Although complaining about it is one of our favourite pastimes, the UK should be proud of its extensive and rapidly evolving transport network. But, like many industries, it’s also facing multiple and varied challenges. Beyond the immediate problem of how to get people back on public transport post-lockdown, an issue which will remain on the agenda longer term is that of providing an inclusive public transport service - bus and train in particular - for a diverse population.
Inclusion has come to the fore across all sectors in recent years and, being traditionally male dominated, the transport industry hasn’t escaped this scrutiny. With 20% of the workforce being women, gender is naturally a key focus area. But it’s not the only focus area. To be successful in any sector, inclusion and diversity (I&D*) initiatives need to be considerate of all protected characteristics, and need to address the needs within an organisation before looking beyond to the needs of their customers or service users.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to see inclusion as an overwhelming task that’s easier to avoid than to address. But like anything, if broken down into smaller chunks with clearly assigned actions, it’s a lot more manageable. And with a few shining lights already leading the way in the transport sector, there are plenty of examples to follow:
Introspection and honesty - understand where you are now, where you want to get to and why. You can make hypotheses on where you have gaps and why they exist, but you need data to back them up. And if you don’t have data, work out how to collect it. Make sure your staff know why you want it and that it will be used to drive positive change, not used against them.
Practical, achievable steps - be ambitious with your targets but also be realistic. By plotting yourself on a maturity curve (there’s a great example in PwC and 30% Club’s Are you missing millions? report), you have a clear picture of how big your goals need to be. It’s heartening to see organisations such as Network Rail aiming to have 30% of leadership roles filled by women by 2024 and 13% by people from an ethnic minority background - amongst other diversity targets. They’re celebrating the power of targets by cementing them in their five year strategy, and we look forward to seeing other organisations following suit.
Suppliers with shared values - successfully embedding I&D involves looking at your entire ecosystem. HS2 is leading the charge with its approach to supply chain diversity, mandating high EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) contractual requirements for all suppliers, and holding quarterly supplier forums to ensure that EDI best practice is shared across their network.
Lead from the top - engage your Board and leadership team.They have a platform to communicate the commercial imperative of inclusion, and the price of ignoring it. Lean on them to mobilise teams, role model good behaviour and mandate the changes that will shift the dial for your organisation. Look to organisations such as Go Ahead for inspiration, where they can proudly boast a board that is over 50% women, including the Chair.
Network, network, network - engage with industry specific I&D networks and learn from them. Speak to your peers, replicate successful initiatives, and use your collective power to lobby for industry-wide change. There are myriad diversity networks across all industry sectors and transport is no different. SWIFT, Women in Transport and Women in Rail all run events, mentoring programmes and have resources available to boost gender inclusion across the sector, for example. And most organisations have their own employee networks to support diverse communities.
As the word diversity suggests, every organisation is very different. Each will have different wants and needs, and will start from a different place. But the unifying feature is a desire to make positive, sustainable change. By starting from within and setting the tone from the top, organisations set themselves in better stead to provide considered, inclusive services that meet the diverse needs of their customer base. With an inclusive culture, anything is possible. By establishing this and following the bright lights already leading the way, organisations can move forward confidently with their I&D endeavours, knowing they’re travelling in the right direction.
By starting from within and setting the tone from the top, organisations set themselves in better stead to provide considered, inclusive services that meet the diverse needs of their customer base.
*You’ll notice that we talk about I&D rather than the more commonly used D&I. This reflects the need for an inclusive culture to have been established in order to deliver on diversity. It is not enough to simply place a group with diverse identities in the room – people have to be given the space to bring their whole authentic self as well as to voice their opinions and ideas. To achieve sustainable shifts in diversity, it’s essential to look not only at who is in the organisation, but how they are being empowered and how the organisation is building this into their strategy.