Women in Mobility: Do we have full gender equality?
by Mihaela Stefanova
About three months ago I set out on a journey to write an article about women in mobility. Very soon realised what a difficult task I set myself and how complex the issue actually is. Naturally, it wasn’t just limited to the mobility industry, but related to much bigger issues in our society.
Of course, my experience is one of many and I haven’t actually been part of the mobility industry for that long. So I reached out to women who have been in mobility for longer to get their opinions. Several conversations later, I have begun to form a realistic picture. Here are the questions I asked and what conclusions are starting to form:
Why are there not enough women in the mobility industry?
One of the main reasons seems to be that mobility is just not presented as an attractive career path to girls. Traditionally it has been mostly about construction and civil engineering, and recently it has become more technological and software-driven. All areas where men are perceived to be better. While women are typically seen as good at PR, marketing, communications.
That kind of attitude starts at an early age, when girls are given toys that are cute, pink, shiny and boys are given robots, cars, Lego. The video below shows an interesting experiment on that:
Naturally, the idea of making vehicles or dealing with software just doesn’t cross young girls’ minds. I myself am an example of that, having accidentally fallen into the world of mobility and only now developing a true interest in it.
Lack of role models
Those attitudes then continue as girls grow up and enter non-technological careers. This then means that younger girls have no role models in engineering or computing. Therefore less likely to go into that field (on top of not having developed an interest).
This lack of role models also puts more pressure on women already in that field or those just entering. Because they are seen as representatives of their whole gender, their failures and mistakes will reflect badly not just on them, but on every other female in the industry. And logically, women might not want that pressure and become less likely to apply for positions where they are highly visible.
Is the female experience different from a man’s?
While sexism, as we know it from the bad old days, doesn’t exist anymore, that doesn’t mean we have full equality in the workplace. It’s a space designed by men from their point of view, which makes it hard for a woman to express her different opinions and needs.
Women experience the world differently
For example, women are more sustainability-oriented. It has been shown that if men started moving around like women, carbon emissions would fall by 20%. Furthermore, women traditionally have more household responsibilities, so maybe can’t stay in the office until late or will be 5 minutes late in the morning. From a male colleague’s perspective, that can be seen as a lack of commitment to the job.
Not being understood and often being the only woman in the room, can be daunting. That in turn makes you question yourself, be less likely to pitch your ideas, ask for a promotion, etc.
Perception of women
In addition, the way women are perceived is another challenge. A study shows that during VC pitches, male-led start-ups are judged on what they could potentially be in the future, whereas women-led start-ups are judged on what they are right now. A TechCrunch article details how ‘Women are asked more preventative questions about potential loss and risk, while men are asked more promotional questions about upside and gains (…) Identical slides and scripts that are read by men and women are judged very differently, with men overwhelmingly rated higher. It takes Elisabeth Holmes as an example and how she dressed like Steve Jobs and talked in a low voice to appear more masculine and hence trustworthy’ But just acting like a man is not enough, because ‘forward men are viewed positively as assertive, while forward women are viewed as emotionally unstable’. One of the ladies I interviewed said she was always told to slow down and pace herself, but a man showing the same qualities would be called ambitious.
And on the flipside, acting typically feminine is perceived as weak. So there is a very thin (some would argue invisible) line of how you’re supposed to act to get respect.
Is the industry correcting itself? (now this is where it gets complicated)
My interviewees tend to think not quite. Things are improving, but there is definitely more to be done. Change is just not happening fast enough. Some would argue that being inclusive is not something to be applauded, but something we should’ve had to begin with.
What have we done?
In some ways the industry is over-correcting itself, where women are employed just to fill the gender diversity box and nothing is done beyond that. Women are sometimes invited to panels to show diversity, rather than because they are the best expert in the topic. In a way talking and fighting about gender equality is impacting women negatively. The perception of women has not changed massively, but it has become less politically correct to say ‘women are bad engineers’. One interviewee says that sometimes it’s easier to talk with people from countries where sexism is not a taboo subject, because everything is out on the table and you can address it. Rather than someone acting inclusive while secretly thinking less of you.
And, sadly, I must mention the fact that sometimes women use the diversity argument to get a job, seat on a panel or other advantages. Which paints the gender equality movement in a bad light. (This subject can be an article of its own)
Large organisations VS Start-ups
So is there a difference between big corporations and young startups?
Many larger organisations have taken steps to become more diverse and inclusive. Because they have the resources to ‘take a risk’ on a woman, but also because they probably did the research to see that a diverse leadership team leads to better results. Currently, the mobility industry only serves a small portion of the population, the typical 9-5 worker, so including more voices helps re-shape mobility to serve everyone and achieve better results. In addition, big organisations tend to have more employees therefore more chances to hire a diverse workforce.
Not to mention, larger organisations have a big spotlight on them, which in a way obliges them to be diverse.
Whereas start-ups don’t have that pressure. They tend to be more focused on their goal and making their product happen. Typically hiring employees that are best for the job or simply people from their network. It should also be noted that а start-up has less financial security, therefore possibly can’t offer maternity leave. So hiring a woman is more of a risk.
Looking to the future
As we can see, there is still work to be done on reaching real equality. But what makes me positive is that we are all actively trying. We may not be taking enough steps or taking the wrong ones, but that is part of the process. Gender equality is being discussed and challenged on a global scale; and this is how we make change.
There are more and more women entering the field, making it easier to disprove negative stereotypes. There are also more and more men that recognise these issues and are using their power to change things. Organisations such as Women in Mobility are being formed. As well as events specifically dedicated to discussing the above issues. Women are starting to celebrate each other and get more and more of the spotlight, like these 8 tech CEOs. We are forming communities globally to showcase and fight gender issues.
While we don’t have complete gender equality today, there are many passionate women fighting for the future. And that is worth celebrating.