Conference to highlight steps to create gender balance

A major conference takes place this week to explore the steps businesses can take to ensure a gender balanced, diverse and inclusive workforce in the UK railway industry.

The Women in Rail Annual Conference in London comes as recent statistics reveal only 16% of roles in the rail industry are filled by women – when it comes to train drivers that figure is just 5%.

Rowena Ironside is among a host of high-profile speakers at the event on Friday. She has spent over 25 years as an executive in the ICT sector and is the Chair of Women on Boards, which provides information, encouragement and connections to help women get to the top.

She said: “I’ll be looking at diversity more broadly and the value of it. Having a diverse workforce can improve decision making and enhance the image of an organisation.

“We are making progress generally in the UK when it comes to gender balance, but this is going to be a long process. We live in a patriarchal society and you have to remember it wasn’t that long ago that women were excluded from higher education and many roles. That’s meant organisations have been designed by men, for men – it takes a long time for that to change.”

Rowena started out writing software in Australia and has since built an IT services business in London and run international services businesses in the software and hosting industries.

She has been Chair of Women on Boards in the UK since its launch in 2012 and currently sits on the boards of the Digital Catapult and the Cabinet Office Elections and Registrations Division.

She said: “Any industry only really tapping into 50% of the talent pool is missing out.

“One thing the rail industry could look at is branding. Take the Armed Forces as an example – there are always women featured on the recruitment adverts. There also needs to be work with schools about the rail industry and the opportunities available.

“Everyone needs role models. A job is not going to be attractive to women if there are 100 guys working there and only one woman.

“A more diverse workforce ultimately makes for a more competitive industry and country.

“The status quo can be hard to shift, so you need events like the Women in Rail Conference to highlight the issues, discuss solutions that have worked in other sectors and build momentum for change.

Visit www.womenonboards.net for more information about Women on Boards. Registration for the Women in Rail Conference is full. To join the waiting list email wr@womeninrail.org. Visit www.womeninrail.org