Gender differences in sustainable urban mobility are a major focus for our latest Women in MaaS guest. An academic, data analyst and mobility expert, Ines Kawgan-Kagan has enthusiastically focused her attention on the field of sociology and transportation. In this article, we talk to Ines about her PhD research, social constructs and the need to make free-floating e-carsharing more attractive to women.
Ines Kawgan-Kagan: AET Ambassador for Germany, Lecturer and PhD Candidate
What motivated you to get involved in mobility and MaaS?
I have a diploma in public administration but later decided to change to sociology. I’m fascinated by societies and statistics so combining the two made sense. At the end of my master’s degree, I had a short-term contract and was pregnant with my fourth child. It was at daycare where a friend told me about the fact that it was mostly men using free-floating electric carsharing.
I wanted to find out what was behind that. Why were there so few women using them and how could this mode be made more attractive to females? I’ve always been passionate about gender equality, so I decided to make it the topic of my dissertation focusing on urban areas in Germany. I worked together with an institute, which provided me with data. That’s how it all started.
Why is free-floating e-carsharing attracting mostly men?
It’s not only the practical aspects like women having different trip chains or travel patterns. It starts much earlier than that. We live in a society that defines gender as two polar opposites and that’s also reflected in transport with public transport being seen as feminine and private cars as masculine. This is born out by research and is also something we learn unconsciously from the day we’re born through our families, kindergarten, school and friends.
These social constructs shape our attitude toward life. Some people say this is for biological reasons but evidence shows it’s definitely socially constructed because boys are encouraged to play with cars, with tools and so on. Girls are encouraged to play more social games like, for example, the little bakery stands. This influences how we view mobility for women and men. You just have to look at movies, such as those from the 80s; it’s the man driving the car.
Do you see this changing?
It’s slowly changing as people become more aware of gender bias. A positive example was when I had an initial talk to check out a daycare centre. They handed my daughter a car to play with; it was great to see because it’s not statistically normal practice. In broader society, a lot of people think boys have to play with balls, cars and so on. Of course, it’s not just what they play with but how they’re expected to behave too. Girls are supposed to be empathic. Boys are supposed to be brave, tough and try out things.
This bravery of trying out new things actually helps them to adapt to innovative mobility solutions. On the other hand, women are more cautious about that. Men like to test different car models and features. That’s not typical with females. Last year, some carsharing companies told me it’s still 80% men who are using their services so the issue continues to persist. I want to contribute to finding solutions with my research.
What were some of the other findings in your research?
In addition to differing travel patterns and socialisation, research also showed that women were more interested in sustainability, used public transport more and were more often passengers in cars. Men, on the other hand, drove cars more often and were more interested in technology and innovation.
In my sample of 2,400 individuals (half men, half women), I found that men drove 14,800 car kilometres and women drove 10,000 car kilometres on average per year, so there’s quite a difference. When it comes to new mobility such as carsharing, many women don’t always feel safe in heavy urban traffic, especially if it’s a service they don’t use often and it’s a car they’re not familiar with either. This stops women from adopting free-floating carsharing.
Gender hasn’t been considered in research previously when looking at these new innovative examples of sustainable mobility, which is why my research is key. We need to encourage e-carsharing and other environmentally-friendly modes to help to improve livability in our cities.
Were women willing to use free-floating e-carsharing at all in your research?
Yes. At the start, I carried out research to see what distinguished the small group of early female adopters of free-floating e-carsharing. These women were prepared to use electric vehicles more often than a combustion engine model and tended to use public transport and their bikes more as well. They were also younger but just as well educated as men. There was a clear connection between women using carsharing and cycling, which is particularly interesting. It’s something that hasn’t been researched so far – the focus is usually on public transport and carsharing.
My investigation also highlighted the importance of looking beyond simply the mode of transport that people choose, to what activity they’re involved in. Are they commuting to work, taking a child to a sports club, getting groceries – it’s important to understand the ‘why’. Any sustainable mobility solution needs to support a broader audience beyond early adopters not simply targeted at men. We also need to see mobility choices as being active or passive without reference to gender. I used to have a car until last year and I love cycling as well but I’m not a fan of public transport as it’s crowded. I can rely on cycling; you’re the one who chooses where to go.
What were the final recommendations that resulted from your research?
When researching gender and mobility or transport, it’s important to understand and address what’s behind the differences to provide the right solution. I devised 30 measures to make free-floating electric carsharing more attractive for women but they’re not published yet. I’m looking to work with free-floating carsharing – or micromobility – providers to test these measures out.
However, I can discuss one recommendation. Each morning after charging, an algorithm determines where vehicles are positioned. It’s based on user trips – and as most users are currently men, the cars are located based on male data and positioned to attract men.
We need to break up this algorithm and to collect data from women and other potential users to position vehicles in a way that targets a broader audience. The same applies to micromobility. This is one change that needs to take place.
Is part of the problem due to a lack of women working in the transport sector?
We know there are way more men working in transportation and mobility, especially when it comes to innovation. There’s the so-called ‘I-methodology’. You look at everything from your own perspective. When you invent something you have a use case in mind but this can cause a lot of innovations to fail. Having more women in teams, of course, will help broaden perspectives and bring in new ideas but we can’t magically make more women work in the field. You can solve this by having more user testing and paying attention to a balanced dataset.
I love the phrase ‘kill your darlings’. Don’t hold onto your ideas just because you like them. You need to listen to your users and care about what the market says. This means making any necessary changes to your innovation that are in the best interests of your customer base and your organisation. I usually give people this advice when they ask about how they can make sure their innovation will be successful.
What can we do to change perspectives and encourage more women to work in the industry?
The transport sector has been a male-dominated profession for quite some time, in Germany as well as other countries. But the physical movement of goods and people is only one part of the equation. Mobility is so much more and takes a holistic approach to how we use transportation and its role in society. From that perspective, we’re seeing more women in mobility, as can be seen with SkedGo’s Women in MaaS interviews. There are also several networks for women across, for example, rail and public transport. This is a positive development that I hope will continue. It is something that cannot be changed overnight; it takes time.
However, what we can do is encourage education. It starts by getting this topic on the agenda in daycare. There are guidelines to be gender-neutral when it comes to the toys children play with or how they are treated. In addition, I’d like to see courses for schools to discuss mobility. Right now, the younger generation has a huge interest in environmental issues. This is a good point of connection to create a more neutral, sustainable approach to mobility.
What would you say to encourage more women to work in the sector?
Go for it because we need different perspectives. I think in the beginning, it’s important to network. This is something I learned during my first studies. I wasn’t able to go to any of the events because I was a single mother, working and studying and I didn’t have the time or energy for it. I felt left out pretty fast but then I thought, ‘if I don’t approach people, they’re not going to approach me’. Why would they? Networking is a very important tool for women.
I also think just be yourself. It’s a stereotype that women are not supposed to be networkers or ambitious because we’re not socialised in that way. A lot of people recommend that women change to fit into a male-dominated working culture, but it’s the working conditions that need to change. Women entering the field should stay as they are and not imitate those already working in the sector otherwise we’ll just end up going around in circles.
Is there anyone within MaaS, mobility or transport that inspires you?
The person who introduced me to my PhD topic – his name is Christian Hoffmann. I learned just how great an opportunity networking could be – he’s the greatest networker I’ve ever met and always very polite and friendly. He’s an environmental psychologist and knows a lot about the field. He inspired me.
What is your vision for the future of MaaS?
Mobility providers looking to connect with public transport need to approach a broad audience and not just focus on the early adopters. This will help companies to continue to grow their user base and improve their chances of success. After all, mobility is supposed to be for the whole of society, not just a few people.
I also hope that we can move towards co-creation when determining user needs and how technology can support that. We shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We’re at the point where we can change direction and hopefully achieve gender equality when it comes to future transport and mobility solutions.
About Ines Kawgan-Kagan
Ines is a mobility expert, Association of European Transport (AET) Ambassador for Germany, a lecturer at HTW Berlin and HMKW Berlin as well as a PhD candidate at the Technische Universität Berlin.
Her research focuses on gender differences in sustainable urban mobility and she also has a particular interest in carsharing, e-mobility and consumer behaviour. In addition to her studies, she has researched at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin, at the HTW Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin and was a management consultant for APPM GmbH.
When Ines isn’t busy working, she loves to spend time with her four children and enjoys bouldering and playing squash.
You can connect with Ines on LinkedIn.