It is quite a few years since I last attended the Intertraffic show, so I was interested during my visit this week to gauge quite how far the traffic technology industry has changed.
Of course, the show featured its normal bread and butter fare of bollards, barriers and road markings, but alongside these, the range of new technology on display was impressive.
One impression troubled me, however, and that was the notably small attendance of women at the show.
In the past 10 years women have made big inroads in many previously male-dominated industries. I had anticipated that the same would be true for the traffic technology industry, but my over-riding impression from Intertraffic was that the industry remains dominated by men.
So what’s the problem?
Is the preponderance of men in the industry a problem? Well, most psychologists will tell you that women and men think in subtly different ways, using different parts of their brains to solve problems. Many other industries have found that women bring different, valuable perspectives to all areas of work, including product and service development. Traffic technology could certainly be missing a trick with so few women in the industry.
Of course, many may say that it is in the nature of men to be interested in transport, since boys traditionally play with toy cars and trains at an early age, while girls play with dolls.
Take a look at the average nursery today however and you’ll find there is far less demarcation of toys between the sexes. Girls play often involves transport, even if it is not the main theme of play, and as they grow older, girls’ attraction to computer simulation games such as Sim City, has shown there is a strong female interest in transport and traffic issues.
Boys with their toys?
One of my biggest concerns for the industry relates to customer perceptions. While the industry is dominated by men, there will always be a danger that politicians and senior civil servants will dismiss the ITS industry as ‘boys with their toys’. In such circumstances, they are likely to spend their (our) money elsewhere.
Thankfully, the British and US transport secretaries (both women) are embracing new technologies for motorway management and financing road development respectively.
A week is a long time in politics, however, and what is politically acceptable now can quickly go out of favour.
It is time everyone in the industry asks why there are so few women in the industry and what can be done to encourage more women to enter?
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