Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

3 ways to increase the representation of women in mobility

Engineers in Flight Simulator

In the world’s top 100 aviation organizations, women currently hold only 14% of C-suite roles and account for just about 4% of CEOs. Image: Pexels/ThisIsEngineering

Gilles Roucolle
Managing Partner, Europe, Oliver Wyman, Author of Transformations in Mobility
Sumati Sharma
Founder & Co-Chair of the Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter, and Partner, Oliver Wyman
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Gender Inequality

  • A recent survey found that women report more negative experiences, slower career advancement and fewer opportunities to take on senior roles.
  • For example, in the world’s top 100 aviation organizations, women currently hold only 14% of C-suite roles and account for just about 4% of CEOs.
  • We’ve identified three key steps to help increase women's presence in mobility.

For an industry so fundamental to everyday life, mobility has very few women in senior leadership positions – and on some indicators, its record is worse than that of most other industries. In the world’s top 100 aviation organizations, women held only 14% of C-suite roles and accounted for only about 3% of CEOs in 2020. That contrasted with 6.4% of women CEOs in the companies making up the S&P 500.

This shortfall is bad for women – and it is bad for the industry. It is now widely recognized that all forms of underrepresentation of certain groups of people reduce the available pool of talent and hinder performance. Transport and mobility cannot afford such an oversight. Demand for the industry’s services is booming, and they need to adapt rapidly to cope with the pressures of urbanization and to reduce their environmental footprint.

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Many of the challenges can be found inside mobility companies. A survey carried out by Oliver Wyman a few years ago found that, relative to men in aviation, women report more negative experiences, slower career advancement, and fewer opportunities to take on senior or challenging roles. As a result, women are more likely to be pushed out of the industry because of adverse experiences, while men are more often pulled away by the lure of better opportunities.

Here are some first, specific steps companies can take to increase the representation of women.

1. Ask women what they need

The most prevalent initiatives to help women in transport companies include programmes such as paid family leave and clear processes to report harassment. Men often believe that these will solve the problems, but women view these as minimum requirements, not true enablers of success.

To go further, systems should be redesigned for balance, by including women’s voices and lived experiences in the development of targeted initiatives that specifically address women’s career development needs. Compared with men, women are more likely to prioritize female representation in leadership, for example. Women should also be made more visible, so that their opinions are regularly heard in leadership discussions and public presentations. They should feature on interview panels, present to the board, and be profiled in company communications.

2. Set up sponsorship programmes

Sponsorship within an organization is widely considered essential for achieving a senior leadership position: only sponsors can advocate with key influencers and act as a guide to challenging roles or projects. But sponsorship often arises from informal networks. Such groupings are dominated by men, so women have greater difficulty in developing the trust and relationships that come naturally from these networks. Sponsorship programmes for women, involving in-depth, proactive support and advocacy, would boost women’s chances of getting ahead in mobility companies.


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3. Recruit women for jobs where they are underrepresented

Truck driving evolved as an iconic male occupation, but amid an ongoing shortage – exacerbated by supply chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic – women are helping to make up the numbers. In the United States, for example, they made up 8.1% of all truck drivers in 2022, up from 5.4% a decade previously – and research suggests that women are on average safer drivers.

Truck manufacturers are helping. Volvo Group sponsors Iron Women, a truck driving programme for women that started in Peru and then expanded to southern Africa. But there are still plenty of barriers to overcome. One is cabin design, which has been done with male bodies in mind. Another is safety: only 25% of women would consider offering driver services through a ride-hailing app such as Uber, largely due to concerns around having strangers in their vehicle and driving at night. Uber has introduced more safety features, such as “Follow my ride”, an emergency assistance button in its app.

Signs of progress – but more needed

Recent high-profile appointments show that some women are making progress in the sector. In February, Joanna Geraghty became the first woman CEO of a major US airline, when she took over the leadership of JetBlue. And in 2022, Gwendoline Cazenave became CEO of Eurostar Group, which has integrated its traditional routes from London to Paris and Brussels with others in continental Europe. Despite such progress, there is still much work ahead before transport companies achieve a better gender balance. Now would be a good time to start.

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