Davos Agenda

Women in mobility: how is the sector driving gender equality?

We need more women in mobility sector.

We need more women in mobility sector. Image: Freepik

Maya Ben Dror
Industry Manager, Automotive and New Mobility & Advanced Manufacturing, World Economic Forum
Maria Alonso
Lead, Autonomous Systems, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Women are underrepresented in the mobility sector and mobility systems are less accessible for women.
  • Several organizations are helping women to re-shape the industry and close the gender gap.
  • These inspirational efforts are helping women to achieve mobility equity, but more can be done.

In November 2022, the European Commission approved an unprecedented regulation, requiring 40% female representation on European company boards by 2026. Women are underrepresented everywhere, and at all levels; mobility is no different. Arguably, better female representation in the mobility industry can help address representation across different sectors, as mobility is a basic requirement for access to education, health, jobs, and finance. There is a wide range of evidence that women and men have different mobility needs, with the current set-up suiting male needs best.

Mobility manufacturers, operators, innovators, and regulators are starting to address the underrepresentation of women across the mobility sector. This is especially important in the current climate, with employee shortages a bottleneck for growth. Ensuring more female representation in the mobility sector can also help close employment demand gaps.

Leaders around the world are helping remove the first gender-related barrier to equality. This is what we can learn from them.

Women behind the wheel

There is still a long way to go before autonomous vehicles will roam our streets and highways. Drivers are still key to transporting people and goods, and keeping the economy going. Despite the increasing share of female drivers on our roads, even in places where until recently women were banned from behind the wheel, the gender divide is still clear. For example, the share of female drivers in the US was 18% in 2019, up from 13% in 2010. Ride-hailing, public transport operators and trucking companies alike are taking measures to balance the stats.

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For example, Volvo Group, sponsors Iron Woman, a heavy-duty truck driving school for women. And the Chilean Ministry of Transport introduced diverse measures to incentivise women to become bus drivers, including an annual award for the best drivers. Ride-hailing companies are also aiming for a higher share of women drivers on their platform: Uber recently announced a €1 million programme to incentivize women drivers across Europe over the next two years.

“Most women drivers in Europe chose Uber because they want to be independent, have a flexible schedule, and work while taking care of their family", says Anabel Diaz Calderon, Regional General Manager EMEA Rides at Uber. "By reducing some of the barriers that have prevented women from working in the transport sector, we hope to enable more women across Europe to access flexible, independent work - not only on the Uber platform, but across the entire transport sector and beyond.”

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Women behind mobility products

Women are not only underrepresented behind the wheel. When it comes to vehicle design, specific ergonomics are required to facilitate for the safety and wellbeing of drivers and riders – and women seem to be at higher risk of injury than men driving the same vehicles with similar crash conditions. This is largely because crash-test dummies are based on the average man. Vehicle in-cabin safety and comfort for women is also important, particularly in transit design where social conditions may result in threatening environments. Women are 10% more likely than men to feel unsafe in transit.

One way to produce vehicles that fit the female body and facilitate women’s wellbeing more equally, is to have it designed and built by women. Ola Electric Mobility, the two-wheeler manufacturing arm of the Indian ride-hailing company Ola, launched last year the largest all-women factory globally: the factory, focused on electric scooters, aims to employ 10,000 women. Companies like Ford have also increased recruitment and training of female engineers over the past few years.

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How is the World Economic Forum promoting sustainable and inclusive mobility systems?

Women behind strategy and leadership

Slowly but surely, there are more women in leadership in the mobility sector, and they have ideas of how to drive the sector further. Mahindra Group is committed to improve overall diversity in the company: 70% of new hires in the Mahindra & Mahindra corporate office in 2020 were women.

“Women empowerment is one of the 10 ESG commitments at the Mahindra Group”, explains Suman Mishra, CEO, Mahindra Electric Mobility Ltd. “One such example is Mahindra Treo, which are significantly easier to drive e-rickshaws that provide women with a micro-entrepreneurial opportunity while supporting income generation and enhancing their lives.”

Women in leadership also have the means to initiate change, “We have to walk-the-talk and lead the change by example. Women play a huge role in the shift to a more diverse workforce”, says Hildegard Wortmann, Audi Board Member.

Women behind policy and regulatory environments

Policy-makers are change drivers, and as such, require equal female representation. The European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, sets a good example as she works to increase the current 22% female share of women in transport. Speaking at the first Women in Rail Award, “We clearly need more women in rail [mobility]. I hope their good examples and practices will pave the way for many others to follow."

"When women are at the table, everyone benefits. As it turns out, what women need for safe, equitable travel, benefits families, which in turn benefits our neighbourhoods and our cities and everyone in them. The prescription for success, whether in business or government is simple: put women in charge”, says Seleta Reynolds, Chief Innovation Officer at LA Metro.

Without efforts to increase female representation in the design, manufacturing, operations and leadership of mobility systems, half of the population will be deprived from equal mobility services and access, simply because it overlooks women’s needs. While many companies are exploring approaches to close the gender gap in mobility, effective efforts need to be scaled more quickly. The current mobility transformation presents a huge window of opportunity, but we need a larger, more coordinated effort to move things along. Will you help lead it?

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