Noting the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, which was ‘Choose to Challenge’, I wanted to look at how the role of women in the rail industry has evolved over recent years and whether we feel we are really ‘challenging’ the industry to sit up and take notice of us in a traditionally male-dominated environment.
Having worked with the rail industry for almost a decade myself, when first thinking about this blog, I wanted to show the positive impact of gender inclusivity and how the industry is changing for the better from a woman’s perspective.
However, in terms of numbers – that’s not quite what I found…
In 2014, Women in Rail reported that only 16.4% of the rail industry was made up of women, with an incredibly modest number being employed in senior roles. Follow that with Railway Technology’s report from September 2019, which shows that of 85,000 employed in the sector, only 14,000 of those are women, which equates to (according to my calculator!) still 16.4%!
Presuming both sets of stats are correct – why no increase in the last five years as the world moves forward?
We know businesses are focussed on inclusion and appealing to women in the recruitment process – tailoring advertising towards them, using female ambassadors to be spokespeople, but according to women in the rail industry I have spoken to, the lack in real change of the numbers is sadly true.
Barriers to entry
A recent Women in Rail Scotland survey highlighted what women see as the ‘issues’ or what could be perceived as ‘barriers to entry’ for job seeking women looking at career opportunities in the rail sector. Unsurprisingly, the majority felt that the railway is still seen as a male dominated industry, which of course it is, but it’s more than that. Because of the perception of male domination they felt that there are/ would be inadequate facilities for women, particularly on the engineering side, with sub-standard on-site facilities and often ill-fitting PPE.
The results also show that many believe that more needs to be done to change the perceptions of women from a younger age in order to get the next generation of females interested in a career in rail as early as possible.
Although many TOCs and infrastructure businesses have been known to focus recruitment advertising specifically on women from time to time, survey respondents felt even more could be done to attract women to apply for a role they would normally consider ‘just for men’.
Although it’s reported that only one in ten train drivers are women, there is no reason a woman cannot do the job, so why aren’t more women applying for these roles?
Perhaps the shift and weekend work is unappealing to those with families, perhaps they prefer to work in a more gender balanced work-force, or perhaps they don’t think they would be up to the job because they are a woman…which would be a huge misconception.
What can be done?
It’s up to women who already work in the rail industry to be ambassadors and encourage those around them, but it is also the job of the wider organisation they represent and the industry as a whole to champion and highlight the workforce and the opportunities available if we are ever to ensure we reach that next generation with a message like Sport England’s campaign – ‘This Girl Can’.
The result of the Women in Scotland survey showing that 70% believe the perception that the industry is ‘male dominated’ is no surprise. It just shows how much work still needs to be done to change this and it has to start with us encouraging younger women that we can make the change – or it never will.
There are so many opportunities in this industry: it offers a wide variety of roles to suit just about every personality and interest, it can offer flexible working, long career life, good salary packages and great HR support. It’s also the type of industry where everyone has a key role to play and can offer so much, just by being part of it.
It’s not about making up the numbers, but proving that the opportunities do exist and are worth pursuing. But if we are unable to encourage the first step of studying STEM subjects or making that job application, the face of the railway will never change. We need to treat every day like it’s ‘International Women’s Day’, challenging the industry stereotypes and championing ourselves and each other.
Over to you
We can all help to make changes by:
“Since day one, Amy herself has fit seamlessly into our team, understanding the message we want to convey and the audiences we want to reach. Her upfront audit was invaluable in helping us internally hone our common voice, which has demonstrated itself in the consistency of the content we put out as a brand and as individuals within the company. Behind the scenes, Amy has instinctively adopted our internal communication methods (Slack, SharePoint) and works closely with our in-house graphic design team to ensure our graphics and copy are in sync.”Lucy Prior MBE - previously from 3Squared 2021
“I saved so much time after implementing a more structured approach which has given me the opportunity to focus on creating more content and work more closely with my clients. Amy and her team are easy to deal with and are quick to provide valuable solutions. I would not hesitate to work with Hey Me again in the future.”Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston
“I met Amy a few years ago at a Young Rail Professionals event and was able to provide her with an opportunity to manage the comms on a major alliance which she flourished at. Soon after she started, Marie came along to provide HR support across the multiple businesses. It seems only natural that being as dynamic and knowledge as they are, they are looking to work together on this new venture, which I am sure will be a huge success.”Karen Duncan - Lanehead Coniston