Action needed to encourage more women into the rail industry

Just 16.4 per cent of the rail industry is made up of women, and an even smaller number are in senior, decision-making posts, according to Women in Rail’s annual report.



Adeline Ginn, Founder of Women in Rail, says that while the rail industry is enjoying increased investment and passenger levels as well as employment opportunities, it is facing a very real problem – “a deficit of talent and diversity of skills – which threatens its future growth”. Part of this is due to a big gender imbalance.

The report breaks down the gender split and the role split for different sectors of the rail industry.  Just 13% of the 31,945 staff at Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road and the Department of Transport are women. The vast majority are on junior pay grades. Just 16 per cent hold middle management positions and only 56 women (1.3 per cent) are in senior roles.

Across the industry, but excluding Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road and the Department of Transport, 18 per cent of the workforce are women.  Just under four fifths (79 per cent) are in non-managerial roles and only 0.6 per cent have progressed to director or executive level.


Of the 9,867 women covered by the survey, only 4 per cent are working in an engineering role. Most women (60 per cent) gather around the ‘on the ground’ service roles such as catering staff, train guards, customer service and retail – customer-facing roles which are traditionally viewed as more female oriented, says the report.

In the train-operating companies, 20% of staff are female. Some 66 per cent are in service roles, while the number of women engineers remains just over the 2 per cent mark.  Just 12% of staff working for manufacturers related to the rail industry are women, but the distribution of women across functions is more evenly spread than in train operating companies. Almost 10 per cent are working as engineers and 12 per cent are in planning roles. Nevertheless, a large proportion of women are in administrative roles (27 per cent) which represents the largest number of females in the rail manufacturing sector.

In rolling stock companies, 31% of staff are women. However, 28 per cent of these are in administrative roles and only 12 per cent comprise qualified engineers acting in an engineering role. With only one female executive, 51 per cent of women are in junior roles while the bulk of the remainder is at the mid to lower end of the management spectrum.  Just 5% of staff working for suppliers to the industry are women with  over a third (37 per cent) in operational roles comprising planning, health and safety and quality control. Of those, 62 per cent are on-the-ground technicians. In Technology Service Companies, 22% of employees are women.

The report uses self-reported data from more than 39 businesses comprising train operating companies (including their owning groups), manufacturers, rolling stock companies, technical support companies (TESCOs), suppliers, Network Rail, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

Changing the perception of rail

The report calls for work on changing the perception of rail – and particularly of engineering – as a ‘male’ profession, including work with teachers and schoolchildren, and encouraging women to seize opportunities. It adds that there needs to be a change in work culture to encourage more flexible working and to advertise jobs in more gender neutral ways.  And it calls for the industry to have more of a unified voice on critical issues that face the whole industry such as gender balance.

Adeline Ginn says: “We must focus our efforts on changing these perceptions from the roots up: we want to see young girls passionate about rail, we want to see teens leaving school inspired to study engineering and we want to see women thriving in their career on the railway. And we want rail to be praised as an industry that is dynamic and forward looking, supporting and fostering the career of its workforce and, in particular, its women.”

Malcolm Brown, CEO of Angel Trains, says positive action has begun to address some of the issues and  the next step is to identify role models in the industry. He says: “I want to look at any business and be able to say, ‘right, you are an absolute role model, you have got the male female ratio right’ and – importantly – right throughout the business, not 49 per cent of women across the company who all work in HR.”

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