5 questions for Sophia von Berg

Aug 30, 2021

Women are often under-represented in the mobility sector. The “Women in Mobility” (WiM) initiative has set itself the target of changing this and making the women’s perspective visible in the design of mobility. Co-founder Sophia von Berg talks about how the project has developed and the goals that still lie ahead for the team.

Almost every idea is based on a situation (a ‘trigger event’). What was behind “Women in Mobility”?

While working on my PhD, I went to many mobility sector events. At one of these events, I met my fellow campaigner Coco Heger-Mehnert for the first time, and was immediately impressed by her passion for the subject of mobility and our discussions on the sector’s many questions and challenges. However, we found this specialist knowledge and the women’s perspective on the design of mobility lacked visibility, certainly on the podiums. But the audiences, too, were up to 90% male, depending on the branch of industry concerned. The idea of creating a platform for expert dialog and making women in the mobility sector both visible and networked together came out of these experiences.

How has the idea developed from then through to today? What hurdles did you have to overcome – and which successes are you particularly proud of at WiM?

Probably the biggest challenge with such an initiative is time management. All the women committed to the goals of Women in Mobility have regular jobs, on a full-time basis. We all undertake the work for Women in Mobility voluntarily in our free time. This voluntary commitment is strongly driven by the intrinsic motivation, but also backed by agile planning and “mutual support”. The dynamics in a voluntary networking organization and the associated community can fluctuate due to personal circumstances and growth. Notwithstanding that, we are succeeding in forging special cooperations – like the one here with IAA MOBILITY – that contribute to our Women in Mobility goals and give value to our community. The appreciation of our work was given major recognition last year through the award of the German Mobility Prize.

Why do we need Women in Mobility?

On the one hand, because of the lack of diversity in terms of how teams are staffed, and similarly in the management tier. In education and training, too, and likewise on university courses relating to the mobility sector and through to professorships, there are far fewer women. This is where WiM is seeking to influence things, by enabling discussion on funding programs, on the attractiveness of the sector and on exciting career options.

The second factor is the WiM family: The network that supports us as women together, that strengthens us and offers the opportunity to discuss personal development-related issues in a protected space.

And thirdly, there’s specialist expertise: Networking enables the various segments of the mobility sector to speak together, to bounce ideas off one another and to appreciate that car, bike, footpaths, new modes of transport such as e-scooters, and public transport make sense working together. How one-sidedly transport planning has been geared to the needs and travel patterns of men and the scant regard paid to the needs of groups such as women is shown in the latest Ramboll study, supported by VBB, “Gender & (Smart) Mobility – Green Paper 2021”.

This shows the need for diversity, since if positions are primarily occupied by men, those men naturally tend to plan from their own perspective. It is time to include the needs of women, and naturally of many other user groups, in planning, product development and implementation.

What are your plans for WiM in future?

Currently, we are working on a database of speakers who will address women’s needs in particular at speaker engagements. If possible, we also want to offer this database at a later stage as a white label solution to similar initiatives in other sectors. In addition, we are staging “WiM Winter School” on November 18 and 19 - a virtual learning event with many exciting speakers and agenda items. Advance ticket sales have already started!

Are there countries that Germany could take as a model? For instance: The South Korean car brand Hyundai is a lot younger than the German global players (Mercedes, BMW, etc.). Is the mobility/automotive sector a male domain, in your view, because it has developed that way historically? How could that be counteracted as a society?

The phenomenon of male domains and diversity is a subject of broad debate in society generally, and particularly amongst younger age groups and not only in the mobility sector. It also affects politics itself, the universities, and many other branches of industry.

Countering this situation as a society starts with education and how we bring up our children, and extends to making career profiles appealing, creating labor policy measures providing solutions for parents whilst raising a family, new forms of organization and work, different kinds of decision-making processes in politics and new legal and statutory measures.  What we see in our network is that a massive change is taking place in the attitude of young people on these issues. To play a part in shaping this and not just to react, it is surely helpful to consider developments before they happen, to embrace diversity in organization, to listen well and to develop and pursue a forward-looking attitude.  I don’t know of any country that has comprehensively asked itself all these questions, but in relation to, say, transport planning and diversity there are some beacon projects.  Helsinki, Copenhagen, and also Paris and Barcelona have all made headway. 

About Women in Mobility

Coco Heger-Mehnert, Anke Erpenbeck and Sophia von Berg are the founders and managing directors of the charity Women in Mobility (WiM) D-A-CH gemeinnützige UG (haftungsbeschränkt) i.G. Women in Mobility is a networking organization animated by the work of the women in hubs in various cities, from Hamburg to Vienna to London. You can find an overview of the WiM offices and the women behind them, who dedicate their free time to this charitable work, at: Hubs | Women in Mobility. To implement the speaker database project, the team is looking for further partners to support them via a donation. If you are interested in receiving further information, please e-mail the team.

IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: The Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries come together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.