The UK’s largest rail franchise is working to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce by committing to changing internal workplace practices to ensure that more women join and crucially, stay within the rail industry.
The rail operator, which runs Southern, Gatwick Express, Great Northern and Thameslink services, has marked the commitment with the establishment of its Women’s Network Group which will focus on reviewing and improving workplace practices with a gender lens.
“Achieving greater gender balance is not just about attraction and recruitment, it’s about retention in the long-term so we need to ensure that we are fostering an environment that supports inclusivity, regardless of gender,” explains Michelle Clark, Head of Employee Engagement and Govia Thameslink Railway.
Under the new Women’s Network Group, which is supported by female and male advocates from divisions across the business, work has started on a number of core projects including the development of a group to share insight into roles across the business, an outreach programme with schools and colleges, a dedicated portal for career progression and support as well as creating a more open environment to discuss some of the barriers that women face in the workplace.
“The Women’s Network has been established to support our commitment to diversity and inject some fresh energy into some of our working practices. We want to engage our female colleagues – and potential colleagues – by connecting, collaborating and celebrating our individual and collective achievements and foster more diversity of both gender and thinking into the organisation,” added Michelle.
The new group has been endorsed by GTR Chief Executive, Patrick Verwer, who marked GTR’s commitment at an industry Diversity & Inclusion conference held in collaboration with Network Rail and Southeastern on Thursday 27 June.
Patrick told attendees, “We impact many lives on a daily basis. Whether that’s the travelling public or our employees – what brings us all together is that we are all people. All unique with our own backgrounds, interests, experiences, passions etc and it is only right that we all commit to ensuring we provide opportunities for all no matter your background, race, gender or if you have access needs.”
The conference was held to raise awareness across the rail sector and work in partnership on this agenda, focusing on education and promotion of diversity and inclusion; support networks and celebrating inclusion, with a number of key themes on the day; Accessibility, Driving Change through Networks, Inclusive Behaviours and Gender Diversity.
Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum, welcomed the news. She said: “Diversity isn’t about identifying someone by their disability or by their gender, it’s about seeing each person as a whole, and understanding the characteristics, needs and skills which are unique to that individual.
“Businesses are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits that a diverse and inclusive workforce can bring. Not only because it is the right thing to do – although of course it is! – but because it makes good business sense. Having a diversity agenda allows a business to draw on the best talent from a wide range of perspectives and life experiences, as well as giving that business a better understanding of customers’ needs,” she added.
When considering the gender split in the driver community, in March this year GTR launched the UK’s biggest recruitment drive in rail to encourage more young people and women to consider a career in the industry.
Both Great Northern and Southern have seen trainee driver courses with 50:50 gender splits for the first time ever in recent years.
While change across industry and company takes time, on Southern the number of trainee drivers in 2017 was 17% – this grew to 30% in 2018, with the recruitment team seeing the number of applications from women for these roles only continuing to rise.
Amid the commitment to greater diversity the rail operator will offer 140 apprenticeships in 2019, in divisions from engineering to marketing to customer service, in order to attract more young people to a career in the sector.
GTR also runs a successful work experience programme with The Prince’s Trust, helping young people who have struggled to find employment gain customer service skills and potentially secure a job on the railway. ‘Get into Railways’ runs three times a year and has so far hired 139 young people to work across Great Northern, Thameslink, Gatwick Express and Southern. All 12 participants in the most recent scheme secured roles with the organisation.
Photo credit: Govia Thameslink