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From Mary Barra to Corinne Vigreux, key female figures have shaped the automotive industry, spearheading global brands like General Motors and TomTom.

Take Barra for example. In 2014, she became CEO of GM in the US, working her way to the top after joining as a student at 18. This hard work paid off, making her the first woman in the world to lead a major automaker.

Over in the Netherlands, TomTom Co-Founder Corinne Vigreux has been dominating the global market since 2004, when the company debuted the world’s first stand-alone navigating device. Since then, Vigreux has helped lead TomTom into new territories, including autonomous vehicles. With the technology industry as a key influencer in the new era of transport, TomTom has quickly emerged as a driving force. 

These are just two examples of female executives that have helped shape the transport industry, pioneering new ways of thinking and setting an example of how women can succeed in a sector notorious for its male-dominated workforce. 

From electric vehicles to space flight, we are seeing visionaries reshaping the way people think through exciting and technology-driven innovations. 

Sonya Byers, the CEO of Women in Transport, joins Auto Futures for a special Mobility Moments, discussing the importance of shining a light on women doing great things, addressing the current climate of the industry, ensuring a modern workforce and working towards a more inclusive and diverse future. 

How did you first get into the transport industry and what made working in the sector so attractive to you?

Entirely by chance, I got a job as a transport survey enumerator after graduating from University. I had no intention at the time of staying in transport and did not understand the opportunities available. But from there I became a transport analyst and then a transport planner and now it’s almost 20 years later! I love how varied transport is, the people are great and it’s something that affects everyone so you feel like you are part of a sector that makes a difference to people’s lives.

Following your venture into the transport industry, what lead to the creation of Women in Transport?

We were originally founded at WTS London in 2005, a London chapter of a larger US organisation. In 2017, I became Vice President and alongside the President (Katie Hulland) we had a desire to support women working in the UK transport workforce better. We proposed becoming an independent UK organisation and the rest of the volunteer board supported that proposal. We launched a new brand, our own website, new social media channels and a mentoring programme in September 2017. Today, our network is now stronger than ever and growing everyday.   

Have you seen much change in the industry in terms of gender diversity?

Sadly, I’ve seen the representation of women in transport decreasing according to DfT figures. However, it does feel to me that there is an appetite and willingness to change and to see a more balanced workforce in the transport sector. The support we’ve had during COVID-19 from our members and sponsors as well as the fact that we are able to launch a Scotland hub this month gives me hope for the future.

What are some examples of inequalities in the transport provision?

Ultimately, transport infrastructure is designed around reference man as highlighted by Caroline Criado Perez’s book ‘Invisible Women’. We don’t even really consider the trip chaining journeys that women make in our policy and decision making. We need women to be represented in design, decision making and policy making to really address the inequalities that exist. 

What is the biggest challenge you face when encouraging women to consider the transport industry? 

We have just completed some research for the All Party Parliamentary Group for women in transport that will be released on International Women’s Day. It reinforces our long held belief that transport is still perceived as a male-dominated, macho environment where women aren’t welcome. It’s important that we work together with the Government and employers to address that perception and to work towards a more inclusive culture as a sector if we want to attract and retain women. There’s no silver bullet. We need inclusive recruitment practices, targeted interventions and support for women working in transport to progress.

What are your aspirations for the future of the transport industry?

I would really love to see a transport industry that is more balanced in terms of representation and not just on gender. I think diversity and inclusion is vital across our society. Transport touches the lives of every single person and we need to ensure everyone is represented so that transport in all its forms caters for everyone’s needs.

What advice would you give to young women thinking about a career in transport?

Be open to opportunities. Be true to yourself and work out what matters to you. Be kind and help others if you can. Remember to look after yourself.

Make sure to read the APPG whitepaper that launched earlier this week: https://www.womenintransport.com/our-blog/gender-perceptions-and-experiences-working-in-transport

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