Jakarta. Indonesia's unique challenges in improving its transportation systems and providing effective means of connectivity across the archipelago must be addressed by involving more women in decision-making processes, women leaders in the transportation industry said on Friday (29/09).
The role of women was central to a European Union-Indonesia panel discussion on sustainable innovative transport solutions, with speakers comprising chief executives in Indonesia's leading transportation companies.
According to Noni Sri Ayati Purnomo, president director of the Blue Bird Group, advances in technology in the transport service industry have led to increased participation by women. Moreover, she said her role in the company also inspires others to get involved in the male-dominated field.
"Being a woman leader will attract more women to be involved as well – it's part of our job description actually," Noni said. She added that women make up 50 percent of the Blue Bird Group's senior management.
However, there are only 120 women among the company's 40,000 taxi drivers, which Noni said is due to the common perception that it is not socially acceptable and unsafe for women to drive taxis.
"Education is also important to engage more women in transportation," Noni said.
Mari Pangestu, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a former trade minister and minister of tourism and creative economy, said a bigger role for women makes economic and business sense.
"[It makes economic sense,] because why would you waste half of your resources?" said Mari, who moderated Friday's panel discussion.
In Indonesia, 5 percent of the labor force is in the transportation sector and around 5 percent of the total number of employed men are in this sector, compared to less than 1 percent of women, Mari said.
Eka Sari Soerbakti, founder and managing director of ESL Express and ESL Logistics, said that despite the prevailing stigma against women in this field, she believes many characteristics shared by women are suitable in transportation.
"Many [women] have great characters that allow us [to succeed] in this industry. We listen better, we have more empathy, but on the other side, we can be very firm. This combination allows us to be better leaders in this industry," Eka said.
Amid rapid changes and improvements made possible by technology, digital systems are not as expensive as it used to be and they bring more advantages to increase overall efficiency, as well as greater participation by women.
"Having [digital systems] implemented in the company makes it possible for more women to participate in the field," Eka said, alluding to older norms in the transportation industry that required more physical strength, which often put women at a disadvantage.
The panelists also agreed that education plays a crucial role in achieving gender equality, especially to spark ambition among young women to pursue higher education and careers.
Eka expressed hope that future EU-Indonesia cooperation will facilitate more knowledge-sharing, mentoring as well as women and human resources empowerment to improve Indonesia's transportation industry.
Violeta Bulc, European commissioner for transport, said growth in digitalization will provide more space for women to participate in the transportation industry.
She added that quotas are "absolutely necessary" and an effective means to achieve more gender-balanced participation in top managerial positions.
"If you want to move fast, you need quotas. You need to stimulate people with something to invite people to get out of their comfort zone [and] their classical framework of thinking," Bulc said.
Irma Djohan, chief financial officer of Bali International Flight Academy, emphasized the importance of changing existing mindsets, especially in Indonesia, to challenge traditional ways of thinking that limit women from broader participation in the labor force.
"Some time you need to have quotas just to break the glass ceiling," Noni said. However, she does not believe quotas will benefit women if implemented over an extended period.