In her twenty years at ITS UK Jennie has built a solid experience in the sector, which makes her today an important point of reference in the European ITS community. Will Brexit highly impact the transport sector? How is ITS UK preparing for this massive change?
Jennie, tell us about yourself. How did you become involved in the transport sector?
“When I left university I simply looked for work. I did not have any particular field in mind. Quite by chance, I got a graduate traineeship with British Rail, the pre-privatisation body which used to run the UK’s railways. It was there that I got interested in transport as a sector – the complexities of running a rail network can’t help but fascinate. My second job was with the transport authority for the City of London, the financial district or “Square Mile” as it is more commonly known. That was my first encounter with ITS. The Square Mile is fantastically well resourced, as you can imagine, and was at the forefront of what were then quite new ideas. At that time, they also looked at an early version of the SCOOT system for the whole of central London. I never went to that office but I imagine an enormous computer installation in its own air-cooled basement room.”
What do you find appealing in transport?
“My interest in transport and in ITS is all about how it supports societies and individuals. I really have no interest in infrastructure or technology for its own sake. Though I have been known to admire a beautiful historic railway station from time to time. Travel is a human as well as a practical and economic need. One of the reasons why people are harmed psychologically by being confined for long periods of time, is our innate need to move around. Working in the transport sector is therefore a great mix of technical, practical and social endeavour. It is also deeply political, which adds another layer of interest.”
Transport is still a male dominated field, and there are many initiatives that try to involve more women. Is ITS UK promoting women in transport, and if yes, how?
“Yes, ITS (UK) prioritises working for diversity in the ITS workforce. Transport as a “product” is used by almost the whole population, so it is unlikely that the service will be the best if it is designed for a small section of the population. People live very different lives and this is reflected in their travel needs and choices. The best ITS team will include people from a variety of backgrounds, so that many different transport needs and experiences are raised during any given project. Women are one of the most under-represented groups in the UK’s transport workforce but it is definitely changing for the better and has been for the past decade or so. We run a Women in ITS group to create a welcoming space for women to network in. I can testify that the social dynamics are entirely different in this group than in the usual ITS setting of 30 men and 3 women. That is the purpose of the group: to create the environment where women can be as comfortable as the men of ITS are at all our other events. Men are welcome in our Women’s group and it is interesting to see how they are a little cautious and quiet in that setting, just like women often are when outnumbered ten to one. This is all basic human psychology, it is not discriminatory or radical.”
As woman, what do you personally do to promote women in transport?
“I always encourage and invite younger and/or more junior women to put themselves forward: to give talks, to voice opinions, to enter into professional debate and accept disagreements when these occur. As the workforce gets more gender balanced, this will become normal, but in the UK we are still in a situation where there are unspoken fears that having a professional disagreement with a man is somehow unfeminine and unattractive. My mantra is that we go to work to be respected, not to be liked.”
Let’s talk about Brexit. Transport is going to play a crucial role in Brexit negotiations. How is ITS UK preparing for this?
“ITS (UK) is taking a pragmatic view of Brexit. At the time of writing we do not know what Brexit will look like in any case. Business will find a way whatever happens. I firmly believe that ITS products and services will be provided between the UK and the EU once the dust has settled. There will be new bureaucracy to get used to, and probably a need to be smart in order to offset cost increases, but the business will carry on. Both sides also know that divergent standards, specifications and protocols will not benefit anybody, and I believe that the UK will adhere to the ones already in place. Formal standards are nothing to do with the EU, and will not be affected. But I also think that UK technical experts will continue to keep in touch informally with the relevant EU groups and that everybody will see the sense in not having UK ITS drift into technical divergence!”
This article was originally published by ERTICO