Attracting women to the bus and coach industry (or not)

Sunday 22nd May 2022

Go-Ahead’s Rachel Perkins speaking at the Young Bus Managers’ recent Cardiff conference

One of the truly gratifying rewards of my involvement with the Young Bus Managers Network is to see a continuing increase in the number of young women entering the bus industry for a management career. Attendances at our conferences show it’s no longer an unusual occurrence to see women among, what decades ago, would have been an exclusively male audience.

Indeed, I well remember how unusual it was when the first female management trainee was recruited by the National Bus Company; akin to the first woman bus driver or train driver for newsworthiness. Now all the transport groups have many female managers running bus depots, heading up operations and a whole variety of key roles.

Recent very senior appointments in both First Bus and Stagecoach have been women and the plc main Boards of the industry’s transport groups have extensive female representation. There are many coach companies led by women.

I also see bus and coach companies making strenuous efforts to attract women to take on driving roles and many have targets to achieve a better gender mix.

This is all very encouraging but one area where there’s still much work to be done to increase female representation is on the engineering side of the business. This has traditionally been a very male dominated sphere of work not least because of the overall male culture of the working environment and often facilities providing nothing to make women welcome (eg not even having adequate gender specific toilet and wash facilities). At a time when recruitment of skilled staff is a constant challenge, not least because of the age profile of the workforce with many approaching retirement, it’s never been more appropriate to crack this issue once and for all.

Things are improving – it’s no longer so unusual to see female skilled staff in workshops as efforts have been made to ensure apprenticeship schemes are open to all – but there is a very long way to go.

It was therefore very disappointing to see one of the industry’s leading suppliers repeat its full page advertisement in two trade magazines the week before last, the content of which takes us back fifty years to the era of smutty, sexist, misogynistic, innuendo dominated humour of Carry On films and dubious TV comedy programmes which have rightly long been confined to the dustbin of viewing history.

Imagine a young impressionable female teenager thinking of a career on the engineering side of our industry leafing through Bus & Coach Buyer and routeone magazines last week to see what the industry was about. I suspect they’d be appalled this type of content was considered acceptable in 2022, let alone what type of industry we must be when a major supplier thinks this type of messaging is appropriate.

When I tweeted about this after the advert appeared it caused a minor stir on social media and since then I’ve been contacted by senior directors and managers in the industry sharing their concern such content is considered appropriate by two respected magazines. So I contacted the editors of both to ask them why they carried the advert.

Tim Deakin of routeone was unequivocal that an advert of this kind is not acceptable in his magazine. It had been a one-off ‘slip-through-the-net’ and wouldn’t be repeated. Tim explained: “this is not acceptable. We have a standing instruction that this particular advert (which is not a new one) is not to be accepted for publication in routeone. Regrettably, it was missed by my colleagues in sales when they were preparing advertising copy on Monday and equally regrettably, as you have seen, has made it through. I apologise for the messaging that the advert in question creates. I have spoken just now to my colleague Sales Manager, and he will be putting a further step in place on Monday to ensure that there is no repeat of this. It goes without saying that routeone supports any and all work to diversify the coach and bus industry’s workforce, as demonstrated in 2021 when we dedicated an issue to the contribution that women already in the industry have made”.

Good on Tim and routeone magazine and indeed the February 2021 issue did contain extensive coverage of women in the industry with interviews and features.

Mark Williams, editor of Bus & Coach Buyer was equally robust, expressing his own personal abhorrence of bigotry and having no time for such messaging but stopped short of preventing publication of an advert of this kind responding: “personally, I find it unamusing and lame, as I do much cheap sexual innuendo. And I agree, it belongs in Carry On films and the 1970s. I do not subscribe to the view that innuendo is in the mind of the beholder; the innuendo of the advertiser is clear. As editor, I bear legal responsibility for everything in the magazine so far as libel and slander are concerned, and I have a responsibility to prevent publication of any form of bigotry, whether sexual or otherwise. If there were any sense in which any advertisement was denigrating to women, for example, I would exercise my right to refuse publication. I abhor bigotry of every kind, and have spoken out against it consistently, verbally, in print and in demonstrations on the streets of London.

“However, the Heavy Duty Parts advertisement – while it may be seen as puerile – is not discriminatory. A female image is clearly used to achieve the double entendre but I do not believe it denigrates women. To put this very bluntly, the implication is that an attractive woman is looking down at an erection. This may be seen (and is seen by me) to be inappropriate in a business context, but then the joke is predicated on this incongruity.

“Importantly, Heavy Duty Parts clearly believes the ‘joke’ has appeal to its marketplace. If I were, personally, a customer, I might well use that position to make my feelings known, and HDP’s customers have every right to withdraw their custom if they find the advertisement offensive. It is unwise to offend your customers (or anyone else) but it is not illegal. On this occasion, I will share my feelings with Heavy Duty Parts. I suggest those on social media do the same.”

If Mark is right and Heavy Duty Parts believes this type of messaging “has appeal to its marketplace” I do hope the marketplace in the form of senior managers and directors in this industry don’t hold back in letting them know their views, as I am doing now, and have done to Kevin Booth the company’s Managing Director. I contacted him earlier in the week explaining I was writing this blog and asking if he’d like “to explain the thinking behind the advert and its imagery so I can share this with my readers”. At the time of writing I haven’t received a reply.

However, it was encouraging to see the latest advert from the company, this time on the front page of Friday’s Bus & Coach Buyer, has changed its imagery and message so perhaps note has been taken of the views expressed following the previous advert.

Let’s hope so and the team at Heavy Duty Parts appreciate the strides being made by this industry to improve gender balance and diversity…….

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

10 thoughts on “Attracting women to the bus and coach industry (or not)

Add yours

  1. Oh Dear Oh Dear! Have we actually got to the stage where ALL humour is seen as offensive? They said that was going to happen eventually when the politically correct brigade finally took over. I am glad the innuendo was pointed out to me as I certainly didn’t see it. Must have been born too early, but so glad I was.


    1. Humour has to be funny. This isn’t, from any perspective. It is either sexualised or implying that the person opening the parcel is amazed at the size of something heavy duty. Would it work with a photo of you instead? If the answer is no then the point being made, by Roger, is reinforced.


  2. Absolutely agree with you; and humour and lightheartedness are great in advertisements, but not offensive stuff like that – there are much better jokes to be made. Great to see the actual replies from editors.

    One area where the bus industry is way ahead of some others is in attracting female customers – generally there seem to be more women than men on a bus, and often of a wide age-range. Though one female friend said to me some time ago “You won’t get any of our comments listened to – they only listen to men”… [I’m sure that was not true at B&H]

    Please keep up the good work, and many thanks for another interesting and very readable blog

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Knob jokes to advertise bus spare parts – really 21st century🤮They used to have a large breasted skimpily dressed girl wielding a massive drill in front of her with equally unsophisticated knob-joke copy. Do engineers and stores people get a cheap thrill and rush to order from them because of it?


    1. Major Fire at Potters Bar Bus Garage

      A bus at the garage has exploded. Probably a hybrids Lithium battery . At least several buses are well alight and the garage has been evacuted and is currently out of service and will be for some time


  4. Overall I think the bus industry has done well with the number of women in senior positions. In other positions perhaps less so.

    One area where it has done less well is the racial profile in very senior positions. Given the large numbers of platform staff from many backgrounds, this is not reflected at the top. Indeed it seems more difficult now to progress through the ranks.

    It is all about having the best people there.


  5. Let us hope this blog starts a trend where people are free to criticise those in the industry.
    For far too long there has been a chumminess where low standards and idiotic decisions are not given the publicity they deserve.
    There are many examples of the bus industry being back in the dark ages and ignoring passengers. They only listen to their peers (and bad publicity) so well done Roger.
    Sadly, everyone else seems to have self-interest in keeping schtum about issues like this.


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