly. But what are positive messages: things that are going well? 

Hanif Khan: From a Hounslow perspective, I think we do a good job hiring from within the borough. Hounslow is one of London’s most diverse boroughs, home to speakers of almost 200 different languages. We have graduate posts and apprenticeships in our transport planning and delivery teams, which allow young people to access the sector whether they have a degree or not.  

Working for a local authority, there are opportunities to get involved in projects from day one. This hands-on experience naturally leads to progression within the borough but also elsewhere. My point is that if we can get more people from a range of backgrounds into the sector early on in their careers, we stand a good chance of seeing that carry through. This takes time, but we are trying to do things to move us in the right direction, such as implementing flexible working, using more inclusive and accessible job descriptions and having diverse interview panels. Reverse mentoring and coaching help with career progression. One thing I feel strongly about is raising the profile of transport outside the sector for example providing work experience to local schools.

Jo Field: I have recently noticed a greater focus on engaging seldom-heard groups in the development of transport projects. I know first-hand that inclusive transport planning demands the co-creation of plans with all stakeholders, which relies on meaningful engagement from the early stages of project development. It is vital those with the loudest voices don’t disproportionately shape decision-making, and enough resource is directed towards engaging sections of the population traditionally underrepresented in planning and consultation processes. 

Thankfully, there is evidence of a shift in the right direction – from the use of consumer classification tools to identify postcodes with the highest likelihoods of social exclusion to the changing terminology whereby ‘seldom-heard’ is replacing ‘hard to reach’. There’s still a way to go, but the recent signs have been promising.

Sharon Kindleysides: I noticed this year especially how Pride was celebrated and a number of companies in the sector openly celebrated their LGBTQ colleagues. This was lovely to see and it is fantastic that so many individuals are so willing to step up as role models and mentors. I do look forward to a day when we can simply celebrate the fabulousness of Pride and that an individual’s sexuality is as accepted as intrinsic as their eye colour!

TVV: Thinking of the Hall of Shame: where are you most disappointed? What equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies or interventions should by now really have been put in place? 

SK: Progress is certainly being made at a junior level, albeit slowly, but still management roles seem to be inhabited by ‘middle aged white men’. Recruiters are often the worst offenders, playing safe in putting candidates forward for roles that fit the stereotype, and only interviewing the token woman or person of colour. 

We can do better: serious approaches to blind recruiting need to be implemented at all levels, skills-based assessments and innovative ways of overcoming unconscious bias. The worst case I have personally seen was for a senior level job with a technology company who stated that there were no “stuffy suits in the organisation” and that it was a “jeans and T-shirts company”, giving the message in only a few words that they were looking for a man for the role.

JF: Taking a broad look – and a topical one, given Equal Pay Day was on 18 November – one of the areas that should be high on the ‘to do list’ are specific measures to combat the gender pay gap. 

The continued existence of a gender pay gap cuts to the heart of many EDI issues in the workplace: a lack of diversity in senior leadership, a lack of investment in the professional development of women, non-inclusive workplace cultures, and a neglect of problematic recruitment and retention practices. 

The first point – a widespread lack of senior women in leadership positions – is a theme that came up consistently in a survey carried out by Women in Transport and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Transport earlier this year on the gender perceptions and experiences of people working in the transport industry. 

Three-quarters of women surveyed believed it is easier for men to progress their careers compared to women. 

Measures that will help to close the gap include establishing inclusive recruitment practices (such as inclusive job descriptions, removing personal details from CVs and having diverse interview panels), resourcing gender equality staff network groups, and establishing reverse mentoring programmes to pair male senior leaders with women in junior roles.

TVV: Someone said to me a while back that if you solve gender-related problems in transport, you help 50% of the population. To what extent does that also help, say, disabled travellers or ethnic minorities, or the LGBTQI community? How can we ensure that positive actions benefit all underrepresented groups? 

JF: I firmly believe that designing transport systems to be inclusive of certain groups of users can have a positive impact for everyone. I often use the example of designing transport networks for disabled people to illustrate this. Lifts, ramps and wide aisle ticket gates, for instance, will not only benefit disabled people but those with prams and luggage, or rush-hour commuters. 

The same applies to gender; Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women discusses how most urban transport networks are designed around commutes from the outer part of a city to the centre, rather than between places on the outskirts.

This bias disproportionately impacts women, who are less likely to make linear commutes due to their (often) greater share of domestic responsibilities, such as dropping children off at school. 

Designing for women’s needs in this instance – better peripheral transport links – can create new travel opportunities for all users of the network. This is why having diverse workforces to spot trends of exclusion can not only make transport planning more inclusive, but improve everyone’s experience of the network. 

Another point I would like to make is the importance of taking an intersectional approach to tackle any gender-related problems. Intersectionality recognises that different aspects of someone’s background will overlap to shape their lived experience, so while there will be commonalities in the experiences of, say, Black women and white women, we should not conflate their lived experiences. 

Referring back to Women in Transport’s research into the perceptions and experiences of women working in transport, only 9% of women felt that women from ethnic minority backgrounds didn’t experience any additional difficulties in career progression. Taking an intersectional approach means you will not only be able to tackle gender-related problems more effectively, but you will also be on the way to understanding and tackling problems that affect underrepresented groups of all genders.

HK: I agree. To solve gender-related problems in transport, we need to hear from and involve the people who encounter them. But we aren’t solely defined by our gender. Our identities are multi-faceted, making my lived experience different to that of the next person. Intersectionality also means that every one of the same gender won’t experience a given problem in the same way, so the more viewpoints we can get in the ‘transport planning room’, the better.  

SK: Different groups have different needs in a transport environment. Measures to help some groups are easier to implement than others and there are some overlaps. A safe transport system will be welcoming to anyone who worries about abuse or harassment in public for whatever reason. 

Solutions designed for physical impairment will also be of benefit to those whose mobility may be temporarily restricted for a variety of reasons. Solutions that help the unbanked will also help those who may have lost their bank card and so on. 

But it is vitally important that all communities are engaged with and that these engagements are organised in a way that people feel at ease and that social, cultural and other aspects are considered when designing the engagement for example by liaising with a wide range of voluntary and charitable bodies who work with these groups and communities. 

TVV: I wonder if, like BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic], EDI has become too much of a mop-up term and now that as a profession we have raised awareness, we must move towards equality, diversity and inclusion as separate issues with separate approaches? Can lack of inclusion be resolved by measures that aim to tackle lack of diversity and vice versa? Or are they quite different? 

JF: I would not dispense with the ‘EDI’ tag altogether given how strategically interlinked the three elements of equality, diversity and inclusion are. The most illustrative example of this is that of recruitment and retention. 

Diversity goals are not only met through recruitment practices, as is often thought, but through the retention of people already in the workforce. 

Effective retention means having a genuinely inclusive working culture with ample opportunity for people of all backgrounds to feel they belong, to be themselves and to thrive. 

As Vern? Myers famously said: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Nonetheless, it is true that the organisations claiming to be making strides in EDI make up a very broad church, including those who are attempting to transform their working practices, as well as those who are using those claims as cover for a lack of change. Therefore, we should value equality, diversity and inclusion as distinct – if interlinked – goals. 

SK: There is an overlap between inclusion and diversity, but not always. For example, access to rural transport or digital services is less about diversity in its traditional sense and more about designing solutions in a way that doesn’t exclude groups of people at the outset: only accepting online payments excludes both the unbanked and those with poor internet connectivity. 

Ability to work from home involves similar issues: being inclusive offers a range of working solutions to all and allows the individual to choose; being diverse might include providing workstations for home or office use that can be used by people with a range of impairments. 

The range of working solutions and potential ability to work from home could also be of benefit for example to those with conditions that made travelling or working in an office environment difficult. It is multi-faceted. 

HK: I would sum it up like this: Equality means treating people fairly and giving people the same chances. Diversity is a mix of different kinds of people. 

For example, men and women, young and older adults, people of different races, disabled and non-disabled people, gay and straight people. Inclusion means that everyone can take part and have the same chances. Respecting and enjoying a wide range of cultural and individual differences demonstrates that diversity is inclusion.

TVV: Having started talking about terminology, is it sufficient to just strive for equality, or do we need to aim for equity, recognizing that underrepresented groups need extra support, to reach equality, to overcome privilege, certainly in the workforce?

SK: I am personally against quotas and shortlists that have tick boxes for types of candidates to be interviewed. It is absolutely soul-destroying to have an interview just because a candidate of a certain type is needed, without there being any intention to actually appoint them. 

There should be support for under-represented groups to help them feel confident in applying for roles and promotions on their own merit. A step forward is by training HR and senior managers in recognising talent and supporting those individuals to go for jobs – not just take notice of the noisy or outgoing members of staff. 

Many cultures and women in general believe that if you work hard, you will be noticed and promoted and that simply isn’t the case. Having a policy within an organisation of alerting individuals to roles that might be relevant goes a long way to improving someone’s confidence in applying for that role. I would also be critical about what qualifications are required for a role. 

Yes, some positions will need a degree qualified civil engineer, but many other, more general management positions could successfully be filled by someone with experience rather than a formal education helping those from a poorer or challenged background succeed.

JF: The end goal remains equality, so it is valid to continue talking in those terms. But equity is definitely a useful way of thinking about how we can achieve equality by recognising that different groups still require different levels of support based on their experiences of systemic disadvantage. 

Much of what we do at Women in Transport has equity in mind; we were founded on the recognition that women of all backgrounds deserve extra support often not afforded to them in the workplace. 

Returning to the barriers facing women when it comes to career progression, Women in Transport have set up the Lead programme to specifically help support women into senior roles. We are firmly supportive of equity-focused action through initiatives that are both internal and external to the workplace. 

Equality will not be achieved overnight, and recognising the value of equity in the interim is vital to addressing inequality.

The Transport Planning Society’s Transport Planning Day focus for this year was Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and resources including webinar recording and blogs can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOfAWpz4crcz7vv55lnCznA and here: https://tps.org.uk/transport-planning-day-and-campaign/read-our-blogs

Landor and the Urban Transport Group sponsor Gender on the Agenda. Find out more here: https://www.urbantransportgroup.org/media-centre/gender-agenda-webinar-series

Tom van Vuren is chair of Modelling World. He is the regional director, UK & Europe for Veitch Lister Consulting, a visiting professor at the University of Leeds and a board director of the Transport Planning Society 

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