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TfL pledges to put more women in workforce for International Women’s Day

Words: Simon Wicks
Mind the gap

Transport for London (TfL) has pledged to increase the proportion of women at all levels of the organisation – with an aspirational target of matching London’s own diversity by 2020.

Speaking at the WTS (Advancing Women in Transport) London event at City Hall on Wednesday to mark International Women’s Day, TfL commissioner Mike Brown said he was “passionate about making sure at all levels of transport we have enough people of both genders in our boardroom and in every job role”.

The organisation had, he said, made “far too small steps” so far in closing gender - and ethnicity - gaps and opening itself up to the “diversity that this most diverse city on Earth represents”.

As major transport infrastructure projects take shape and TfL’s contribution to London housing ramps up, it would be necessary to attract the “brightest” and “best” that the capital had to offer, regardless of gender or ethnic background.

“The point is we are just not accessing over 50 per cent of the talent in this city and this country,” Brown said. “From a pure business logic perspective it makes no sense.”

The TfL commissioner set his organisation an aspirational target of reflecting the capital's own diversity by 2020. Currently 24 per cent of TfL’s staff are women and 27 per cent are black and monority ethnic (BAME) employees. At senior management level, those figures are 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

Picking up the theme, London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark Valerie Shawcross told the audience that the number of women in boardroom-level positions in FTSE 100 companies had risen to 26 per cent – but the UK was at only 18th place on the international gender gap index.

According to Shawcross, more than 60 of the Londoners earning less than the living wage are women.

Katie Morrell, senior project manager at transport project management consultancy Turner and Townsend and vice-president of WTS London, told The Planner that research by McKinsey indicated that organisations with gender diverse workforces were 15 per cent more likely to outperform those without; and companies with entnically diverse workforces were 35 per cent more likely to ourtperform those without.

But with the UN predicting that at current rates the gender gap in the workplace won’t close until 2133, equality campaigners faced a stiff challenge. “It’s a very complex problem. There’s no one thing that’s going to fix it,” she said. The public sector, however, had a crucial role to play as an influencer.

By introducing performance criteria relating to diversity to contracts that are tendered to the private sector, the public sector could effectively force the hand of more commercial organisations: “If the public sector starts forcing the issues the private sector has to respond.”

Crossrail 2 managing director Michèle Dix, who has an engineering background, agreed that greater diversity was essential to healthy business. The transport industry faced a struggle attracting women, however, because girls and young women are not “exposed” to it in the same way as boys may be. She advocated positive action to make more girls and young women aware of the industry and “the wide range of jobs in it”.

“I think it’s [increasing the number of women in transport] is extremely important because there’s so much going on, and if we can’t tap into the whole of society to get the skills that we need then we are going to be understaffed going forward.
I just don’t think they are exposed to it. That’s the challenge if the programmes we are here to get out into skills and make people aware or the industry and the wide range of jobs in it.”