Krishna discussed diversity in transport on the Venari Podcast
‘At Cubic Transportation Systems, it’s a really exciting time,’ notes Senior Global Marketing Manager, Krishna Desai. ‘There’s lots going on in the industry.’ Indeed, new technology – from contactless payments and smart motorways to smart signalling and camera infrastructure – is revolutionising transport and planning across the world. However, tech also has the potential to shake up another area within the industry: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Gov Kandola, Senior Consultant for our Transport & Logistics practice, welcomed Krishna for an enlightening episode of the Venari Podcast recently, where they discussed some of these recent developments.
Historically, transport may not be the most diverse area of the labour market – though things are slowly beginning to change. Having to queue for the bathroom is not usually cause for celebration, though Krishna notes that doing so at the recent Transport Ticketing Global event made her smile, ‘because you go to these events and usually there’s so many more men than women. And this time it was notably different.’ She stresses there was strong female representation across different levels – including directors, product managers, and engineers – as well as people from many diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. The range of ‘thoughts, and people, and conversations, was magical.’
Levelling the playing field
Krishna was at the event to take part in a panel discussion on DEI: namely, ‘how do we build an ecosystem with the lens of the user in mind? So, when we think about public transportation, more than 50% of the users are women, but it wasn’t designed with women in mind. We can’t change the past, but we can take that history into account and build for the future.’ All too often, the needs of female users, as well as those with mobility issues or people from different backgrounds, are not taken into consideration in the design of transport systems. In France, as well as in cities like Philadelphia, up to two-thirds of public transport passengers are female, while the majority of those making planning decisions are male. Rectifying this is not only the right thing to do: listening to people from these brackets is important ‘because they’re our user base,’ Krishna notes. ‘They’ll have insights that are going to help build the right products, execute it, and therefore increase revenues or reduce congestion, whatever the agency’s goals are.’
Public transport is not the only area where women’s experiences frequently do not come into consideration, however. Even as Krishna was preparing to speak at the DEI panel event, she had a first-hand example of how a lot of tech just isn’t designed with women in mind: because she was wearing a dress, rather than a shirt, there was nowhere to clip her mic. ‘I should have thought about what I was going to wear before I went on, knowing that I’m going to be mic’d up,’ Krishna admits with a wry smile. Nonetheless, she couldn’t help but note the irony. ‘Before I even got onto a panel, I’m like, “Well, here’s discrimination: how something as simple as a mic has been built with a man in mind and not a woman.”’
Ways to move forward
Krishna notes that while there has been progress in diversity in her industry, there is still some way to go. Nonetheless, she makes a point of highlighting positive steps in the right direction, including companies signing pledges and launching recruitment schemes for underrepresented groups. One example is the STEM Returners programme, which is specifically aimed at women in science and technology who are coming back to the jobs market after a career break. This is particularly useful for businesses that would like to narrow their gender diversity gap but might not know where to begin; ‘a lot of companies want to hire more women, but the CVs they’re going through aren’t from women’, Krishna says. While pilot programmes like these are certainly a start, she believes that real change won’t happen until companies begin setting quotas for how they want their workplace to look, ‘trying to rebalance that collaboration and calibrate it towards a wider range of applicants to sift through.’
Cubic are certainly practicing what Krishna preaches – they have recently partnered with McMaster University in Canada to better understand user experience and how this might affect one’s journey. Over 100 academics are researching products ‘within transit and even smart motorways and smart mobility’, Krishna says. ‘We’re using a lot of machine learning, AI, VR experience, to try and understand how a customer’s journey is through different personas.’ Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes makes for a fascinating experience. ‘It’s kinetic learning. When we’re learning, we remember more,’ Krishna states. ‘So even if we can’t have that person in the room, once we’ve experienced it, it’s a completely different shift in your mindset and thought process’. The Elizabeth Line is just one example of a Cubic project where VR helped to design a station with improved accessibility – not only for those with mobility issues, but also for people with eyesight problems and colour blindness. ‘The better informed [passengers] are, the better they move around the station’.