International Women’s Day: Women making inroads into this ‘man’s world’ – Alastair Dalton

Catherine Topley was appointed chief executive of Scottish Canals last year. Picture: Peter Devlin
Catherine Topley was appointed chief executive of Scottish Canals last year. Picture: Peter Devlin
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Women are taking increasingly significant roles across Scottish transport, being promoted to positions previously the preserve of men.

However, they are still hugely under-represented at every level in this crucial sector, which touches virtually all of us as travellers every day.

Today’s International Women’s Day seems like it will feature fewer of the usual publicity stunts by the likes of airlines highlighting all-female flights, when a better gender balance should not be the exception to the rule.

Some may question Alaska Airlines’ tie-up with the latest superhero blockbuster, Captain Marvel, which features Brie Larson’s character emblazoned across the fuselage of one of its planes.

But it does mark - finally - Marvel’s first female super hero lead. As the airline’s marketing chief Natalie Bowman put it: “We’re excited to showcase a pilot who’s risen to super hero status - an image that embodies strength and confidence and inspires future aviators across our expansive network to go further.”

Scotland may not have any female airline chiefs, and Amanda McMillan, who ran the Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports group has moved on.

However, there have been significant appointments in other areas, with Syeda Ghufran last summer becoming ScotRail’s first female engineering director.

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Having joined the operator from university as a management trainee nine years ago, she has talked of wanting to change perceptions and encourage more young women to consider engineering “as a viable and rewarding career”.

In a further positive sign, half of ScotRail’s latest engineering apprentices are female, albeit there is a big inbalance to address.

A second important development was former Scottish Prison Service and Scottish Police Authority executive Catherine Topley becoming chief executive of Scottish Canals.

She has a keen awareness of the waterways’ potential to improve people’s lives, from youngsters learning boating skills and elderly people getting the chance to enjoy green space to opportunities for deprived communities along the banks.

READ MORE: Alastair Dalton: The vested interest blocking cuts to air pollution

Other high-profile women who provide key role models include the managers of Scotland’s two busiest stations, Juliet Donnachie at Edinburgh Waverley and Susan Holden at Glasgow Central.

The latter’s profile will be raised by being featured in a six-part series on the station which started on the new BBC Scotland channel last Sunday.

However, Scotland’s railways - and the rest of transport - still has far to go.

Only one in five of ScotRail’s 5,000-strong workforce are women. There’s the same disparity across transport despite women accounting for nearly half the working population.

Women’s influence in the sector has never been as important considering they use the two most popular forms of transport more than men.

Slightly more travel to work by car (68 per cent against 67 per cent) and women are the majority of bus passengers - 58 per cent.

In addition, more women have driving licences than a decade ago - 64 per cent in 2017 compared to 59 per cent ten years before.

But there are also areas of transport where females are under-represented.

Only 2 per cent cycle to work - half as many as men, and only 0.4 per cent of girls cycle to school, compared to 1.4 per cent of boys.