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How diversity is promoted across London’s transport network

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Staynton Brown, Transport for London’s director of diversity and inclusion, explains how diversity is promoted across London’s transport network:

As anyone in the transport industry will tell you, transport isn’t just one thing – it’s many. If you take Transport for London (TfL) for example, where I work as the director of diversity and inclusion, we don’t just provide one mode of transport. We’re responsible for a wide range of services, including the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, TfL Rail, London Trams, London River Services, Victoria Coach Station, Santander Cycles and the Emirates Airline.

However, when you ask anyone about TfL, they tend to just associate us with the Tube or buses. This is understandable as plenty of us travelling through the capital will use either a bus or the London Underground to get to our destination. However, it’s vital to show the diversity of options available, so that people can make the choice that is going to be best for them.

There is a similar perception issue with the transport industry itself. People tend to assume that working in transport means having to drive a bus or a train. While these are interesting roles, there’s a variety of others too that can be overlooked, such as the engineers and data scientists working out how to improve your journey. There’s also the misconception that the sector isn’t very inclusive with people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and women sometimes believing that it doesn’t have anything to offer them career-wise.

Photo: TfL.
Photo: TfL.

Harnessing different talents

It’s true that the industry isn’t as representative as it could be. This is something that we’re very aware of at TfL – just over a quarter of our workforce is from BAME communities and around 23 per cent is female.

As the director of diversity and inclusion, I understand that there is more work to be done, especially as there are plenty of exciting opportunities that we want people to embrace, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

As an organisation, we will only succeed if we embrace the skills of people from all walks of life, learning and developing together, harnessing their different talents and experiences. This is why we’re running a wide range of activities to make sure that when people think of transport, they don’t imagine it to be for just one type of person.

It’s key to ensure that potential employees appreciate what working in transport really means. As well as showcasing our inspiring staff as role models, our programmes are actively breaking down misconceptions. A key example of this is our outreach work with schools and colleges, which includes our schools competition – ‘Innovate TfL’ in association with Cleshar. It challenges young people in groups to creatively solve the different issues facing TfL.

This not only teaches them how typical organisations like ours work, with each student taking on a different role like project manager, they learn how what they are taught at school is used in real life. Some of the amazing ideas from the students include buses with special cameras and screens to help improve road safety and Tube seats that use the force of someone sitting on them to power air cooling systems. The finalists also undertake work experience at TfL as part of their prize.

However, it’s not just about young people or even TfL. This is a problem facing the whole industry, which is why our supplier skills team works with our supply chain to tackle the issue together. One of their recent programmes, working with the charity Gingerbread and not-for-profit organisation Women into Construction, changed the lives of many women who had never considered a career in transport.

Many had been unemployed or were single parents and the programme enabled them to gain new employability skills, such as presenting, and undertaking work placements at our suppliers, including Siemens, Arriva Rail London and Arup. The programme helped many of them to kick-start their career either at one of the suppliers or through the connections they made. The team is building on its success with additional schemes this year, including one that focuses on female train drivers, and will be expanding its activity to include even more suppliers.

Photo: TfL.
Photo: TfL.

Staff network groups

It’s of equal importance to ensure that individuals fulfil their maximum potential once they join the transport industry. It’s pointless attracting all of this great talent if, once here, it isn’t tapped into. This is why we’re taking action internally too, from providing unconscious bias training for our managers to offering mentoring programmes for our employees. Our staff network groups (SNGs) play a huge role too, and I would recommend that all organisations have them.

We have a staff network group for women, BAME, carers, faith, disability and LGBT+, which is called OUTbound. They offer all employees, whether they work in an office, a depot or a station, the chance to meet with other like-minded people who they can learn from and support. They run a variety of activities, bringing staff together, including film screenings, coding masterclasses, wellbeing sessions and panel debates. They also serve as change-makers within TfL, raising issues and helping with the solutions, so that as an organisation we are offering the best environment both for our staff and our customers. If we increase the diversity of our workforce and continue to learn from them, we will understand our customers and their needs better because we will be as varied as they are.

Ultimately, striving to make TfL and the transport industry more diverse is an obvious win. When you bring people together who have different experiences and perspectives, all the evidence shows you are a more creative and innovative organisation. If our workforce reflects the diversity of our city, we will have a better understanding of our customers and teams. This will lead to us bettering our services for our customers and our organisation for our employees. There is still room to improve, but together with our staff and supply chain, we’re working hard to ensure that everyone feels that the transport industry offers them the chance to shine.

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