Women in Transport’s Diversity & Inclusion Bus Group continues to grow – and so does its solid progress in making change happen

Go-Ahead London is doing excellent work with its apprenticeships. Pictured: trainee driver Chelsea Dash

By Chloe Leach-O’Connell

Let’s go back to 2019, to this very publication, Passenger Transport, when I wrote an article entitled ‘Let’s talk about women and buses’, an honest account of my personal experiences of being a woman, working in the bus industry. It wasn’t simply about being a woman, it was also about the need for a strong inclusive culture, looking at ways to tackle unconscious bias, and opening channels of communication, so that more of us felt comfortable to come together and share experiences and speak openly to really start to make a difference.

With a positive mind set for change, the article ended with a rather optimistic rallying cry: “If you’re interested in joining a group that will aim to accelerate and influence the gender diversity agenda within the bus industry, please do get in touch. Let’s all come together and get things truly moving.”

And people did come together. They really did want to “get things truly moving”!

After a mutual colleague read the article and made a brief introduction on Twitter (proving in this instance that it can be a platform for good!) I was put in touch with the amazing Sonya Byers, CEO of Women in Transport.

We set up a meeting to discuss ‘women in bus’, and it was evident that my article had created a buzz among fellow industry professionals and therefore the natural progression for this new network was its integration into the already established and hugely successful Women in Transport.

Fast forward nearly four years and we are now a diverse group of 35 active members across 19 different organisations. Our members represent all the main bus groups, bus manufacturers, from managing directors, operation managers, innovation leads, diversity and inclusion officers, through to software developers and everything in between. We are all proudly part of Women in Transport, and just like Women in Transport the group is a universal collective open to all. To put it simply we’re like-minded individuals with the same mission, a dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion – something we’re very proud of. We’re a great mix of people which gives our discussions a really balanced feel.

In ground-breaking research carried out by Women in Transport as part of their role as secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in 2021, it became apparent that we were missing the complete picture. The research involved a survey and it was
clear from the feedback that there were very few men coming forward, willing to share on this subject. The survey was looking into women’s experiences and perceptions of working in the transport industry and it seemed their male counterparts felt they were unqualified to comment on the subject matter. In contrast to these beliefs we know it’s the complete opposite, in order to build a stronger future for our industry we need everyone’s experiences. We are really proud of having such strong male representation in the Diversity and Inclusion Bus Group.

It really feels as if we are moving forward in a way we haven’t seen before. The topic of diversity and inclusion has in recent years been prioritised across the bus industry through much talk and discussion

It really feels as if we are moving forward in a way we haven’t seen before. The topic of diversity and inclusion has in recent years been prioritised across the bus industry through much talk and discussion. However, proactive change has always seemed a very slow process. That wasn’t the case until the last few years. We actually have the pandemic to thank for re-focusing our organisations on their commitment to recruitment and retention in order to tackle one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced as an industry. This side of the business has never seen such intense scrutiny and there’s been a shift change in the resource that’s invested in these areas. One of the most encouraging things is that you can genuinely detect this newfound desire from around the industry to do things differently. Diversity and inclusion is now seen as absolutely essential. We can clearly see this in the progress that we are making as a group, and how open the wider industry is in supporting us.

A great example of us moving forward, making the change and achieving our common goal, is our commitment to recruitment and retention in the form of ‘The Inclusive Employment Journey’, one of our main work streams and key outputs from the group in 2022. Both myself and Caroline Ward, another founder member of the Diversity and Inclusion Bus Group, led and implemented this project, supported and hosted by CPT. We have created a central resource for the whole of the bus and coach industry to use and one that will benefit all. The ‘journey’ covers every step of a colleague’s employment within the industry, from community engagement and recruitment, through to their working life and on to support with ‘life after buses’ when our long servers leave the industry. The resource is completely free to use – all you have to do is visit http://www.the-iej.org.uk where you can access best practice case studies, all with diversity and inclusion at their heart.

We see this as an incredibly exciting and innovative project, one which we are eager to build on and grow. It’s our vision for The Inclusive Employment Journey to be the central reference point for all levels of management within the industry to access, enabling them to understand where there are opportunities for improvement. For the ‘journey’ to grow we will need collaboration which will undoubtedly be the key to our success.

This is just the beginning; we know there are pockets of excellence throughout our industry so why wouldn’t we want to shout about them, it’s vitally important that we share these practices. One of our latest additions is Go-Ahead London’s apprenticeships, a case study showcasing the excellent work they are doing to train the next generation of London bus drivers at their award winning, state-of-the-art training academy in Camberwell. Diversity is at its heart; apprentices range from 18 to 65, with two-thirds coming from ethnic minority backgrounds and where one in five are women. The company is on its way to having a workforce that truly reflects the communities it serves, something that we can all learn from.

There are also stages in The Inclusive Employment Journey that can help us create training and give us access to content that’s already been designed and is free to use.

This month saw the addition of Department for Transport’s ‘Real Passenger, Real Person’ training which is a ready-made package of training content designed to help make travel inclusive and accessible for everyone across all modes of public transport. I urge people to send us their case studies and to visit The Inclusive Employment Journey for inspiration. All the contact details are on the site.

The Inclusive Employment Journey is a great example of the ethos of the Diversity and Inclusion Bus Group, since inception we have always sought to ensure we have very clear outputs. We love the idea of building a strong network, sharing experiences of top initiatives; however, we have annual objectives to keep us focused on our key themes – ones that really matter to our members.

As you would now expect recruitment has become our number one priority in 2023 as we look to continue to improve, not just where we recruit from in society but how we make sure people want to join us and stay with us. We believe a big part of this is ensuring we can help lift the profile of bus driving as a career across the UK, but also offer insights and advice on how we can make our depots and workplaces a welcoming environment for all.

What is your induction process? Is there a support network? How do you make new starters feel comfortable? What diversity and inclusion training have the trainers undertaken?

The retention piece is huge and when I’m not volunteering my time to help accelerate diversity my full time job is running a fully fledged communications and marketing agency which has helped develop and deliver many recruitment campaigns over the last 18 months. Whenever we are developing these campaigns my first questions are: What is your induction process? Is there a support network? How do you make new starters feel comfortable? What diversity and inclusion training have the trainers undertaken?

When you start to really think about your potential employees there’s so much more we can do to create a successful recruitment campaign in order to become a ‘first choice’ employer. Everything needs to be just right and our discussions in the Diversity and Inclusion Bus Group frequently cover this area.

This may just be the beginning; however we know that our group has a clear goal, a commitment and focus into ongoing improvement, to achieve an even stronger inclusive culture in our fabulous industry that I am so proud to be part of.

As our group continues to grow we’re making solid progress towards making that difference and really making change happen.

COMMENT: Sonya Byers Chief Executive, Women in Transport

I’m immensely proud of this incredible group and everything we’ve achieved so far. Its success has been driven by the passion and dedication of Chloe, Caroline and other members in the group who volunteer their invaluable time and skills because they genuinely care about making a difference. Our increased membership provided an opportunity to have more impact and influence. I’m excited to see the 12 month strategy that we’ve co-created come to life to give us new focus and reinforce our key objectives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chloe Leach-O’Connell is Managing Director of LOC Consultancy, where she helps organisations develop and deliver marketing and communications strategies, as well as innovative employee engagement programmes. She is also Co-chair of Women in Transport’s Diversity & Inclusion Bus Group.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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