UITP’s Journey to DEI: A Model for Change

2nd July 2024

In recent years, the conversation around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has transcended mere discussion to become a cornerstone of organisational strategy across the globe. European and international associations have not been exempt from this shift. They’ve recognised the indispensable value of DEI as a strategic pillar essential for member growth, talent retention, innovative capabilities, and impactful advocacy.

Words Remi Deve

Case in point: the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) which was honored, at the European Association Summit organized by ESAE, with a European Association Award for their groundbreaking DEI initiative. 

Lindsey Mancini, Senior Director of Events and Academy Services at UITP, shares her insights into their journey towards achieving this recognition.

Embracing Diversity in a Traditional Sector

UITP, established in 1885, is the only global network bringing together all public transport stakeholders and sustainable transport modes. Despite its longstanding history and traditional nature, UITP has recently shifted its focus towards diversity, reflecting the varied demographics of the public it serves.

“Our mission encompasses advocacy, knowledge, and networking,” says Mancini. “In recent years, we have been putting more and more focus on issues around diversity. The travelling public our members serve are as diverse as society, therefore it is important for the sector (and for UITP) to reflect that diversity.”

The DEI initiative that earned UITP the European Association Award aims to bring gender parity across the organization’s activities. Mancini explained the motivation behind the initiative and its impressive results.

“Until recently, UITP’s Executive Board had no women, and our event panels were dominated by men. This was incongruous for an association representing a sector that serves all of society,” Mancini remarks. “Our gender diversity policy aims to bring gender parity in all we do. We set targets to double the number of women in our events compared to the 2017/18 editions, eradicate manels (men-only panels), and increase the number of women in our Boards.”

The results speak for themselves. UITP’s Executive Board is now one-third women, the Management Board is balanced, and the number of women speaking at UITP panels has doubled. Notably, UITP now has its first female President in its 140-year history.

Opportunities & Challenges

The initiative presented both opportunities and challenges. The opportunity lay in better engaging with women—staff, members, and potential members alike. Mancini noted the positive change in the association’s atmosphere, highlighting that women members feel more welcomed and engaged.

“The association feels different compared to a few years ago,” she says. “Women members regularly tell me that they feel more welcome. It’s great for the association because we know that companies with such diversity perform better, and it’s great for our members because more of them engage.”

the UITP receiving their award at the EAS

However, there were challenges, including skepticism about the initiative’s feasibility and concerns about maintaining quality. Mancini acknowledged the initial doubts but emphasised the importance of leadership in overcoming these obstacles.

“I heard many times, ‘great idea but not in our committee/sector/board/event/region because there are only men,’” Mancini recalls. “But with leadership setting an example, we made it work. Our Secretary General very openly and publicly refuses to speak on manels. He also helped identify fantastic women speakers and potential board members from his vast network.”

Learning & Implementation

The process of implementing the DEI initiative was not without its difficulties. It required additional effort from UITP’s already hardworking colleagues. However, Mancini emphasized that with commitment and support, significant change is achievable.

“If you really want to make change, and you put the effort in, change is possible,” she says. “Tangible support from top management is essential. You need to help colleagues, not just drop the policy on them and hope that it happens. You need to coach them, remind them, help them, provide tips and guidelines. Reporting is also crucial, so that you can monitor results and celebrate success.”

Encouraging Others to Follow Suit

Mancini’s advice for other associations looking to implement similar initiatives is straightforward: just do it. She emphasises that even in traditionally male-dominated sectors, finding capable and willing women is possible with some effort.

“Top management support is really important, but otherwise, you just have to set your targets and go for it,”she advises. “In our apparently male-dominated sector, it seemed impossible. But with some effort, we found plenty of fantastic women more than capable and willing to engage.”

In the end, winning the European Association Award was a significant milestone for UITP, validating the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the initiative.

“The award is great recognition for everyone at UITP who went above and beyond to achieve what we achieved. But also, it feels good to be recognised for something that is a real value. We value diversity at UITP, and to make progress in this area to align our values with the way we work feels good,” Mancini concludes.

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