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Women in transport: diversity is not a side issue, LISW summit hears

16 September 2021

Ensuring a diverse workforce must not be a side issue for shipping, a summit on women in transport heard at London International Shipping Week (LISW).

The Maritime UK summit was attended by former UK shipping minister Nusrat Ghani MP, who championed the critical need for diversity in the maritime sector and industries at large.

'Diversity is not a side issue; it's fundamentally, economically and morally an issue of success or failure.'

'There are two reasons for this: diversity leads to more creative thinking and reduces the risks of group think and bias, which leads to better economic outcomes, and it is also the right thing to do, reflecting our diverse society and progressive ambitions as a country.

'We need more women to consider jobs across transport from design to engineering and firms opening up recruitment, retention and promotion to women.'

Ms Ghani said the economic argument was there: 'McKinsey recently found that companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all. A Harvard School of Public Health study found companies with the highest number of female directors on their boards had a 42% greater return on sales. Separately, the CFA Institute found companies lacking board diversity tend to suffer more governance-related controversies than average.'

Nautilus International head of strategy and policy Debbie Cavaldoro also attended the summit leading one of five online 'breakout room' workshops, which talked about being a good ally, and the importance of language in the workplace.

'Do you use language for females you wouldn't' for males? Being a good ally is understanding the language you are using and using the same language to whoever you talk to,' said Ms Cavaldoro. 'It is about making sure that the words we use, the language we use and the attitude that we use are the same, to whoever we're talking to. So, you don't have one set of language when you're talking to a female or one to juniors.'

The other workshops covered mental health and wellbeing, race and ethnicity, mentorship, senior leadership and young people.

The workshop on engagement with young people acknowledged that there is a major skills gap in all the transport sectors, and there is a need to encourage career paths into the sector at an earlier age, and to increase more awareness of various transport careers options.

KTN rail knowledge transfer manager Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain said: 'We can rescale and we can upskill and we can pinch people from other sectors, but ultimately we need more people. Diversity and inclusion isn't something that's optional, as it may have been historically. Now it's crucial for us in our sectors to make sure that we continue to grow and thrive.'

An overriding theme in the mentoring workshops was the need to have more than one mentor, and ensure a breadth of mentors from across different industries.

The race and ethnicity and transport breakout room highlighted the importance in  gathering relevant data, which included having facts not just about 'who's on your board, but how much time are they being given to speak.'

'Knowing and leveraging your superpower' was a theme which emerged from the workshop on building a pipeline to more senior roles, while the mental health workshop discussed the need for a general framework around mental health and wellbeing.

The summit – the first to be held at LISW – was a hybrid in-person and online event, with panel speakers from across transport sectors including maritime, aviation, rail, as well as mental health organisations, agriculture, digital and creative industries.