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WSP transport planners tackle gender bias for inclusive travel

WSP transport planners tackle gender bias for inclusive travel

 April 14, 2022

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Transport professionals have a responsibility to create schemes and systems that are equitable, just, and inclusive. But when 8 in 10 transport professionals are male, and 46% of those professionals have never considered gender in their day to day work, how can we ensure our transport systems are safe, accessible places for women? 

Meet WSP's Inclusive Transport Changemakers, who are all tackling gender bias in transport design.

Laura Brooks, Susan Leadbetter, and Victoria Heald explore the issues in three research studies. 

Challenging bias in transport 

Laura, Susan and Victoria explain that our transport system has a long way to go before it is truly equitable, with gender playing a significant factor in increased fear and anxiety about using public transport safely. This is not to say that exclusion is deliberate – in fact in their Building Barriers through Bias study, they found that almost everyone they surveyed working in transport believed transport should be universally accessible (99%). But over a third had considered the needs of a protected characteristic group, such as sex, disability or sexual orientation, less than once a week, and less than a fifth had directly engaged with a representative from these groups to inform an Equality Impact Assessment. 

"We all have biases. These can even be in contrast with our considered beliefs. But there appears to be a disparity between the views and actions of transport professionals which may be preventing transport from being truly accessible," they say.

"It's not just about gender. We know a lot about the gender make-up of the transport profession due to legislative requirements, but significantly less is known about the wider demographic characteristics of this profession, such as non-visible and visible disabilities, ethnicity and sexual orientation. But we’d hazard a guess from the scarce existing information that representation is patchy."

The mental burden of staying safe

WSP's Inclusive Transport Changemakers ask: "Why does this matter?"

They found that, through non-participatory design, unequal access is ‘designed in’ to streetscapes and the public realm, and different perceptions of safety are ignored, excluding certain users.

For instance, their research into Women’s Personal Safety on Public Transport in London found that out of 638 women surveyed, 28% had been a victim of a sexual related incident on public transport, and 47% had witnessed an incident taking place. "These are shocking statistics that highlight the scale of the problem, following the tragedies of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa’s deaths as they travelled about their business in London," explain Laura, Susan and Victoria.

"Indeed from an early age, it is embedded in female minds’ that they must act or behave a certain way to avoid being assaulted whilst travelling in public. Women consider safety from the moment they leave to the moment they arrive and adopt several behavioural mechanisms in response – taking a longer route, changing clothes, holding keys as a defensive weapon," they add.

Helping women feel safer

WSP transport inclusion

What can transport design do to alleviate some of this mental burden and help women feel safer?

Laura, Susan and Victoria suggest co-creating and engaging with women in the design of transport and public spaces, as well as improved education. They cite TfL’s campaign that highlights all the different examples of sexual harassment, such as cat calling, exposing, cyber flashing, touching, staring and up skirting.

"Easier reporting, and physical interventions in lighting, CCTV, natural surveillance are important as well as greater enforcement. To really make a difference, all of this needs to be consider from the outset of the design process," they add.

Creating toolkits to tackle diversity challenge

How can we embed this gender inclusive thinking early on in transport design?

In their desire to tackle this diversity challenge, the Changemakers have co-created the Gender Equality Toolkit in Transport (GET-IT) with colleagues from Transport for Greater Manchester and Mott MacDonald, to tackle unconscious biases related to gender. It helps professionals understand how their work impacts women’s mobility. Underpinned by research and surveys, it helps inform, support, mobilise and unite professionals to consider gender in current and future transport schemes, pointing to examples of positive change such the TramLab Toolkits (1-4), Portsmouth City Council’s Behavioural Change programme and The World Bank’s Handbook for Gender Inclusive Urban Planning and Design.

Meet the Changemakers 

WSP transport

Victoria is a transport planner at WSP, focused on increasing representation in the transport sector. She won a Transport Planning Society bursary on her exploration of bias in the transport sector and has written extensively on this subject.

Susan is passionate about diversity and inclusion within the built environment. As a transport planner at WSP, she has a real focus on drawing attention to women’s safety, following her research A Study on Women’s Personal Safety on Public Transport in London.

As a transport planner at WSP, Laura is driven to ensuring gender mainstreaming becomes a key consideration through the transport project lifecycle, from inception to post-scheme monitoring. She co-created the Gender Equality Toolkit in Transport, which is currently being trialled with a number of clients.

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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