Women in Transport – an EU platform for change

Women in transport: An EU platform for change
European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc

Government Europa highlights the launch of a new EU initiative to boost the number of women in transport in Europe.

The European Union has made great strides in improving gender equality and increasing women’s representation in both its own institutions and the member states, but some industries continue to lag behind others when it comes to employing and retaining female staff. This is particularly true of the transport sector, whose workforce is just 22% female despite women accounting for close to half (46%) of all people employed in the overall economy. Against this background, in November the European Commission and European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) launched Women in Transport, an EU ‘platform for change’ designed to strengthen women’s employment and promote equal opportunities for women and men in the transport sector.

Speaking at the platform’s launch event alongside EESC president Georges Dassis was Violeta Bulc, the European commissioner for mobility and transport. She provided a snapshot of the challenges and opportunities involved in achieving a more gender-balanced transport workforce.

The impact of innovation

Innovation and digitalisation are redefining the role of the transport worker and demanding new and different skills, Bulc said, but this needn’t be for the worse. “If we look forward, the inevitable loss of some jobs as we know them can also be seen as opening new opportunities for women.

“Some of the disappearing professions are male dominated with difficult working conditions. On the other end of the spectrum, it appears that women are excellent in some of the new emerging – non- mobile – professions which provide better working conditions. One good example is the profession of remote crane operators in ports, which already exists.”

The problem is that women are often unaware of these opportunities. Bulc is therefore hopeful that the platform can act as a forum for projects to improve awareness and encourage women in transport to make the most of growing digitalisation and innovation.

Targets for a balanced workforce

In lieu of quotas, which were rejected by the majority of transport stakeholders and member states when consulted, Bulc then suggested that targets – or the ‘voluntary version of quotas’ – could be introduced to encourage employers to hire more women.

She noted that targets have already been used to great success for the recruitment of certain categories of professionals such as pilots, and encouraged attendees at the launch to “look deeper into what would be the conditions for targets to be successful”.

Violence against women

Bulc then turned her attention to violence against women (VAW), which, according to the International Labour Office (ILO), plays a pivotal role in limiting the attractiveness of transport jobs for women and causing those who are already employed in the sector to leave.

In particular, Bulc highlighted the need for measures to improve reporting and safeguard women against physical, sexual and psychological violence and harassment.

“It seems that even when legislation is in place, even when companies have adopted policies against violence, implementation is not satisfactory,” she explained.

“I believe the platform will be the perfect place to come up with innovative solutions to tackle the issue and design what could be done, in practical terms, to ensure a zero tolerance to violence.”

The work-life balance

Lastly, Bulc acknowledged that the nature of transport professions can make them “difficult to reconcile with social and family life”, something which was highlighted as a particular issue for women in transport in the commission’s 2017 Report on Equality between Women and Men in the EU.

“With a diverse workforce the needs of each worker will not be identical. Depending on age, family situation and personality, some may prefer night shifts with less traffic, while others will want to work during the day and to finish early to pick up children at school,” Bulc said.

End workplace violence against women in transport

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) is a Brussels-based trade union organisation working to promote and defend the rights of transport workers throughout the European Union, the European Economic Area, and Central and Eastern Europe.

The ETF is committed to improving the representation of women in transport through its 2017-2022 gender equality work programme, and to this end has launched a campaign to end workplace violence against women transport workers.

According to the ETF, transport is one of the sectors with the worst records for VAW – a situation that has been exacerbated by the economic crisis, which has left the female workforce even more vulnerable to experiencing violence while carrying out their duties.

In 2017, the ETF published the results of a survey of more than 1,400 women in transport, who were asked about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological workplace violence and harassment (from both customers and colleagues), as well as reporting of incidents and existing company policies.

The results paint a disturbing picture of the level of violence, sexual intimidation and harassment faced by women in the European transport sector:

  • Close to two-thirds (63%) of respondents have experienced at least one recent act of violence;
  • One quarter (25%) of respondents believe that VAW is a regular occurrence in the transport sector; and
  • More than one-quarter (26%) of respondents believe that harassment is considered ‘part of the job’ in transport.

Especially worrying is the finding that violence is rarely a one-off experience; rather, women are likely to repeatedly endure instances of violence throughout their career – one-fifth of women surveyed said they had been subject to violence on at least five occasions.

The ETF is now working to promote a legal EU framework and ILO convention on violence against women at work to help ensure that no more women are prevented from entering the transport profession for fear of abuse, and is also developing guidance about the role of trade unions representatives in supporting victims of workplace violence and harassment.

Bulc added that some companies have already successfully implemented initiatives to improve work-life balance, for instance personalised or family-friendly timetables, and encouraged platform members to explore further solutions.

The declaration on equal opportunities for women and men in the transport sector

In addition to the platform, the newly launched declaration on equal opportunities for women and men in the transport sector calls on stakeholders to strengthen their efforts to effectively promote women’s employment and representation in transport – in recognition of the fact that improved gender balance not only contributes to more diverse workplaces but also makes jobs more attractive and increases the competitiveness of a sector.

The signatories make a number of suggestions to promote equality in transport between men and women:

  • Gender disaggregated data should be collected and analysed and fed into the design of policies and measures, as well as being used to monitor progress and assess the impact of targeted actions;
  • Company-based measures to increase women’s employment should be accompanied by efforts at the institutional and societal level to promote cultural change – for instance, by fighting gender stereotypes in early education;
  • Women should have access to equal career progression opportunities and be represented at all levels of business, including decision making;
  • Efforts to ensure a positive organisational culture as well as adequate employment and working conditions should be made in order to make transport professions more attractive; and
  • All forms of workplace discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation or violence must be eliminated.

Backed by the support of Bulc, Dassis and other high-level decision makers, the declaration and platform together represent a small but important step towards not only equality but also a diverse sector that makes full use of all the talents at its disposal.

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