7 March 2019
Shirley Dumigan, Director of Transport at WYG in Birmingham, shares her commentary on this International Women's Day about the importance of transport planners taking a balanced gender approach to considerations made within urban schemes.
From the start of my career, I was usually the one woman in a large room of males; in fact, I was the only woman on my Civil Engineering course back during my university days. The intimidation that comes with that is something no young professional wants to experience.
As I look at the state of the built environment industry and how far I’ve come since those days, I’m thankful for the progress that has been made to encourage young women to become involved in our industry, even if much remains to be done. In my role as a Transport Planner, I recognise that women make up 50 percent of the population who need to travel and use the developments we build. A balanced perspective is therefore essential.
A safe environment and travel inclusivity make up the two most crucial ingredients of a healthy public realm, and especially so for women. People need the assurance that they can peacefully go about their day-to-day life, whether it involves education, work, social life, etc. Yet, women are still largely under-represented in schemes that try to achieve sustainable transportation.
As noted by Sustrans’ 2018 report, ‘Are We There Yet?’, women only represent 6.25 percent of heads of transport bodies. Without women present in enough of these higher-up positions, we’re missing out on the relevant voices to meaningfully address low numbers of women engaging in active travel within the UK. In other words, physically active means of travelling like walking to the shop, catching a commuter train, or walking the kids to school, and cycling are far less appealing to women in our public spaces, even for short-distance trips.
Lots of reasons contribute to the low numbers of women who actively travel. In addition to socioeconomic differences between men and women that restrict time and complicate routines, women tend to be concerned about physical and sexual assault as a deterrent to walking and cycling, especially after dark. This likely helps explain why nearly three times more men than women across the UK choose cycling as a mode of transportation.
More work is needed to overcome these barriers with inclusive solutions to promote active travel in public spaces. We should encourage more female participation in active travel design and consultation to perfect solutions. There is an immediate benefit of engaging females and indeed all users in the design process to deliver truly inclusive public places. This is a key part of our role as Transport Planners and something I personally advocate greatly in our work on development and infrastructure schemes. They have to be right for all users.
Our work seeks to improve access to sustainable transport for work, healthcare, and education. The goal is to reduce congestion, provide safer environments, and improve access to social and leisure facilities that help people bond together and become healthier.
Likewise, diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t just the right and fair thing to do; it’s about a business attracting new pools of talent and creating the workplace conditions that give those individuals a voice and input, helping them perform even better.