On International Women’s Day, 2021, Paula Claytonsmith, our Executive Director, Corporate Affairs, Brand & Government, writes about her personal experience as a women working in a male-dominated sector.


Choosing to challenge – my experience

I work in an industry that is very male dominated. Women make up 47 per cent of the UK workforce, but account for only 20 per cent of workers in the transport sector.

In my everyday working life those stats translate to me frequently being the only woman in a meeting and the only female name on an email chain.

This has made me really conscious about the small steps needed every day – as well as the bigger initiatives – to ensure we are forging a gender-equal world and that everyone feels included and valued.

Supporting and encouraging women

So what are these small steps? They include thinking about our use of language in our emails and in our verbal communication and training ourselves to break-free of gender stereotypes (assuming for example, that a woman will be the main childcarer in the family).

As part of my efforts to promote the importance of gender balance in our sector, I am a member of the Women in Transport Group  – a not-for-profit group that encourages women in the sector to maximise their potential.

I was also privileged, in 2019, to give evidence to the Transport Select Committee’s local roads funding enquiry – one of only a few women to do so.  I felt humbled and proud to be named and thanked as an expert witness by Lilian Greenwood, the Labour MP for Nottingham South and member of the Commons Transport Select Committee.

I’m also one of a small number of women on the Board of the Local Council Roads Innovation Group and the rural representative on the PIARC, the International Roads group.

These public-facing roles are important in showing the world that women have a voice in our sector. I hope that, by taking-up these positions, I am encouraging other women to put themselves forward for similar roles.

Business and balance

Within Gaist, I am leading efforts to ensure that we are taking concrete steps to encourage women both into our business and into the industry.

The practical ways  in which we’re doing this include deploying software to ensure we use gender neutral language in our adverts. We are also about to embark on unconscious bias training for all our team.

We are proud to have many talented women on-board here: Christina Liassides is our Senior lead for SafetyView – taking to market this leading-edge safety service for councils seeking more effective management of road safety for their communities.

Charlotte Heeles, within our Operations team, helps ensure SafetyView is delivered well to clients while Olivia Wilson is another key team member within our Professional Services division.

Behind the scenes, Fiona Birdsall ensures that our customers always receive a good experience when they work with us, along with Liz Wilson. Our HR/Finance is run by Julie Richardson.

As a disruptor in the highways field, we are used, at Gaist, to constantly challenging traditional thinking. That’s an approach which we are determined to apply also to gender balance and to encouraging us all, collectively, to #choosetochallenge.