Keynote speech for the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, to the Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association (WISTA) Conference
October 3 , 2013
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Thank you for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to speak to this group and also to welcome you to this first conference in Montreal.
This city has played a major role in the development of our country. Along with its history as a major inland port, Montreal was the first home for our country’s rail services and remains the home base for our country’s largest airline, Air Canada.
And just recently, I was honoured to address the opening of the 38th Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization in here in Montreal, where ICAO has been based since its inception in 1947.
As a native of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, maritime issues are in my blood, so I was honoured this summer when Prime Minister Harper asked me to be Minister of Transport.
As Minister, I am aware of the challenges we face to ensure that our transportation network is safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible.
And as a woman, I am also aware that for a long time, shipping and trading has been, to be frank, mostly a man’s world.
However, this gender gap is common to many fields, so maybe it’s best to take the optimistic view that First Lady Barbara Bush once expressed at a college graduation.
She said: “Somewhere, out in this audience, may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President's spouse. I wish him well.”
Prospects for Women in Transportation
An article I saw recently in the Harvard Business Review spoke to a few factors that limit women in professional leadership:
- That acting like men makes others see them as unfeminine, but acting more feminine makes others not see them as leaders.
- That they aren't assigned the kind of major projects that help propel workers into senior positions.
- And, while they are mentored in workplaces, they often don’t get the same sponsorship that propels men into senior roles.
I think these are interesting points, although they apply to many professions and not only shipping and transportation.
But I’m confident that groups such as WISTA can help the shipping and transportation sector to benefit from the energy, intelligence and ability that many women could bring to it, especially as leaders.
Of course, to display these qualities on the job, women first need to get in the door. And not surprisingly, related data shows that in transportation, they could be in for what truckers call a “long haul.”
In a 2009 study on occupations in what is called STTEM – science, trades, technology, engineering and mathematics –, women made up just over one-fifth of its workforce.
And when it comes to marine transportation, the numbers appear to be even lower.
In fact, the Council of Marine Professional Associates, or COMPASS, notes that in 2010, women represented less than two percent of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers. And, to add a bit more perspective, most of these women worked as cooks, porters, or waitresses on cruise ships.
But from the bridge to the boardroom, I think we will see an increasing number of women in transportation, and I’d like to explain why.
First, there is my own experience. As you may know, I am Canada’s first female Minister of Transport.
As the former president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority, I believe that my professional background will help me do my job.
I know that three other women currently serve as port CEOs in Canada – Karen Oldfield in Halifax, Sylvie Vachon in Montreal and Donna Taylor in Oshawa. These women earned their positions because of their professional qualifications and together, I hope all of us can be role models for other women looking to build careers in transportation management.
A second reason I am optimistic is the potential for women to enter this field and the actions some groups are taking to encourage this.
COMPASS, whose data I referred to earlier, sees women as an excellent target group to recruit for the marine industries and has listed development of a gender equity strategy as one of its priorities.
It has also proposed various strategies – such as recruitment programs, marketing campaigns and scholarships – to prompt women to enrol in marine education institutes such as the Canadian Coast Guard College or Memorial University’s School of Engineering.
I believe that these combined efforts will encourage more women to look for work in this field.
Finally, let’s go back to the STTEM occupations that I mentioned. The overwhelming demand for these skilled professions is happening at the same time that many baby boomers are getting close to retirement.
In 2011, for example, there were three times the number of female engineers between 25 and 34 years old as those between 55 and 64.
This indicates that the supply of female science and tech grads is growing and stands to meet a hungry job market – one that includes transportation.
So I believe it is reasonable to hope that the number of women working in all levels in shipping, trade and transportation will rise, just as it will in other science, engineering and technology professions.
Current factors in transportation (safety, partnership, trade)
Whatever the gender of our future transportation professionals there will be challenging factors they will all have to address.
I’d like to mention three, in particular, that I currently face.
The first is safety, as prompted by two recent events in Canada.
The most recent was the tragic collision of a passenger train and a bus in Ottawa, in which six people died and several others were injured.
On the day of the incident, Transport Canada dispatched two investigators to the scene and I appointed a minister’s observer to monitor the investigation and help share information required for decisions on safety issues. We will continue to work on this matter.
Two months prior, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, 250 kilometres east of here.
The explosion and fire that followed killed 47 people and caused significant damage to the town. In my first week on the job, I went to view the site and support the people of Lac-Mégantic.
It was an experience I will never forget.
While Canada has one of the best transportation safety records in the world, these events are sobering reminders of its importance.
I was delighted to recently attend the grand opening of the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association’s new Waterfront Training Centre, which will help the women and men who choose careers in marine transportation to keep our port facilities safe.
As safety is crucial to all modes of transportation, it is a priority for the Government of Canada and we are working to strengthen it in several ways.
For example, last spring, my predecessor, Denis Lebel, announced a series of actions to establish a world-class tanker safety system and focus on prevention, response and compensation in the transportation of oil.
And in recent weeks, I have spoken with rail executives and shippers about strengthening standards for rail safety.
But I should point out that for some time, rail safety has been a priority in Canada.
In fact, my department has invested more than 100 million dollars in our rail safety system and has spent 65 per cent more on it in 2012-13 than it did six years earlier.
We continue to hire inspectors and will increase fines for companies that break our regulations. We have also created whistleblower protection for employees raising safety concerns, and will require rail companies to have an executive legally responsible for safety.
Safety will always be a major issue, because people using transportation, whether for travel or trade, must be able to trust that government and business will work to keep our transportation system as safe as possible.
For those of us managing transportation, maintaining this trust will not be optional.
The second factor I want to highlight is the role of transportation in building our future prosperity.
In Canada, the global demand for our natural resources more than tripled between 2004 and 2011 and it continues to grow.
If I want this country to have a prosperous future for my children, and for all children, that future will rely on Canada being able to get those resources to global markets safely and efficiently.
I want the world to know that Canada is acting to meet this challenge and has plenty of transportation advantages to offer international shippers.
For example, we need to educate world markets about how Canada’s West Coast ports are closer to Asian markets than other ports in North America.
The last factor I want to mention is the importance of partnership.
Strengthening our transportation system is crucial to Canada using international trade to support our recovery and future growth. But to accomplish this, we need partners.
That’s why partnership is a key principle of our Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors policy framework – our blueprint to develop efficient transportation hubs and to adapt to globalized supply chains.
To support it, we have invested more than $2.7 billion in over 80 projects through the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative and the Gateways and Border Crossings Fund.
These projects improve the efficiency of our ports and transportation networks. They also help people in surrounding communities by improving traffic around port areas and supporting economic spin-offs.
To develop these Gateway projects, we need partners in the private sector, other governments and even other nations.
So a commitment to partnership is essential to how we manage transportation in Canada.
These are just three of the factors we face in managing transportation. There are countless more.
In a country as large as Canada, transportation will always be a major factor. So it will require talented people – not only to manage and operate the system itself, but to push and promote its advantages to world markets and stay ahead in international trade.
The gender of these professionals will not matter. They will succeed because of their skill and commitment.
I look forward to working with groups, such as WISTA, to promote transportation safety, partnership and entrepreneurship.
And I look forward to supporting future generations of transportation professionals – both women and men.
I wish all of you the best for a successful conference.
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