At the recent STN EXPO in Reno, a session discussed both strides made and challenges facing women in the school transportation industry. The session was held late in the day, yet the room was packed with both men and women. (There were several skeptical and concerned faces in the audience, perhaps unsure of what was going to be said.)
While women are a growing majority in the school transportation industry, we’re still in the minority in leadership roles around the country. Regardless, this session was planned to talk about successes and innovations for women, and about how the industry is changing, and things are getting better.
But are things really improving?
It is 2022 yet as the panel discussion began, it became immediately apparent from the questions and heartfelt audience participation that there continues to be disparities in gender equity in pay (women being offered less in salary than male counterparts who have less experience,) career advancement (a “good ol’ boy” system of promotion rather than a transparent offering of opportunities for all), and a common thread of poor office culture and accepted commentary that is disparaging and unacceptable (“she’s obviously a complainer,” “Her email was aggressive,” “Let’s ask the male fleet manager because it’s a vehicle issue”).
By no means was the session nor the commentary “anti-male,” but it certainly did shed an unfortunate light that these issues aren’t going away. Discussion in the room continued well past the session end time and included the pattern in many workplaces where women show assertiveness yet are perceived as aggressive, (there’s a difference), negotiating skills, overcoming stigmas of age and gender, and in my opinion the most important, the time we spend proving ourselves to others when we should be running our operations.
So, what do we do? Where are things changing?
When someone looks at your district, organization, company, association, or committee, what do they see? Is it a group photo of people who all look alike? Is there gender and racial diversity at all levels? If there isn’t, and/or if the picture the public sees is “vanilla,” why would someone want to join you or come work with you?
Our industry prides itself on safety yet we need to feel that safety in other ways, too: a safe place for us to grow, a safe place for us to make decisions, a safe space for us to be able to speak our concerns, and a place that is safe and welcoming to all.
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As mentioned during our presentation, sparked from a conversation at a conference several years ago, we created wit., (our acronym and symbol for women in transportation) as an emerging grassroots organization to address the challenges facing women in the transportation space. It serves as a place for women (and men) to mentor and lead the conversation and ask the tough questions. It is an organization to spark change in our ever-changing industry; an industry where we all have experienced both the joy and challenges
We know what needs to be done, but it hasn’t always been easy. There are so many strong women around the world both in leadership positions now and also with the desire to take on that role soon, so now I’m hoping we can truly pay it forward.
We are grateful to School Transportation News and to all the men in the room last month who had the leadership mindset necessary to not simply hear but listen.
This session was a welcome beginning of many conversations to come and, based on the dialogue on-site and since, one that was more than necessary. Gender bias is just one of the many equity issues facing the workplace, and my fellow presenters and I feel strongly that these discussions must and will continue; mentoring others in the transportation industry and creating strong leaders has always been our mission.
Alexandra (Alex) Robinson is president of A. Robinson Consulting that provides expert witness testimony and consulting on school transportation operations, training and leadership. She is also a Tenured Faculty member of the TSD Conference, a former president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, and a director of transportation with over 25 years of experience working for the Florida Department of Education and public school districts in student transportation.