“Diversity is something very precious”.
02.03.2021 | People & Society
Isabell Eberlein is doing everything she can to ensure that women’s voices are having an impact in the bicycle industry. That’s why she founded the “Women in Cycling” initiative with lots of colleagues and supporters, including Dr Sandra Wolf, CEO at Riese & Müller. We profile an important industry player who is convinced that getting things to be good needs diverse perspectives.
It all got started for her at university in Amsterdam. Daily life in the metropolis with the opportunities provided by good infrastructure and a vibrant mobility culture thrilled Isabell Eberlein. “They don’t talk about ‘mobility’ in Amsterdam – it’s simply about getting around conveniently. Everyone cycles. And everyone wears normal clothes, not those weird lycra things”.
Detour via rail
The political scientist didn’t actually like economics, but nevertheless “ended up in the industrial sector”. Her career began in the public transport start-up scene. She got to know the mobility sector in all its facets. Isabell quickly realised, however, “that processes in public transport were very slow. Something I don’t have patience for”.
In 2015 she arrived in Berlin. It was when Changing Cities e. V. was born, and in 2016 it petitioned for a referendum on cycling with over 100,000 signatures. Today it coordinates cycling referendums throughout Germany. “I was hooked by the mood for change and thought that it was the way to finally create Dutch conditions here”. At the same time, her need to combine career with personal interests grew. In her new job as a mobility consultant at bicicli GmbH, she moved closer to her ideal.
“Seeing the big picture”
“I have now found my place in managing Velokonzept. We are an agency and offer a platform that brings together very different people, for example from politics and industry”.
To do this, Isabell Eberlein and her team organise events and use communities such as the Bikebrainpool. “The beauty of my job is that I get to see the big picture”. In the process, she has learned things. “Infrastructure is important. But the problem is often one of culture. Things only change when people change their habits”.
#Diversity and thinking broadly
In addition to her role managing Velokonzept, Isabell Eberlein is now active as a board member for Changing Cities e. V. She is active in the nationwide networking of cycling decision-making, especially locally in her adopted home district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in Berlin, where she is committed to issues relating to “women and cycling”. In 2019, for example, she organised the first all-female panel from the cycling industry and supported “Purple Ride” on International Women’s Day – a public holiday in Berlin – linking the feminist and cycling scenes.
“Diversity is a key concept for the industry, whether from a political, economic or social perspective. The underlying question is how to reach new groups. Talking about the women’s issue is important to me, but we need to think broader than that. It’s also about age and origin.”
Isabell recalls a project she did at a school in the district of Neukölln, Berlin. “Students had a choice of the most amazing bikes – but they all found cycling required too much effort and was embarrassing”. Perspectives need to be developed here. It’s not just about asking questions, but offering insights and experiences, for example through work experience placements or similar schemes.
A key issue is how to make contact with other communities. Isabell is in contact with the organiser of a Turkish community and has learnt that “you need to build bridges. As a German woman, how can I know what is important to a Muslim woman, a girl, a teenager?”
Different groups mobilise their members very differently to what you might expect. For example, with much less focus on political issues, and more on community initiatives.
Getting things to be good needs diverse perspectives.
This can be illustrated with the design of a voice control system. Imagine it was developed by an all-male team and the day of presenting the product has come. A woman enters the room, she says something – and the device does not recognise her voice. Simply because it has not been tested with a woman’s voice. “And it would be the same the other way round, if only women had developed speech recognition”, speculates Isabell Eberlein.
“And this applies also to urban infrastructures. They are mostly geared to the needs of a particular male model, the male commuter. Other route chains, the ‘mobility of care’, are still too rarely taken into account today. There is a lack of routes and parking facilities when daily life consists of short stops and stages – for example from the bakery to the pharmacy, then first to work, later home and then to music lessons”.
It is also a well-known fact that women are generally more risk-averse. Therefore, having a large number of women on the roads is considered an indicator of safe infrastructure.
“The bicycle in particular, as a universal vehicle, should embrace these different perspectives. This means that women also need to occupy and have an impact on key positions in the industry”.
February 2021: Women in Cycling (WIC) is an initiative that aims to bring together all women working in the cycling sector – worldwide. The goal is a diverse, inclusive cycling sector that promotes equal opportunities and helps realise the potential of cycling as a mode of transport.
The focus is on networking, sharing opinions and experiences, and creating a platform and structures for cooperating on projects and initiatives. Important tools are the new Expertise Portal and a LinkedIn group for networking as well as also for job vacancies and searches for experts.
“For example, a German executive director can network with a Dutch academic who is researching new materials and immediately incorporate the perspectives of civil society representatives”, explains Isabell Eberlein.
Brompton boss Butler-Adams: “Where are all the women?”
Isabell Eberlein took part in an event at Eurobike 2019, a leading trade fair for the bicycle industry. And found herself in a room full of men.
“There were maybe 10 women among the 300 participants. Consequently, the speaker, Will Butler-Adams, CEO of Brompton, asked the obvious question: ‘Where are all the women? Why are they not represented here?’ Because of the position he holds in the industry, it had a real impact. We had to act”. Immediately after the event, Isabell Eberlein approached the other women in the room, and they came up with an idea.
Initiators of the WIC initiative in cooperation with the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industries (CONEBI):
- Isabell Eberlein, Velokonzept
- Lauha Fried, Cycling Industries of Europe (CIE)
- Florence Grégoire, European Cyclists‘ Federation (ECF)
- Angela van der Kloof, Mobycon
Read more on the topic of International Women's Day
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Podcast with Dr. Sandra Wolf and Dr. Antje von Dewitz.
Doing business sustainably with a 360-degree perspective.
Interview with Dr. Katharina Reuter from The German Federal Association of Sustainable Business.