Archway, Network Rail’s LGBT+ employee network, recently held the third conference in its six-year history. Nigel Wordsworth went along to find out how the network has been engaging with both Network Rail employees and the wider industry
Discrimination in any form is abhorrent in today’s society. Legislation requires it to be tackled at every level and in any situation. The railway, as both a significant and caring employer, is no exception to this requirement and actively embraces its responsibilities.
Not that discrimination is unknown on the railway, both in the past and today.
The Irish ‘navvies’ that helped build the network in the mid-nineteenth century were probably the first group to be singled out. Often segregated from their English and Scottish colleagues, as much as for their hard-drinking and hard-fighting reputation as for their nationality, the railway we know today couldn’t have been built without them.
After the Second World War, Eastern Europeans and West Indians began to be seen on the railway in increasing numbers. Although they were, in theory, welcomed, and British Railways didn’t operate any sort of colour bar, there were still stories of lack of opportunity, of promotions earned but withheld, and of bullying.
The trade unions played a large part in bringing the workforce together, particularly when they stood united against the National Front and its hard-line policies in the 1970s.
Gender discrimination is now well-recognised for what it is and what it has done. With some areas of railway employment only six per cent female, it deprives the workforce of diversity, skills and the different attitudes and outlook that a more representative mix brings.
Women in Rail and other organisations have worked hard to improve gender diversity, both by removing the outdated thinking that has led to the current poor figures and by improving the appeal of a job on the railway to schoolgirls and female students alike.
Archway is Network Rail’s LGBT+ network – one of six employee networks that it endorses. Founded in 2013 to support the company’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) employees, the network has grown until it now has 500 members and is LGBT+ (a shorter acronym than LGBTQQIP2SAA – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous and asexual – and one which includes allies, or those who support the concept of LGBT without being one themselves).
More than just a Network Rail organisation, people from train operating companies, the supply chain and industry body the Rail Delivery Group can also join Archway. It held its first conference, Building LGBT Inclusive Workplaces, in 2017. Featuring seminars, workshops and presentations hosted by external leaders in LGBT inclusion as well as from Network Rail and the wider rail industry, it was part of an Archway campaign to drive LGBT inclusion in all railway workplaces, from depots to engineering yards and track-side to corporate offices.
Network Rail’s employee networks:
Archway – helps individuals and the company on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues;
CanDo – provides support and guidance to those with disabilities, whether physical or mental, visible or non-visible;
Cultural Fusion – recognises the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring and wants this to be reflected at all levels within the organisation;
Inspire – supports women in all business areas of Network Rail to fulfil their potential by improving opportunities and working conditions;
The Multi-Faith Forum – recognises the variety of faith practices within the organisation and values everyone’s spiritual, religious and philosophical diversity;
Myriad – promotes an understanding culture that helps employees who have caring responsibilities.
Third annual conference
Over 120 delegates gathered at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre for the third Archway annual conference. The numbers were a sign of the organisation’s growth. The first conference, two years earlier, had been attended by around 50 people in “a social club in London”. The second, last year, was held at Jurys Inn in Milton Keynes. This year it was the NEC.
Another indicator was the opening speaker. Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, not only gave up half an hour of his time but actually attended for the entire morning, pleased to find the time in his busy schedule.
“The reason I’m really a passionate supporter of Archway is because what you do is not just good for individuals in the organisation,” he told the audience, “but it’s good for the industry that we’re a critical part of and it’s good for the users of the railway as well.
“This is my first summer as chief executive of Network Rail and I was genuinely taken aback by the level of energy and enthusiasm there has been in the Pride events. Held across the country from Edinburgh to Newquay, they demonstrate in a very tangible way some of the passion and commitment of Archway members but also of the wider Network Rail community as well.
“Carrying banners emblazoned with ‘Proud to be Working for You’ are a powerful representation of a network that can go beyond just creating a community and a forum but actually tackling issues, influencing policy and demonstrating potentially to around a million people who will have witnessed that this is a place that welcomes diversity in all its various forms and shapes and guises and might actually encourage people to think about a career that otherwise they might have presumed was never open to them.”
Andrew’s keynote set the whole tone for the day. It was followed by a panel session, chaired by Robert Nisbet of the Rail Delivery Group, in which he was again involved. The other panellists were Lee Forster-Kirkham of the Department for Transport, Daniel Wood of the Rail Delivery Group, Nadine Rae from the TSSA union and Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway.
The panel answered questions from the floor on LGBT+ inclusion in rail. One was “What has been your greatest personal challenge when challenging equality and diversity and how did you overcome it?”
Nadine Rea took that one on, replying that, for her, it had been taking a step up to open up her life to people. The union put out posters with her face on, saying “I’m a lesbian, I’m a mother and I’m a senior leader of a trade union” and she found that quite a challenge.
Alex Hynes added that, in his position, he had a responsibility to be very open and to talk about his position as it encourages others to do the same. “This industry has a massive problem with diversity,” he continued. “One of the things that TfL do, which is good practice, is they measure the diversity of London and they measure their workforce against how London is represented, and I think we should do the same in Network Rail.”
After several more, equally searching, questions, it was time for the first workshop sessions. Three workshops had been arranged and, during the day, delegates had the chance to participate in two of them.
Putting Passengers First examined the challenges faced by LGBT+ users of the network, and what steps could be taken to address them, run in the style of a thinktank.
Trans Inclusion, run by trans charity Mermaids, featured a young trans person and their parents, talking through their experiences as a family.
Inclusive Employers, the provider of Network Rail’s ground-breaking Archway Allies training programme, hosted a workshop focussing on what it means to be LGBT+, the human experience, sustainable networks and allies.
The day’s second keynote speech – delayed because his train was late! – was given by Sir Stephen Wall, for 35 years a member of the Diplomatic Service.
He recalled a time when being gay would not only cause him to lose his job but also perhaps be imprisoned. He finally came out ten years ago and now chairs the Kaleidoscope Trust, which supports campaigners for LGBT rights around the Commonwealth.
“All of us in this room have been on a personal journey,” he commenced, before going on to talk about his own and those of people close to him. He also reviewed the history of anti-gay legislation right up until Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which forbade local authorities to “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, was repealed in 2003.
But it is still difficult for people to come out, and young persons are still being thrown out of their family homes because of their gender identity.
“One of the reasons I now speak on these issues,” Sir Stephen concluded, “is because the more of us who are out and open about it, the harder it is for us to be marginalised as a side issue.”
Learning from others
Stonewall, the LGBT lobbying charity formed in 1989, is now the largest LGBT rights organisation in Europe. It sets out to empower individuals, transform institutions, change hearts and minds and amend and protect laws on LGBT rights.
Ilona Smith and Molly Byrne from Stonewall spoke of past successes – the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 and of the armed forces regulation that engaging in a homosexual act was grounds for dismissal (repealed 2000).
They also looked forward, urging organisations in the room to invest in LGBT inclusion, engage senior leaders, profile LGBT role models, raise awareness, collaborate with others and to go beyond the workplace.
Two organisations from the wider rail industry updated the audience on their own activities.
Train operator Southeastern has its own LGBT network, and its leader Paul Prentice spoke about how it was formed, with support from management and inspired by Archway. A Class 395 Javelin train had been decked out in ‘Trainbow’ colours for the 2018 Pride season and had since visited the location of every Pride event in Kent for the last two years.
Jess Webb of the RMT spoke of the union’s efforts to raise engagement, adding that leader Mick Cash wore a ‘rainbow’ RMT badge by choice and kept coming to her for a new one as he is constantly giving it away to members around the country.
A second panel session offered delegates the opportunity to question members of the Archway management team – chairman Babak Erfani MBE, deputy chair Shane Andrews, network officer Charlotte Wardrop and executive sponsor Tim Craddock.
Responding to a question, Shane said that one of the highlights for him was Archway’s recognition as the UK’s LGBT Organisation of the Year in 2017. Tim Craddock, Network Rail’s HR director for organisational development and network operations, is Archway’s executive sponsor. He praised the Archway leadership team for driving forward a positive culture in the company. He commented that there will always be a hardcore five per cent that remain negative, hidden away in the “darkest recesses of the company”, but that Archway’s activities were promoting transparency and bringing this negativity “into the light”.
The day’s hosts, Matthew Powell and Emily Blackwell, then thanked the audience for attending and turned the stage over to Babak Erfani. Chairman of Archway since its founding in 2013, this was to be his final act before stepping down in favour of deputy Shane Andrews.
He vowed to do better than last year, when one delegate emailed to say that the chairman’s address “had added no value to their day”. Judging by the laughter from delegates, that had been a minority opinion.
His speech this year was certainly well received. Eschewing the use of the lectern to stroll up and down the stage in a casual manner, he ran through his history, from telling his best friend that he was gay at the age of 14, which meant the whole school knew within 24 hours, then telling his mother, who informed the rest of his family equally quickly, to going back in the closet when he started work.
Being in at the start of Archway, and chairman for the six years of its existence, had been the privilege of his life. Heading up “a network that has the power to change Britain’s railways” was something he was honoured to have done.
Shane Andrews surprised Babak by presenting him with a notebook full of messages of thanks and appreciation, a humorous video of his career as Archway chairman, and the grateful thanks of colleagues.
The 2019 Archway conference was an unmitigated success. Next year can only be bigger and better.
“It’s been a tremendous day – real energy, real enthusiasm, great range of speakers. It covered the whole point of how we empower, how we educate and how we connect. It brought together not just Network Rail but our colleagues in the train operating companies and also in the Rail Delivery Group, We’re really trying to drive this as a pan-rail-sector network that can make the whole sector more diverse, more inclusive and more attractive for people to come to and have great careers.”
– Tim Craddock, HR director for organisational development and network operations, Network Rail.
“The purpose of the day was to celebrate diversity and inclusion in Network Rail, to reflect on the activities of our LGBT+ network Archway and to give visibility to the range of role models that we have in our business. The fact that one of our exec is an out gay man whose married is fabulous – it’s not something we would have countenanced six years ago, there wasn’t anybody that was out and gay and in a senior leadership position. Now, the fact that people feel comfortable and safe in Network Rail is a really important thing as they can then do their best for us as a business.”
– Loraine Martins MBE, director of diversity and inclusion, Network Rail
“Network Rail is a lot more diverse and inclusive than people may think. Once we created Archway, and set that spark off, people just flocked to it. They recognised a bit of themselves in this network, whether they are LGBT or an ally, recognised it was of value to them as a person and to the company as a whole. Once it started, there’s been no stopping it. Now we need to get out to front-line employees, who really are the mainstay of Britain’s railways, and get them to feel they are just as much a part of this, and it is just as much for them, as for everyone else who is represented here at conference today.”
– Babak Erfani MBE, senior sponsor (signalling & digital railway), Network Rail