Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Topical indeed

About a week ago, @Nordette99 asked me a question via twitter

"This might seem like an odd question, but why aren't there more female tram drivers? From the sounds of it, the job is well paid, pretty secure, etc... Just keen to hear your thoughts."

In light of recent federal events, it's a good question. While I'll attempt to answer it as best as possible, I know some people may get offended by the very mention of gender. I'm not trying to piss anyone off, further an agenda or indulge in some sort of post-modern, women-hating commentary. The fact may well be that there are fewer female applicants to the job for whatever reason. I'm basing this on the premise that recruitment is done based on merit, as opposed to "we need more chicks". Oh, and the whole "gender/sex" argument has no place here. I'm using the word "gender", so deal with it.

For starters, the transport industry traditionally has been male-dominated. Upwards of 90% of bus drivers in Europe are male (http://www.internationaltransportforum.org/jtrc/DiscussionPapers/DP201111.pdf , p. 12. Yes, I'm citing shit). The same article cites bias in recruitment testing (that tends towards "male" characteristics) and a number of other issues. It's an interesting read, especially considering that Australia is a member of the International Transport Forum (p. 2). 

Why would a woman chose to work in public transport, particularly Melbourne? Well, as @Nordette99 identifies, the position is secure, well-remunerated and with good conditions. What's not to like? Well, here's a list.

1. Working hours are shit. Yes, they are. But so are a number of customer service roles that seem to attract women, so this really isn't a valid reason. Think nurses. Besides, the job can be very taxing on anyone in terms of trying to score the right type of shifts. Most transport companies pretend to be family friendly, but that's bullshit. Longer shifts, longer hours, more time on the road and less pay. That should be enough to put people off regardless of gender. 
2. Actual security. All those drunken scumbag passengers, who happen to be mostly male, don't tend to hit on male staff. In my experience, anyway. Now and then, drivers need to leave the cabin to change points or change ends. The idea of a group of drunks harassing anyone's wife, daughter or partner would be enough to make me talk them out of it. I've heard horror stories from female staff involving stalkers and all sorts of shit, so before you call me on my stereotyping, this actually happens. If you're a woman who's traveled on public transport, you probably understand what I'm talking about.
3. If you see an industry that's mostly filled with men, you may chose not to work in that industry based on the amount of harassment you might encounter from colleagues. Yes, there are pieces of shit in any industry who will treat women poorly, and public transport is not immune. However, considering it's a "man's industry", why take the risk? Public Transport has an international history of being male-dominated. You could change conditions to make it appeal to more women, but that would cost money/reduce dividends. Having part-time staff was a thing of the past and these staff would only work between 6am and 6pm. 
4. 1975 was the year when women were "allowed" to drive trams (http://www.yarratrams.com.au/about-us/our-history/trams-in-melbourne/) . Yes, a whopping thirty-eight years ago. And this was after decades of fighting against it. The women who pushed for this put up with all sorts of shit. Yes, much of that can be put down as society at the time, but in an industry that lives on the mantra "that's the way it's always been done", you have to ask yourself how welcoming they might be. Granted, staff and policies have changed, but how many times have change been attempted, only to be thwarted by someone else because of that mantra? Oh, and as a reference point, Federation in 1901 gave women the right to vote (http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/about/the-history-of-parliament/womens-suffrage-petition). One hundred and twelve years ago.

So aside from taking on the physical burden of shift work (that shortens your life), dealing with the public, driving in traffic, shitty government department and company policies, lack of state/federal government support and dealing with a company who considers you an expensive number, would you want to take on the challenges of a male-dominated industry?

The women I work with are for the most part wonderful people. They put up with even more shit that I do, but still manage to front up to work. They put up with some different cultural expectations from colleagues, as well as the usual stares and whispers men indulge in. If you're friends with a woman, you must be sleeping with her - that's the sort of attitude that sadly prevails in many sectors.

If you're pissed at some of the things I've said, please understand that I've had to consider the experiences of women I know who work in the industry. I'm not actually a woman, so forgive me if I've got something very wrong. If you feel these are outdated views, you need to consider the industry and the lack of change throughout the years. If you live in 2013, try to picture 1984-5 and you should have some sort of idea.

Feel free to comment here, especially if you're a woman who's considered working in the tramways.