The rail industry came together to show powerful support for Women in Engineering Day on Tuesday, 23 June.
Set up by the Women’s Engineering Society, the national day is designed to focus attention on engineering and encourage more women to join the industry.
At the Bermondsey Dive Under, part of the £6.5 billion government- sponsored Thameslink Programme, 32 railway staff stopped for a quick photo to celebrate the steady advance of women in rail engineering.
Network Rail wants to raise its proportion of female staff from around 14 per cent currently, to 30 per cent in future. Initiatives include a women’s staff network, a flexible working policy and support for the Women in Rail group. Once seen as a traditional male preserve, the new railway is changing fast and is making it easier for women to hold down demanding jobs right across the network.
Sharon Fink, health and safety manager, Network Rail, has a three- year-old boy, Max. ‘Having a young child can be difficult at times, but my husband and I have learned how to negotiate our weeks, and we start the week with our diaries and plan out who is dropping off and who is picking up. And it works well.
‘Network Rail has been very supportive and the company has supported me through and through with all the line managers I’ve had.
‘I think the age profile of the managers I’ve had means they tend to be family orientated and have been through it or going through it themselves. Many years ago it used to be seen as a macho industry but that’s not the case any more and actually the men look out for you.
‘I’ve found that being a woman is an advantage, as we can have conversations with men that they cannot with other guys.’
Traditionally many families worked for the railway often with three generations on the metals at once. It is a strength the industry is determined to make much more of.
Erin Henderson, 19, a telecomms apprentice with Siemens Rail Automation, was inspired by her father to join the railway.
‘I took biology, psychology and politics in the sixth form, which was totally random as I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time. It was really my dad who inspired me to join the engineering industry because he works in the railway industry and he really loves his job,’ says Erin.
‘Engineering has a huge impact on every aspect of our lives and it allows us to use science to our advantage and achieve things we once thought were impossible. I thought about going to university, but I wanted to start working so I joined the apprenticeship scheme. There are quite a few women in the office but when I’m out on the track there are much fewer. But it’s fine, the guys are very respectful. I enjoy practical work and want to continue that in the future.’
Heart to Heart
Rail Minister Claire Perry MP joined female engineers from Transport for London, Crossrail and Network Rail at Farringdon station – the new junction for Thameslink, Crossrail and London Underground services from 2018.
‘I want to see women at the heart of major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and HS2,’ said Perry. ‘Despite representing half the population, women are still underrepresented in professions such as engineering, surveying and construction. That is why it is so important that we inspire the next generation of female engineers, building on the hard work of women in engineering today.’
Kate Litton, HR director for Amey, which backed the Women in Engineering Day, said, ‘We recognise that across the industry there is a skills gap and to help address this, we need to encourage more girls to consider engineering as a realistic career option. This will help to create more diversity in the sector and a bigger talent pool of engineers in the future.’
High Speed Women
Female engineers from HS2 Ltd marked the day by meeting pupils at a school in Hemel Hempstead. More than 40 Year 9 girls from the Cavendish School met the team from HS2 Ltd.
Says Beth West, HS2 Ltd commercial director, ‘Our female ambassadors are working to spread the message that being a woman is not a barrier to working in the rail industry. HS2 is a 21st century project and we want to lead by example on diversity. We strongly believe in the value of women in the workforce, and currently a third of our engineers and our executive team are female.’
More of them
To coincide with the day, Morson Group revealed a survey showing that more than a third of respondents thought expert careers advice at school age could attract more women to the industry.
Morson’s Women in Engineering survey will form part of its larger Women in Engineering campaign. The campaign will explore what can be done to attract more women into the engineering industry and highlight the career opportunities available in the industry today. The campaign will span three months and will feature interviews with women in a variety of roles in the engineering industry from all over the world, a round table event in London and a summary report.
Aoife Considine, a graduate mechanical engineer at Transport for London (TfL), has no regrets at her career choice.
‘I chose to become an engineer as it’s a career that can take you anywhere. As a graduate mechanical engineer at TfL, I get the opportunity to work on different projects which allow me to gain experience in all areas of the business and see how engineers are key to the safe and efficient movement of people around our capital.
‘One day I might be underneath a train taking measurements, while the next I might be 3D printing a part I designed to help reduce delays on the Victoria line. It’s the variety of what you can do as an engineer that makes the work so appealing, and it’s really rewarding to be able to say you helped to improve a system, or make it safer, or better quality.’
To cap it all, 864 men and women joined TfL Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy CBE on the day at Horse Guards Parade in London to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people performing a jumping high five simultaneously.
Siemens, TfL and telent organised the bid.
Says Janice Meade, HR director for telent, ‘National Women in Engineering Day is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the huge variety of engineering and technology career opportunities available across many industries.
‘Innovations in technology are changing traditional engineering roles and creating new careers. To meet the future demands, we need to dissolve some of the ‘mystery’ and make career possibilities more visible and compelling to young people, particularly girls and women. It is also our responsibility as employers to create a working environment that both supports and invests in the development of female engineers to enable them to fulfil their potential.’
For the rail industry, Women in Engineering Day looks like becoming a year-round exercise in recruitment and retention of women as the railway strives to close the skills gap.