1944 and 2024 showing women still behind the wheel

First West of England’s pledge as it marks 80 years since the first female drivers

First West of England has pledged to nearly double the number of women in its business in the next five years as it marks a major milestone in its history.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day (8th March), the West Country’s largest bus operator is also marking 80 years since employing the first female drivers in Bristol.

It has announced special pledges to encourage more women into the business, revealed its winning competition design for a double decker bus, and is about to unveil a new window display in Bristol city centre to mark the 80th anniversary.

Today, First Bus has announced it will increase its female workforce to 20 per cent by 2028, with two ambitious new recruitment pledges:

  • All senior candidates (roles that are Staff Manager and above) will face a balanced panel of female and male interviewers at their first interview*; and
  • Shortlists for senior roles (Staff Manager and above) will include an equal number of male and female candidates*.

In addition, the company also aims to have 40 per cent of senior leadership roles filled by women by 2028.

The pledges come as First Bus seeks to attract even more women into the business after successfully doubling the number of women over the past five years.  

Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus across the UK, said: “This latest milestone is only the next step in our journey, but I am proud we are now putting these pledges in place to help us achieve even more.  

“Our ambition is that by 2028, 20% of our business will be made up of females. This would see us doubling the number of women in the business within the next five years, as we have done over the past five years. We want First Bus to be a place where our people feel welcome, can be their true selves and succeed.  

 “I'm proud of the work we're doing and proud of the women who work alongside me in all areas of the business. We recognise that there is still more to do, and this is a challenge that we are not afraid to address.”  

To mark 80 years since the first female drivers in Bristol, First West of England has announced the winner of its competition to design a wrap to cover a double decker bus.

The winning design comes from 21-year-old University of the West of England design and illustration student Rosalyn Burroughs, and tells the story of key moments of women behind the wheel in Bristol and across the UK. Rosalyn wins a year’s free bus travel, and will see her artwork transform one of Bristol’s double decker buses in the coming weeks.

Rosalyn said: “I am a firm believer that public transport can change and improve people’s lives, and believe that a city or town is only as good as its public transport links.

“I really enjoyed creating this design and learning more about the women in Bristol and across the country who made advances in the transport industry, as well as all of the support women in the transport industry are continuing to provide for one another in the form of online training and advice.”

The 80th anniversary comes next month and marks eight decades since Mrs V Hoyes passed her official driving test, making her Bristol’s first female bus driver, and therefore marking a major change in Bristol’s public transport workforce.

At the time, the then Evening Post in March 1944 reported: “Bristol is among the first of the major towns of the country to train women for this work, and it will be greatly to their credit if they come through their final tests under such difficult driving conditions as exist in the city.”

There will be further celebrations of women at the wheel with a special window display at Sparks – the former Marks and Spencer shop - in Bristol city centre where a photo from 80 years ago showing the company’s first female drivers has been recreated to reflect today’s workforce, demonstrating the company’s ongoing commitment to encouraging women behind the wheel.

Doug Claringbold, the Managing Director for First West of England, which currently has more than 11 per cent of roles filled by women, said: “On International Women’s Day and on the eve of the 80th anniversary of our first female drivers, it is important to recognise and celebrate the achievements of all our female colleagues. Women work across a variety of roles throughout the business, and we are delighted to showcase the opportunities a career in the bus sector offers, and to inspire the next generation of female colleagues to achieve their goals.  

“An industry like the transport sector is heavily dominated by men, so we owe a lot to those women, who 80 years ago, got behind the wheel and transformed our public transport workforce in the West Country. The ambition to create greater gender equality continues today and is essential for any business to succeed and achieve its goals.”

Notes to editors

Latest figures show that 12% of roles at First West of England are filled by females, slightly above the national average of 10% according to Women in Bus and Coach.

*Wherever possible. Not possible in every scenario.