I’m Feeling Positive About 2024! Why Rail Is Cooler and Sexier Than You Might Think

11 Jan, 2024

In her first column for The Female Leaders' Club, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) PR Manager, Francesca Boyd, reveals that only 16.4% of the total UK rail workforce are women and why this should change.

I started working in rail in the summer of 2020, when a travelling stint across the world got de-railed (pardon the pun) by Covid.

Up until then, I hadn’t really considered the demographics of the industry because, like everyone else, I was using trains to get from A to B.

I realised pretty quickly that the rail sector is huge, GTR itself employs around 7,500 people. I also realised pretty quickly that out of these thousands and thousands of employees across the sector – women do not make up the majority. Far from it.

A survey by Women in Rail earlier this year revealed that just 16.4% of the total UK rail workforce are women, which is a pretty depressing stat and it’s why the Women in Rail organisation itself was formed. It’s the only female-focussed networking, support and career development platform in existence in the UK.

So why are the numbers so bad? Let’s be honest, rail isn’t considered cool or sexy, because it’s largely considered to be dominated by males (which it is), old (we do have a big problem with an ageing workforce) and stuffy (which I don’t necessarily agree with, but do understand).

It’s so hard to attract a more diverse workforce when the current picture doesn’t necessarily reflect the same thing.

Things are changing, but it’s happening too slowly. I want more young females to consider rail as a long-term career option. I’ve spoken to so many people at GTR who started in a role that’s completely separate to where they are now. There is the real opportunity of career development in rail that I don’t think exists in other sectors.

I’m feeling positive about 2024. Our first female CEO was appointed in 2023 and the number of females applying for train driver roles (heavily dominated by men) has increased fivefold from 2019, which is hugely promising.

I’m lucky that I feel seen and heard in my role and have lots of inspiring women to look up to, but can the same be said for females working in our depots or on the frontline? I can’t be sure.

So, what can we do about it? We need to think about the ways we’re attracting talent and be willing to test new avenues. We also need female role models to share their experiences so that other women want to follow in their footsteps.

I don’t think we shout loudly enough about the benefits that come with rail either. Free or discounted travel plus end of salary pension may sound bland, but they’re far more beneficial to employees than a snazzy office or a monthly social. I’ve also spoken to a lot of females who prefer shift work over the 9-5 as they find it easier to juggle childcare.

Do I think we’ll ever reach a 50:50 split in rail? Probably not in my lifetime. But with more females taking the helm in senior roles, I’m hoping that we can change the perception of the railway and make it fit for the future.

What are my top 3 tips for female leaders?

1. Make sure people know your name. Whether you work with them or not, you want people to know who you are. Get to know people around the business, utilise internal comms channels, shout about your work, join different networks – get your name out there!

2. Focus on your own goals. We compare ourselves to other women far too much and are self-critical as a result. Everyone measures success and happiness in different ways. Know what makes you happy and don’t be pressured by other people’s journeys.

3. Have an opinion. And don’t be scared to share it. Our voice counts – even more so in a room full of men. So let’s use it!

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