Momentum Issue #117: Women’s History Month and the Future of Women in Transportation

By Laura Chace, ITS America President and CEO

On International Women’s Day, we wanted to take a moment to look back at the history of women in transportation and celebrate their achievements and look forward to how we can collectively improve gender equity in our industry.  

Women have been making their mark in transportation for over 100 years. From Charlotte Bridgwood patenting the first automatic windshield wiper in 1917, to Elizabeth Dole, the first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation starting in 1983, women have long made an impact in transportation. However, our transportation systems and mobility services are still largely designed without the input of women, leading to inequities not only for women, but for families and communities at large.  

Over the past year, through our industry collaboration with partners engaged in our Mobility XX initiative focused on expanding both the number and influence of women in transportation, we have identified that the industry needs to build a strong foundation that continuously supports equity in the workforce to make significant strides. Even with the industry’s work and progress in recent years, there remains conflation between workforce equity and systemic inequities, as well as confusion as to why we need to research gender-based transportation issues in state research programs, mainstream gender data, or address the gender spectrum. To reduce inequities and increase parity in the industry, we must establish structures that support all women and uplift those who have experienced systemic inequities. 

For Women’s History Month, we wanted to share some key takeaways from the learnings of MobilityXX. These takeaways are meant to give organizations and our industry clear actions to begin to address gender equity: 

1.      Create a definition of gender equity in transportation. 

2.      Create a clear goal for gender equity.  For MobilityXX our goal is 10% more women in the workforce in 10 years.

3.      Hire a Chief Diversity Officer and empower them and their work.

4.      Hire a staff position whose full-time role is DEIB. We can no longer rely on asking women and POC to volunteer their time in organizations to uphold gender and racial equity goals.

5.      Fund these DEIB teams and create budget line items for this work. Make sure they are given the resources they need to complete meaningful work.

6.      Develop consistent career tracking systems so that organizations can begin using data to keep them accountable for their goals. Data can also help organizations easily reflect on what goals they are making and those they are missing.

7.      Training on DEI isn’t the silver bullet we thought it was. Focus instead on inclusion and sponsorship for career advancement and retention. Provide women and women of color with sponsorships for career advancement such as creating C-Suite sponsorship programs.

8.      Highlight achievements of women and women of color.

Moving forward, as an industry, we must define what gender equity means, mainstream gender data, and address the gender spectrum in transportation. Organizations must ensure their structure supports, empowers, and highlights the achievements of women and women of color. To improve gender equity in transportation, we must make meaningful structural changes that can create a lasting impact. For too long, we have relied on female leaders to carry this mantle in our industry and prioritize gender equity. It is time we institutionalize changes that will withstand leadership transitions and last for generations to come.   

Over 100 years ago, in 1916, the Girl Scouts of America began offering an “Automobiling Badge”. Nearly 63 years ago, Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks took their stand on public transportation. Just 20 years ago, NHTSA began using female crash test dummies in safety testing. Women have been fighting for equity and a seat at the table in the transportation field since the inception of our modern transportation world, and before. We have much more work yet to do, together. We hope you will join us on Tuesday, April 25th at the ITS America Conference & Expo for a Gender Equity Forum where we will discuss how we can move from raising awareness to meaningful change.