Women in Rail Awards 2018: Celebrating Gender Diversity in the UK’s Rail Industry

On International Women’s Day 2018 Railway-News published articles by Katie Hulland and Sarah Grimmer Yurasko, discussing gender diversity and the position of women in the rail industry around the world. The challenges facing women in this industry are highlighted by the number of groups dedicated to improving their position in it: the League of Rail Industry Women (USA and Canada) and Women in Rail (UK), and branches of national associations from Australia to India. In all of these countries there are many long-term changes required to improve the experience of women in rail: from increasing the number of women on apprenticeship schemes, to closing the gender pay gap, but it is also important to celebrate the progress achieved so far. On 19 April Women in Rail organised an inaugural award ceremony to celebrate individuals who are contributing to these changes across Britain. Laura Wright, Head of International Policy at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), attended the ceremony and shares her thoughts on it with Railway-News.

By Laura Wright, Head of International Policy, Rail Delivery Group:

The Women in Rail Awards brought colleagues from across the UK rail industry together in London to celebrate the achievements of men and women who have ‘made a significant contribution to improving diversity and gender balance’ in our sector. The ceremony was hosted by Rachel Riley, co-presenter of the British edition of Countdown, and a keen advocate of getting more young women into STEM subjects. Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Transport, opened the awards by praising the progress of the industry so far and looking forward to even greater diversity in the future. Adeline Ginn, General Counsel at Angel Trains who founded Women in Rail, also spoke.

Jo Johnson at the Women in Rail Awards
Jo Johnson opens proceedings at the first Women in Rail Awards (UK)

More than 350 people were nominated for the nine awards up for grabs, including colleagues from Rail Delivery Group (RDG) who were at the event with fingers crossed for their two categories. There was an excited atmosphere as the shortlisted names were read out, with lots of cheering. The nominees, contractors, infrastructure managers and operators, enjoyed a champagne reception and a three-course meal at the stunning Underglobe on London’s Southbank. The room was dressed with tall candles and flowers and provided the perfect setting for the celebrations. Table conversations ranged from some of the exciting projects attendees were working on to how much the industry has changed and diversified in recent years. The common theme, however, was commitment to working to improve diversity and increase the number of women in the industry.

Rajinder Pryor, Engagement Lead at Digital Rail for Network Rail won the award for ‘Inspirational Woman of the Year,’ and Ruth Shevelan (Assistant Engineer, Mott MacDonald) was the ‘Rising Star’. The other categories included ‘Female Apprentice of the Year,’ ‘Top Employer,’ and ‘Diversity and Inclusion’. RDG was itself short-listed for two awards: ‘Highest Gender Balance and Diverse Workforce,’ and ‘Inspirational Man of the Year’. RDG was one of the first companies to make the remuneration package for shared parental leave the same for everyone and Lindsay Bleakley, Senior Project Manager in our Portfolio Support Office, was our first man to take advantage of the policy. He swapped status several times with his wife as the primary care provider for their child and also worked from home in Scotland when appropriate, so he could share the parental responsibilities. Lindsay also takes the time to coach and encourage rising stars in the industry and is a true champion of diversity. Unfortunately, we didn’t win either of these awards, but we enjoyed an exciting evening which celebrated diversity, focussing the things we have achieved so far, and how much we need to do.

Rachel Riley with guests at the Women in Rail Awards
Laura Wright (second from left) and Lindsay Bleakley (centre) of the Rail Delivery Group enjoy the atmosphere at the Women in Rail Awards with host Rachel Riley (second from right) and other guests

Women in the Rail Industry

In 1851, there were only three women working in Britain’s railways. Today there are around 48,000, but this still only accounts for 20% of the workforce. The industry committed in its recent plan for a changing and improving railway, “In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity”, to attract more women into the industry. The rail industry is keen to attract top talent into the 100,000 job opportunities across the country that will be secured in the next decade. It can only do this if more women consider a career in rail. Indeed, in a recent YouGov survey, commissioned by RDG 81% of women in Britain have never considered working in the rail industry. However, more than two thirds (70%) of female workers polled said they would retrain for a job that offered great benefits and security, and 90% of women that are likely to change careers revealed they would consider changing to a career that would require on-the-job training. The rail industry in the UK offers the benefits, flexibility and training that so many women want as well as there being an interesting and diverse range of roles available. Such roles were showcased by the winners of the awards including project planning, stakeholder engagement, station management, engineering and operations management. It would be exciting if by next year’s awards more women had decided to take up one of these fantastic career opportunities and could join at the event those of us already loving our careers in rail and recognise the achievements of men and women across the industry.

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