Commentary: Moving Diversity in Transit Forward: Three Areas of Focus

Nov. 23, 2021
Transit offers an opportunity to be the blueprint for what’s possible to achieve equity.

Women make up half of the U.S. population, but only 15 percent of transportation occupations are held by females. I am part of that small percentage and I see this gender gap most visibly when I attend industry conferences. My suggestion for my fellow transit professionals is to be more thoughtful on how to move diversity issues forward by reflecting the diversity we see in our communities.

Recruit and support women to diversify your workforce

First, we must recognize that women’s lived experiences in the workplace may be different from men’s experiences. There’s a different perspective on one’s ability to rise through the ranks. When I began my career in corporate America, I was an executive assistant with no MBA and no clear path to an executive role. I made coffee. I answered the phones. I said yes to special projects and took a winding road into my current position. I have a deep appreciation for those who understand the difficulty of that kind of journey -- working your way through various gates and levels.

As I’ve progressed in my career, I heard from amazing women at all levels who hesitantly confessed they wanted to start a family but didn’t want to miss out on that next career step. I responded with a helping hand, acting as a mentor to ensure that they knew they could be both a stellar employee and a mother. Working women have had to consider how decisions like pregnancy, maternity leave and post-maternity lifestyle changes will affect their careers—and they should be able to do so without trepidation.

Employers have historically penalized working mothers by limiting their advancement. According to the U.S. Labor Department, between February 2020 and March 2021, approximately 1.1 million women between the ages of 25 and 54 exited the workforce, compared with 830,000 men in that age group. A McKinsey Women in the Workplace report also revealed that one in four working women in North America said that they were considering downshifting their careers or quitting entirely. For working mothers, particularly those with young children, the number was one in three.

It is time to change the myth that working mothers are less committed because they have the dual role as caregivers and professionals. Invest in recruiting events for women. Additionally, formalize discussions about career management and progression. Some workers are unaware how to progress so managers should nurture and mentor people, both women and men, on how to obtain senior leadership positions while balancing work and family.

Increase representation at transit industry events

Secondly, give women the mic to share their knowledge. There is a natural assumption that transit events must be stacked with executives, who are often men. Instead of stacking a conference panel with senior leaders, the transportation industry would benefit by leveraging talented women who often hold subject matter expert roles at various levels. Operators and product specialists have a perspective and proximity to the customer base that’s incredibly valuable – and often inaccessible by the C-suite.

Another way to add more breadth is to allow for open forums and to ditch scripted Q&A portions. Foster dialogue where practitioners can engage and share on an equal playing field. The current conference structure enables leaders to recount stories from their team but without their teams being present. There is not a space for those who are at the ground level, such as software engineers and installers. By gathering a broad cross section of people, the entire industry will benefit from their shared experiences.

From the inside looking out - helping customers by making tech more inclusive

Lastly, the industry must take measures to make tech accessible to all. If I find myself underrepresented in my own industry, one can only assume that some riders may feel unheard. Most sectors have accelerated contactless payments for any smartphone-equipped consumer, even if they have never used Apple Pay or Google Pay. However, 40 percent of transit riders in North America are unbanked or underbanked. On top of that, about 55 percent of Americans don’t have a mobile phone with an unlimited data plan.

Missing out on these key data points places an undue burden on riders. To manage this risk, transportation firms and agencies can take a holistic approach to any implementation and infrastructure plans to ensure inclusivity. If not, we will inadvertently damage ridership and hinder those who are most dependent on transit.

Mobility is a need shared by everyone around the world. The future of transportation depends on all stakeholders being present for the conversation. The path forward will only be complete once we acknowledge our shortcomings, pinpoint the most vulnerable populations and build bridges to close gaps. Let’s make transit the model to illustrate what is possible by creating a blueprint for women and our diverse customer base to achieve equity.


Bonnie Crawford is vice president and general manager for Umo Mobility, which is part of Cubic Corporation.

About the Author

Bonnie Crawford | Vice President and General Manager, Umo Mobility

Bonnie Crawford is the vice president and general manager for Umo Mobility, which is a platform business of Cubic Transportation. The Umo platform hosts a flexible suite of products that enables riders to pay fares and plan trips across public and private modes, earn rewards for riding public transit and access real-time information to optimize their mobility experience.