Lyudmila Molokovskaya is Almaty Electrotrans (AET)’s first woman bus driver and her appointment marks an important breakthrough for the company.
Lyudmila, 55, says cheerfully that she receives nothing but approval from her female passengers as she drives her Number 37 bus, one of a fleet of compressed-gas vehicle that an EBRD loan to the City of Almaty’s transport arm helped buy.
“Women are always pleased to see me,” she said. “They say, ‘we will show those men that we can drive and we are strong!’”
Kazakhstan already has female trolleybus and tram drivers. But encouraging women bus drivers was part of the EBRD’s large-scale cooperation on upgrading public transport with the city of Almaty, which it has funded to the tune of nearly $160 million.
A key element in the package is the two loans that the EBRD provided to Almaty Electrotrans (AET) – totalling US$ 74.5 million – for 400 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.
Last year AET held an open day to provide an opportunity for job-seekers to learn more about the company and to publicise its initiative to recruit women bus drivers. To apply, drivers needed to have the correct licence and typically at least three years’ driving experience.
Management also hoped to follow international best practice and start hiring women as drivers. However, finding women bus drivers is not easy: legal restrictions on women’s employment in Kazakhstan make it more difficult for women to obtain the necessary driving licence.
“We have experienced the work of women on trolleybuses and trams; there have been women working for us for a long time, explained Asel’ Musayeva, an HR director at AET. “Foreign countries are used to recruiting women drivers.”
“Practice shows that women behave better on the road, and are disciplined and polite in the way they interact with customers.”
Prior to working at AET, Ludmila worked as a minivan driver for a hotel in Almaty. She also worked as a trolleybus driver for AET at one point, but her ultimate goal was to become a bus driver.
Lyudmila, inspired by her grandmother – who drove a combine harvester and then a lorry during World War Two – had always wanted to be a driver. But for a while she was persuaded by her traditionally-minded mother, who thought sewing a more suitable female occupation, to start work in a garment factory instead.
Encouraged by her husband, Victor, himself a trucker, she learned to drive and passed her test in 1994.
Later, as well as a minibus, she also drove a trolleybus. (She says buses are actually easier.) Now she, a beneficiary of the EBRD’s Gender Team’s work with AET, and Victor both work for Depot #1.
Lyudmila is an astute diplomat when describing her working life.
“Passengers say that women drivers are neater than men,” she said. “When I worked as a trolleybus driver, I used to wash my own trolleybus after the cleaners had done it. I didn’t think they did a good enough job.”
She has now blazed a trail for other women within AET. Another woman is expected to start work as a driver there this summer and the company has also hired its first two female engineers.
Alongside Lyudmila’s recruitment, AET has made a number of important changes to support equal opportunity at the company, including the introduction of a new policy that states the company’s commitment to equal opportunity at all stages of the employment relationship and the creation of a ‘gender focal point’, a manager with dedicated responsibilities for equal opportunity.