Diversity is a major topic and hopefully a trend. I say hopefully because my word the rail industry can use all the help it can get after the latest failures with the change of ownership of the West Coast Main Line and the introduction of the new timetable.
A survey and a statistic on this subject recently caught my eye. The survey by the Rail Delivery Group revealed that “81% of women in Britain have never even considered working in the rail industry”. The statistic is that “In 2018 16 per cent of Network Rail’s 38,000 workforce were women and we work hard to engage more women to enter the railway industry.” Network Rail’s diversity and inclusion programme is appropriately called ‘Everyone’ – a good start but 16% is a long way short of including everyone.
I was encouraged to read that the rail partnership is investing over £350m a year in what it calls “workforce training to improve employee engagement and customer experience”. Also, Network Rail state, “In 2017 we announced our ‘20 by 20’ target, to increase our take-up of female employees across the business to 20 per cent by 2020.”
Critically, and drawing from the survey report, 66% of respondents agreed that more work needs to be done to encourage women to work in male dominated sectors. Lots of good initiatives are being undertaken – recruitment training, working with schools and colleges to encourage young people – girls and young women in particular – to choose science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as worthwhile subjects at school and in higher education
What’s disappointing reading further into the survey, is that the old negative factors come up – rail is a male dominated industry, and indeed our recent experience working on a major project in London is that traditional attitudes to male / female roles and responsibilities are prevalent. Examples of poor and confidence damaging behaviour include being excluded from meetings and passed over for promotion. This male need to limit the responsibility that woman take is bizarre – we’re all happy and indeed often expect nurses to be female and they look after our health so I can’t see any reason why women can’t manage our railways.
Yes, things are changing but it’s very slow. Culture is the hardest things to change because it’s about embedded attitudes and behaviours which men often don’t realise they have. Whilst the initiatives above are laudable, we need to also focus on helping men to open their minds to some hard facts. First, the rail industry is not doing well, simply look at the media headlines and customer service feedback. Second, new approaches and ways of thinking are needed to embrace the use of new technology. Third, old style protectionist and chauvinistic attitudes are self-limiting – the fact is that the way things have been done to date doesn’t mean they are the best way to move forward.
I call on all men to open their minds to bringing talented women into rail – let’s be honest, the industry needs all the help it can get!