Alastair Dalton: Female role models needed to make transport better for all

It must be one of the most male-dominated industries whose customers are at least 50 per cent women.

Sustrans Scotland deputy director Daisy Narayanan is to spearhead a project to transform Edinburgh city centre for walkers and cyclists. Picture: Sustrans Scotland

Get on a bus, train or plane and you are entering a world largely still controlled by men, whether it be drivers, guards or pilots.

On the roads, most lorry, van and taxi drivers are also male, some of them also more aggressive, selfish or careless behind the wheel than many women.

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Fliers may have their boarding passes checked and be served by predominantly female ground staff and cabin crew, but in aviation, as in all other areas of transport, those in control, both visibly and invisibly, are mostly men.

Historically, International Women’s Day (IWD) has seemed to pass the transport sector by. But this year, firms from across the industry have contacted me, eager to highlight women’s roles in their operations.

They encompassed everything from airlines like EasyJet putting on all-female flights to a river bus on the Thames in London boasting an all-women crew. Seeking to trump their rival, British Airways put on a flight from Heathrow to Glasgow with 61 female staff from pilots to baggage handlers.

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Of course, to cynics, this is all because the issue is flavour of the month, with inequality and sexism in the headlines, and arguably the transport sector should have moved far faster by now to recruit and promote more women.

They are seriously under-represented in some parts of the industry, comprising only one in five of those working on the railways and just one in 20 train drivers. It is the same ratio for airline pilots.

Only one of the ScotRail Alliance’s nine directors is a woman, although its former managing director Mary Grant is back as chief executive of Porterbrook, which leases some of its trains.

However, what some may dismiss as mere IWD stunts are important in sending out an encouraging message to women and girls that working in every area and at all levels of transport is something that is just as much for them as it is for men and boys.

Adeline Ginn, of the Women in Rail lobby group, which has just established a Scottish section, said yesterday: “Girls want to feel that they can identify with someone, that’s why role modelling is so important.”

Though limited progress has been made, it also sets a benchmark on which to further build female representation.

But it’s not just numbers that matter, it’s the different perspective women can bring to transport, providing a greater focus on the needs of people such as passengers rather than just the basic mechanics of running a transport system.

That aspect is critical in transport planning, where the dearth of women was raised by cycle path developers Sustrans Scotland this week.

Its research in Glasgow pointed out that issues such as personal safety deterred women from walking and cycling more, with a need for a re-think of how transport is designed.

Whether by happy coincidence, two days later the organisation’s widely respected deputy director Daisy Narayanan was seconded to Edinburgh City Council to lead a project to transform the city centre for walkers, cyclists and public transport.

She will enhance her status as an influential woman in transport. There are many others, some little-known like Linda Jackson, the chief executive of French carmaker Citroen. They are best placed to encourage other women to follow suit.