Although 57 per cent of TTC riders are women, only 15 per cent of its employees are. That's a problem.
The Toronto Transit Commission has a mandate to staff its workforce—one of the largest in the city—with employees as diverse as the riders it serves. But so far it’s dramatically missing the mark, particularly when it comes to representing women.
The commission’s 2014 Annual Report on Diversity and Human Rights Achievements shows that while women account for 57 per cent of TTC ridership and 52 per cent of the city’s population, they only make up 15 per cent of the transit agency’s workforce.
It is a far cry from the 48.7 per cent benchmark for female employment set by the province and the city, and even fails the more modest 26.9 per cent target set by the federal government for the transportation sector.
Some observers argue the disparity between ridership and the workforce speaks to longstanding gendered transit issues, and the issue needs action.
“To hear that the TTC is sitting at 15 per cent for women employees is quite disappointing,” says councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale). “It tells me that the TTC is one of the agencies where we need to do better at diversifying.”
The report also showed that 38 per cent of TTC employees identified as “racial minorities” compared to 44 per cent of the city’s population.
The abysmal showing of female transit employees suggests a few problems. It could mean the TTC isn’t doing enough as an equal opportunity employer to recruit women. It may also help explain why women still face barriers (more so than men do) in terms of accessing transit.
Not only do women use transit more than men, they use it differently. They tend to make multiple short trips throughout the day, for example, whereas men will ride to and from work. The current system is designed for taking direct trips, however, particularly to the downtown core, and is unkind to those who make multiple stops. Get off the bus to run a quick errand or pick up the kids, and you must pay another $3 (soon to be $3.25) fare. Women are also more often in caregiver roles which require stroller or wheelchair accessibility, another area where the TTC has struggled. And safety on transit continues to be an issue for women.
The TTC has addressed some of these problems by introducing designated waiting areas on subway platforms, equipped with bright lighting and an intercom service. They also offer Request Stop which allows nighttime riders to exit the bus or streetcar between stops to minimize walking distance.
“We have done some things well,” says Wong-Tam, pointing to these two safety initiatives, “but I think the problem is more systemic than that. I would imagine this entire city looking very different if it was designed with the needs of women and girls in mind. Transit in Toronto would radically change,” she continues. “I would imagine all the bus routes would change. The focus would not be necessarily to get people into the financial district, but rather servicing the suburban areas with perhaps more buses, even LRT routes.”
Last year, the TTC developed a two-year diversity and inclusion plan intended to help diversify their workforce. With female representation so low, attracting more women is an obvious priority. Their efforts include outreach and co-op programs geared towards women, and consulting with female employees on how to make the workplace more appealing to women. “If our workforce is more diverse, it can help us to better anticipate and meet the needs of our diverse customers,” says Karen Kuzmowich, lead for the TTC’s Diversity and Human Rights Department. “Employees with direct, first-hand knowledge of the challenges and barriers faced by our diverse customers will help to design and deliver inclusive services.”
Kara Santokie, director at Toronto Women’s City Alliance, says women specifically need to be better represented in decision-making roles. “I don’t think there’s a direct relationship between [inaccessibility] and the number of women who are TTC employees,” she says. “What’s of more direct relevance is that there isn’t that equitable gender representation on the TTC board.”
This past spring, the TTC had the chance to diversify its board when it carved out four seats for citizen members. All of those seats went to white men, a decision that incited a minor uproar. A week later, Maureen Adamson (president and CEO of the Michener Institute) replaced Kevin Marshman (former vice-president of Rogers Communication) as vice-chair, becoming the second woman on the 11-member board.
According to Wong-Tam, there needs to be a more sweeping solution to what she sees as a systemic problem that spans all City departments and programs.
“We need to put a gender equity lens on all city operations,” she says, envisioning a gender equity office within the city manager’s office. “That way it’s not a politicized discussion, it’s a matter of ‘this is protocol, this is how the City delivers services.’”
And bringing gender equality into all policies doesn’t just help women, adds Wong-Tam. “If you focus the service enhancements on women, because of intersectionality—whether it’s race, sexual orientation, mental health, religion or ethnicity—it means that all those other equity lenses are incorporated into gender equity.”
She’s pitched the concept to the City Manager, Peter Wallace, who she says is “friendly” to the idea. It’s a small encouragement after five years of fighting for the cause.
By now she’s lost count of how many times she’s raised a motion in council on gender equity. “It’s almost called a ‘Wong-Tam move’ now where I stand up and say ‘I’d like to amend a staff report to include a gender equity lens on program X,’” she says, half-joking but mostly exhausted.
“I shouldn’t have to do that.”