International Women’s Day, held on 8 March, celebrated the achievements of women and marked a call to action to accelerate women’s equality. International Women’s Day has been marked for over a century, with the first gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people.
This year’s theme, #BreakTheBias, advocates a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equal, and inclusive.
Specialist recruiter Advance TRS sat down with two of its successfully placed female candidates. Both have found placements within the rail sector as Specialist Consultants and Safety Assurance Engineers. They talked about their experiences and achievements in their chosen fields.
When did you first consider pursuing this career?
Nicky: Well I didn’t really plan on doing this career. A friend sent through a short-term opportunity which was so interesting. I found I met most of the criteria they were looking for, apart from sector knowledge/experience. Using an agency like Advance TRS helped me see that I had transferrable skills that I could use across sectors. Their knowledge gave me the confidence in my capabilities when I couldn’t see them myself, which was really encouraging.
Ria: I’ve actually been in the rail sector for over 12 years now. Originally, I was working in the aviation and maritime industry, but was then offered a new opportunity when my company moved offices. I felt this was quite a good move to make, I had skills that could be transferred across, I just had to learn more about the rail industry and technical aspects.
What was your experience of entering the industry?
What was your experience of entering the industry?
Nicky: It was good. I found the industry and people very welcoming and didn’t feel like there were any barriers holding me back.
Ria: Generally very smooth sailing. Early on in my career as a junior it could get a bit intimidating being the only woman and having your voice heard, but on the whole, there were never any hindrances.
What made you want to pursue/continue with this career choice?
Nicky: I enjoyed the prospect of being challenged by something new, it was a good opportunity. The scale of projects is interesting; you’re involved in something that is there for years to come. I feel rewarded knowing that I’m making a difference to people’s lives, or making their journeys easier. I also get to work with world class engineers, highly specialised in their roles and incredibly knowledgeable, it’s very fulfilling work.
How important is diversity and inclusivity when you are searching for a job?
Nicky: This is always at the top of my list. We all have different circumstances, situations, backgrounds etc and the industry needs to be, and generally is, very understanding of that. It’s so important to feel part of a diverse workplace, where you can be heard, no matter what your experiences, or where you are with your life or career.
Ria: At the start of my career it wasn’t something I really thought about, however I was aware that I was one of very few women, and the only woman of colour. In recent job searches I am more aware of it and have noticed a lot of progress, lots more inclusion/diversity. However, I have still seen instances where, for example, a job description is written in the male pronoun, using “he”.
What would you say is your greatest professional achievement so far?
Nicky: I’ve been very fortunate to work on several ground-breaking campaigns, introducing new technologies, working with amazing teams and clients. Even though I might have played a small part in the project, it’s so rewarding to see the result and know you’ve been a part of that. Balancing work and family life is also something I feel proud of.
Ria: Completing my master’s degree in Railway Systems Engineering & Integration. I completed this whilst working full time, studying part-time and expecting my first child. It was a lot to take on but brought a lot of value and additional knowledge that I didn’t have before.
How would you describe your experience of being a woman in your industry?
Nicky: While diversity and gender balance are improving, engineering is still a male-dominated sector and you’re sometimes aware that you are working in an environment where you are the minority. However, I’ve never had any negative experiences or felt like being a woman is an issue. I’ve seen a big improvement in equality and more women are coming into the industry. There are many opportunities for women to enter and it’s good to see a greater variety of roles beyond engineering. This includes senior roles, management roles and apprenticeships.
Ria: It’s never felt like a barrier. You have to find your voice and fight for what you believe in, not be afraid to say how you feel. I do feel like my degree has helped empower me and prove to people that I do know what I’m talking about.
Have you been given any advice that has helped shape your career?
Nicky: As early as possible, find your niche. If you can find something you enjoy doing, get really good at doing it. It took me a while to understand what that means/what that is but try anything! Don’t be afraid to try different things to narrow down what it is that you’re looking for. Also, take opportunities when they present themselves, until you try – you don’t know.
Ria: I don’t think there has been any specific advice, but I did have a mentor that really supported me. She helped me navigate and overcome challenges that I was having and encouraged me in recognising my achievements. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise these in yourself but she really saw the best in me. It’s hard to explain the value and impact this had on my career.
Do you have any female role models that have encouraged you in your career?
Nicky: Yes, I have a strong network of men and women and I’ve received some great advice from them throughout my life and career. I always listen carefully and learn from them – to take on board their suggestions and advice and carry it forward in what I do. It’s important to welcome and consider any feedback you receive – from everyone.
Ria: I’ve got a good friend who’s a chartered engineer in a senior role. She’s also a mum of two so it’s really inspiring to see someone else managing both career and motherhood. It helps me recognise what I can achieve myself. I also think having a female support network around you is so important. Having people looking out for you and wanting the best for you is really encouraging.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to women considering a career in your sector?
Nicky: You must find your voice, find confidence in what you do and how you do it. In this sector you’ve got to be quite versatile and be able to think on your feet. Do what you can to get as much experience behind you as possible, so you’ll feel more confident and able to succeed. Create a support network. Build your own personal brand! There are many opportunities, go for it!
Ria: It’s a globally growing industry, with many projects starting up. This sector needs female intelligence, the way we think and being able to provide a different perspective. Believe in yourself and challenge yourself, don’t be afraid to go for it – take a chance!
Advance TRS is a niche recruitment consultancy specialising in the provision of highly skilled technical professionals for the built environment. It provides permanent, contract and temporary recruitment solutions to both candidates and clients across several key technical sectors including rail, construction, and water & environment services.
Advance TRS believes everyone deserves the same opportunities, regardless of age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. It is committed to supporting contractors and staff to work in an environment that is free from discrimination and promotes equal opportunities for all.
Image credits: Matt Alexander-PA Wire / istockphoto.com