This month, #womenonthemove2019 takes you to Germany to learn more about Women in Mobility (WiM), an organisation that empowers women working in the transport sector through a series of social media activities and networking events on a national and local scale.
Thanks to a few committed women, in its origins mainly from the railway sector, WiM was founded in 2015 and is today a point of reference for those who want to connect with women working in the same field, share ideas, gain more visibility, inspire each other and ultimately making their way in a predominantly male industry. Indeed, as reported by the European Commission only 22% of women are employed in the transport sector.
So how does WiM plan to change this? In this interview, Martina Löbe, co-founder of the Women in Mobility hub Berlin and in her profession Manager for strategic planning in the operations centre S-Bahn Berlin of DB Netz AG, takes us through the history of WiM.
“Martina, tell us more about WiM. Why found an organization for women working in mobility?”
“It all started in 2015 in the Rheinland region with Coco Heger-Mehnert, Anke Erpenbeck and Sophia von Berg, the founders of “Women in Mobility” additionally inspired
by the work of Larissa Zeichhardt, who is based in Berlin. In 2017 Larissa Zeichhardt had successfully organized the female networking event “Ladies Lunch” at the Railway Forum in Berlin. With 2018 in sight, she and a group of equally dedicated women focused on the next event at the InnoTrans, which is the most important international trade fair for rail and transport technology. It takes place every two years in Berlin.
Realising that the women of the Berlin initiative and the Women in Mobility founders share the same goals, they decided to unite: the hub Berlin of Women in Mobility was born.
With almost 500 women attending the “WiM Luncheon” at the InnoTrans 2018 and supported by the social media activities during the year, the breakthrough of Women in Mobility was achieved. Hubs in Munich, Hamburg and Cologne with a lot of committed women followed. Women in Mobility aims for all modes of transport and its goal is to shape the future of mobility by connecting women across sectors and hierarchies. Today there are other hubs on their way, and I get the impression that more and more women network and connect on purpose, calling themselves “WiM”. It seems the word has spread! We are currently working on several conferences and events. For example, October 1st there will be the next WiM Luncheon on this year’s Railway Forum (Berlin). And November 14th/15th we will host our first two-day WiM Summit in Frankfurt/Main.”
“What is the mission and vision of Women in Mobility?”
“WiM is about creating a platform for female leaders, influencers and young talents, to share ideas, knowledge and experience and to push and support each other, to show role models and to create more visibility in the mobility sector.
Working together is also about creating value for women, especially when it comes to new transport solutions, products and services. Women represent 50 % of the population, which means that half of the population is not equally represented. Overall, many products in the industry are created and tested by men or based on a male body. For greater value, transport solutions have to be more suitable for women, too”.
“What are examples of products that are not fit for women?”
“Think about women in the rail sector, working along the tracks and out in the field. The orange jacket is a perfect example of a product which is still created for a male body, and is therefore too big for women. The female body has a different figure and having a jacket or trousers that are too big can be dangerous. For example, a woman could easily get caught on something. Consider the damage of an accident for the person and for the company.
A second example is public transportation. It is important to address the need of both women and men, and above all to make sure that men are aware of what obstacles women encounter on a daily basis that may be unfamiliar to them. Why not having navigation systems offering the safest route in addition to the shortest and quickest? By encouraging this awareness, we can make sure that solutions for all are implemented. The aim is to create a higher benefit in general”.
Of course, these were only two of the examples brought by Martina. In the mobility sector, there are many others, like in-vehicle airbags and in-vehicle safety features, or, on a lighter scale, voice command recognition, which most of the time activates with a male voice.
“On your website, one of your colleagues states that “Diversity means innovation, and favoring diverse teams is not just a question of culture, but one of competition”. Can you explain what is the added value of involving more women in transport and having a more diverse working environment?”
“Women becoming leaders and being in positions where they can significantly influence the decision making process, where they can influence engineering and the creation of new products will be a benefit for business: McKinsey found out that there is a correlation between a high diversity in top management and the success of a company. Therefore, companies profit from more diversity in the workforce, hence, having also women in management positions. I deeply believe that the transport sector will benefit from this as well. WiM wants to promote professional dialogue, create a platform where women will get new contacts and partners to cooperate with and pursue their career plans successfully. I think it’s what men do, too. We just do it our own way.”
“Let’s talk about the challenges that women are facing nowadays in the transport sector. What are they and how is WiM trying to overcome them?”
“Challenges range from lower pay, to having fewer chances to get promoted compared to men. There is still a high difference in salary between men and women for the same work. Another example is related to old role models and traditional ideas.
Many countries, like Germany, still lag behind the most advanced Sweden and France, when it comes to gender equality. What I mean can be looked up in the reports of the AllBright foundation, which analyse data and show the little efforts German companies make. For example: The percentage of women on executive boards of publicly traded companies was as little as 8,8% (February 2019). That means that Germany comes in last of the Western industrial companies in this matter. A lot of supervisory boards explicitly aim for zero women on their executive boards. The decisions regarding who is about to become a member of an executive board is mainly made by men; female members mostly don’t have much influence in this matter.
In general, we have to make ourselves heard. It’s about turning rhetoric into action. Now!”.
“Someone could argue that organising “women only” events is discriminating against men. What’s your response to this?”
“WiM conferences are not exclusively for women: we successfully work together with men, for instance, to organise our events. The Berlin Partner for Business and Technology is such an example. At the conference “MINT.einander im digitalen Wandel – Mobliltät braucht Frauen” (which stands for “together in digital change-mobility needs women” and is organised by the Pro-Rail Alliance and its own women network), which took place at the beginning of May this year, there were also men on the panel, men who really supported the event with data, knowledge and ideas. It was really interesting to learn about how they experienced this conference, where most participants and most of the speakers were women. Those I spoke to told me that it was incredible, it was a completely different vibe, positive, inspiring and visibly colourful. We do understand that it is important to include men in our conferences, events and our work. It’s about inclusion and not exclusion.
You know, the interesting thing is that nobody would label “men in mobility”, simply because it is normal to make this association. So WiM creates a frame where women empower each other. We do our own way what men do all the time, perhaps just a bit more visible as such. As long as women are not equally treated, initiatives like WiM are needed. For us, this is about business. We close a gap: from what my fellow WiM and I experience, we address a demand, that is huge”.