HomeEditor's ViewRailStaff May 2018: The diversity debate

RailStaff May 2018: The diversity debate

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After spending a considerable amount of time calculating gender pay gap figures for this month’s issue, I had a sudden realisation: there’s a reason I’m a writer and not a mathematician.

My own academic hang-ups aside, it was a worthwhile exercise even if the figures don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. By and large, women are underrepresented across the industry and their absence in senior positions means the majority of businesses in the sector have higher than average pay gaps.

With no dramatic increases in the number of women joining the sector, questions remain about whether true diversity is really achievable in the short to medium term.

Of course, gender is just one component. It is logical that businesses with a diverse customer base would be best served having a diverse workforce in every sense.

While progress feels slow, the profile of diversity and inclusion is higher than ever.

Both Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) have created staff networks to support employees in underrepresented groups – TfL’s director of diversity has written in this issue about the other measures London’s public transport network is applying to attract and retain a more diverse workforce.

Industry bodies for diversity – such as Women in Rail – have also emerged in recent years to ensure the issue is never off the agenda.

If employers can learn anything from the gender pay gap statistics, it is that there is work to do to remove the barriers that still appear to be restricting the progression of women in the industry – the same could be said for BAME, LGBT and disabled staff members.

There are pockets of success out there. Stewart Thorpe has interviewed Network Rail’s Natalie Whitehead for our diversity focus. Still in her mid-20s, Natalie is the site manager at Network Rail’s massive Whitemoor recycling centre in Cambridgeshire.

Overall numbers need addressing but this will take time, as gender stereotypes fade and rail becomes an attractive prospect for more young people.

However, we can do something right now to ensure our businesses have a diverse range of voices throughout. Staff networks and committees for diversity and equality are one way to do this. It is time to put words into action.

No doubt there are some who still believe that diversity is a perfunctory exercise – well meaning but, ultimately, a matter of compliance for companies. It is a cynical outlook and doesn’t reflect the industry I know.

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Read more: RailStaff May 2018: Diversity – words into action