HomePeopleDiversity & InclusionTime to close the gap

Time to close the gap

Listen to this article

RailStaff’s new columnist, Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, explains why an industry-wide push on EDI is essential.

In many ways, the rail industry is extraordinarily honest. When there are incidents, we dutifully log them, investigate, and carry forward lessons learned. When special timetables are successful, we celebrate, assess, and copy positive learnings for the future. But when it comes to our people, are we as proactive as we could be?

Credit: Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain

Since the start of mandatory gender pay gap reporting in 2017, the industry has been taking a hard look at our equality/equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) balance. Some parts of the industry are leading the way; LNER and Network Rail are delivering the ‘Never Mind The Gap’ initiative, which offers training and placements for women who have been out of work for a period of time, such as following career breaks or redundancy. Govia Thameslink Railway revealed a 50% increase in the number of female applicants starting an apprenticeship with them from 2022-2023.

The initiatives outlined above with GTR, LNER, and Network Rail are all incredibly positive and laudable, but they are happening in pockets, rather than across the sector. What is needed most is an industry-wide, collective push to enable not only the growth of EDI in the sector, but to reverse some worrying wider trends. The gender pay gap, for example, has increased across all modes of transport employment – in 2017, the pay gap between men and women was 9.6%, and in 2022 it was 10.4%. EDI is not just about gender, of course, and encompasses a wide range of intersectional factors, including race, ethnicity, age, disability, and beyond.

A problem shared

Looking to our friends on the continent, 21% of those working in the Europe-wide rail sector are women. We can also see positive, sector-wide growth within some European nations, which the UK can learn from; the number of women working at Deutsche Bahn (DB) has reached 55,000 across Germany, making up 24.1% of it’s workforce, an increase on the 23.6% of the previous year, and not just at lower levels of the company – the proportion of female executives at DB has increased to 29.4%. 2024 is DB’s second year as the ‘most female-friendly company’ in Germany (awarded by the FKi Diversity for Success initiative).

So how has DB achieved this, and what can we learn? Well, for one, the company’s initiatives are national (due to its national railway organisational structure). Having comprehensive schemes across the country, rather than individualised and in some ways harder to find programmes in different operators, will certainly have contributed to its overall success. DB ensures this growing success in gender balance in a range of ways, including part-time working availability, career development and advancement programmes and training, and flexible work hours.

The Railway Industry Association and Women in Rail EDI charter, launched in 2020, is a key step in the right direction. The charter has over 200 organisations signed up and committed to a range of progression activities, including public reporting of their progress, inclusive recruitment processes, unconscious bias training, and more. This charter outlines some of the most important steps organisations can take if they are serious about their EDI journey, and comprehensive application across the country is a key unifying factor as we see with DB’s progress. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes.

Credit: iStockphoto.com

Less than straightforward

EDI can seem to be a tricky topic to understand, let alone deliver on, but there are practical actions that organisations can take. They must assess their gender balance and gender pay gap, as benchmarking is essential for progression. Policies should ensure equal opportunities (as demonstrated by DB), such as equal parental leave, flexible working and hours, equity in pay, leadership and development programmes, and more. Externally, organisations should also be engaging in education programmes within schools and colleges to ensure the next generation can consider rail as a positive viable career. Engaging with Community Rail education initiatives is an excellent path to ensuring the highest levels of quality engagement.

EDI must not be considered a ‘nice to have’ or ‘optional’ in rail, and we must not rely on just the words spoken by an organisation as to their EDI commitment but look at the actions that they take. As we see large numbers of rail employees retiring, we must place ourselves as a sector which is desirable for potential employees.

It is vital that we have more women (and people of all identities) working within rail for a wide range of reasons, from staffing level practicalities to enabling diversity of thinking, which in turn enables higher profits (according to a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Ernst & Young, a shift from no female leaders to 30% positively correlates with a 15% increase in net revenue margin). However, the central message is that women use the rail system, and must therefore shape, lead, and deliver within it, to ensure a truly fair, safe, and accessible network.

Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain is the Innovation Manager at East West Railway Company. With a passion for transport transformation, accessibility, sustainability, and inclusion, she works to make the future of rail safer, accessible and enjoyable for all customers. Daisy can be contacted at [email protected].

Lead image: iStockphto.com