International Women’s Day - Meet Jo White
08 Mar 2021
We caught up with Jo White our Roads Development Divisional Director who explained what International Women’s Day means to her.
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I’m a big believer in equality – particularly when it comes to work and making sure we retain and attract the right candidates for a role. Working in transport, and in intelligent transport systems, can often feel very male dominated. I lose count of the number of meetings I’ve been in, not to mention conference panels, where I was the only woman. One notable exception to that was the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety conference on safer vehicles in 2016 where the only male was the chair of the panel.
It’s funny because I’ve never felt outnumbered in male dominated situations. For example, at A level, I took further maths which was probably the most unpopular course in the college. There were five of us in the class, me and four males. But it worked – and they were all super smart which was very helpful for me! I was also only one of two girls in the physics class – again, not an issue.
Applying to university massively challenged this approach – I’d taken the entrance exam for Oxford and to my surprise, had been invited for interview. When applying, I’d had to choose colleges and I really didn’t know which ones to put down. So, feeling like I needed to give myself the best chance possible, I put in what they called an “open application” – this means you just get given colleges to go to for interviews. I was given Somerville (all girls), Balliol (mixed) and St Hilda’s (all girls). I was actually really disappointed with those – I had always had a mixed education and the thought of going to an all-girls college filled me with dread. But how wrong I was! When I went for interview, I loved Somerville – the people, the atmosphere. And when I was offered a place there, I was so chuffed. It gave me the platform to progress – and it would not have existed had it not been for Mary Somerville and women like her showing their prowess for science and maths.
It was whilst at Somerville, studying maths, that I took a course on mathematical modelling that looked at how congestion forms on roads – and I was hooked. Fast forward through a PhD, career in data analysis, math models and intelligent transport systems all culminating in achieving Chartered Engineer status with the Institute for Engineering and Transportation – to now in my new temporary role as Roads Development Divisional Director. I’m really proud to hear male colleagues say how their line management chain is mostly female – so times are changing.
So, I’ve been fortunate in my career that I’ve never often felt unequal or treated less well because I’m female. However, sadly, there are so many women who are not in that place. And there are many others who are also wrongly treated differently because of the colour of their skin, their gender identity, their sexuality and so on.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. So, what’s that all about? Well, it’s about challenging and calling out gender bias and inequality and choosing to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. This is all about ensuring we help to build an inclusive world.