In her own words
My connection to transport begun when I was very young and is a very personal one. My grandparents migrated here from Macedonia and my Grandmother never learnt how to drive. Public transport was her only way to access things many of us take for granted - going to the shopping centre, attending medical appointments, being able to connect with family and friends. I have memories of being five years old and jumping on the tram with my Grandmother to go to Myer in the city, which was always such a special thing for me. But I recall a time when my Grandmother, then in her 70s, hurt her leg and couldn’t actually climb up the steps to get onto the tram. It was devastating as she couldn’t participate in society as she previously had. I think it is fantastic the Victorian Government invested in upgrading the tram infrastructure and introduced low floor trams and upgraded the stop near my Grandmother so that it had a raised platform. It was just delightful to see that day when she was able to get on the tram again. This personal experience really drives me. Transport connects people to where they want to go whether that is their jobs, health services, recreation, being able to see family and friends. It has such a tangible impact on how people live their lives.
The power of visibility
I strongly believe we must take concurrent tactical and strategic approaches to attract more women to transport and create peer support networks. There is a real opportunity to work nationally and have organisations across the public and private sectors join in and share what is working well and identify where gaps exist. I also support quotas; we won’t get there without strategic intent. We need to take a top-down approach to look at the strategies, targets, programs, and initiatives we can put in place as a sector and within our organisations. But at the same time, we need to build from the ground up, and look at how we coach younger females, mentor those coming through the ranks and support our senior women.
Visibility of women leaders is important. My organisation has a policy that we will not do ‘manels’ (male only panels) - there has to be diversity. We have actually said no to organisations who only put forward a male speaker as an option for our events. An initiative I am really proud of is when I started in my role in 2018 as Executive Director I had two women on my Board and 12 men aged in their fifties and sixties. Now I have 45% female Board representation and an age range of between thirties and sixties. It makes a huge difference having that diversity of thought, different backgrounds and perspectives in the Board discussions.
During COVID I started the Women Who Move Nations podcast, now with thousands of listeners from 16 countries. Women featured on the podcast are from around the world working directly in public transport or have transport as part of their broader portfolio. The podcast is all about raising the voices and profiles of women in transport and giving aspirational younger women the ability to see what is possible.
In recent years a number of great Australian initiatives to attract and support women in transport have been profiled internationally. These include the Victorian Government’s Women in Transport agenda. This program is unprecedented in terms of the commitments made, the funding unlocked, and the rollout of an industry-wide mentoring program. It is world leading.
The transport sisterhood
I believe in the transport sisterhood. We hold Women in Mobility dinners twice a year where 25 women working in very senior levels in public transport from around Australia come together and share their experiences and learn from each other in a Chatham House rule environment. When I started the dinners, I was challenged by men and women in the sector who said to me ‘how can you be having an initiative where men aren’t at the table. They need to be brought in’. But the purpose of this forum is to create a safe environment for women to talk about their issues, including salaries and gender pay gaps, as well as create a peer network. Next, I want to ask each leader to bring a junior woman with them. It will be a different conversational mix but imagine the networking that would happen!