My interest in infrastructure and transport developed when I held a portfolio for economy and planning. Seeing how people were impacted by these two interconnected areas and how they make the world about us fit for purpose – fit for some, but definitely not all. [i]
Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women[ii], powerfully sets out issues of gender inequality in transport and infrastructure. We also cannot continue to ignore the issue of reduced access and long-standing socio-economic inequality issues[iii].
Post CV19 recovery language and strategies centred around “build back better,” but what about fairer? Significant public money is directed towards infrastructure and construction projects, which mention, but typically do not enforce, implementing Gender Equality and Fair Work[iv]
policies. Given long standing inequality issues in these sectors, should society not expect a better return on their investment delivering better and fairer for women and minority groups?[v]
Post-Brexit immigration policy and skill shortages should have sparked a widening of the recruitment pool, but so far there is little evidence of this. Over one million EU nationals left the UK, Construction alone has lost a quarter of its workforce. New, and broader collaborative approaches are required, otherwise as the saying goes, “If you only ever fish in the same pond you only ever catch the same fish.” [vii]
STEM ethos is to examine root cause, make decisions informed by data and apply objective judgement to the solutions. But transport and infrastructure data is not being examined from an intersectional perspective. Supposed universal solutions, are inherently biased for over 50% of the population. Too few women and underrepresented groups are employed in these sectors, so it is unsurprising that the output for many is sub-optimal. This rate increases when we include people with disabilities, disadvantaged groups, or communities. [ix][x][xi]
Exploring these issues through a post COP26 lens brings even further complexity. The emerging debate surrounds designing transport for mobility and not simply commuting, which may help challenge inequalities. While gender and intersectional-disaggregated data is not consistently available we know that women are more likely to walk and take public transport. Their travel patterns are not A to B but involve trip chaining, adding further intricacy to the mix. [xii]
Increasing access to flexible work patterns could enable more women to participate in well paid sectors like STEM where there are already significant vacancies. If women can’t easily travel to the jobs and employers are not open to more flexible practices key skill shortages will continue. This is no longer a debate about transport and infrastructure but a call to action on these wider elements - key to our future economic success. [xiii]
CV19 saw society demonstrate an ability to adapt, at pace. Climate challenges are massive, already testing our ingenuity and cohesion – so let’s not wait too long to draw on all the talents of all our people – we’re definitely going to need them.