Adeline Ginn of Women in Rail talks to Workingmums.co.uk about how she set up the organisation and her plans for the future.
Adeline Ginn was travelling to a diversity event with her chief executive in October 2011. The event had come about as a result of the debate around the Lord Davies report on women on the boards of the top UK companies. Adeline, a lawyer with Angel Trains, was nominated to take part. It was her first outing with her boss and she was nervous.
She had prepared a long list of questions to keep the conversation going. He asked what she thought about diversity in the rail industry. “I had worked in the rail industry for 15 years and was often the only woman in meetings. I said things were appalling.
Women felt isolated and intimidated, not because the industry is misogynistic, but because there was no support for them to progress their careers. Women either stayed in the organisation because they were passionate about their job or they left. I didn’t hold back.”
Her CEO asked what she would do about it and she said she would set up a women’s network to provide the support that was lacking. He said he would support her and Women in Rail was born.
Adeline began cautiously by contacting women on LinkedIn in April 2012. “I wasn’t sure if there was any interest, but it mushroomed very quickly,” she says. She got support from high profile women in the government, started raising awareness and set up a steering committee which reflected the broad range of women across the industry.
Women in Rail provides mentoring support to women and has created a networking platform through events where women can discuss the barriers to their career progression, for instance, lack of confidence when faced by a room full of men, and advice on how to overcome them.
One event in York on self confidence attracted 80 women. Adeline describes it as an “eye opener”. “A lot of women think it is just them that lack confidence, but when they are together they realise many women feel the same.
Senior women explained that they still suffered from ‘impostor syndrome’ where they felt they would be found out at any moment as not being up to their job. The emails I received afterwards were amazing. People said they felt a weight had been lifted from them. They felt supported.”
Adeline, who organises Women in Rail on the side of her job as Head of Legal at Angel Trains, plans to hold this session more regularly and to explore issues such as personal brand and body language. She adds that one of the tips that emerged was that women need to admit when they don’t know something.
She describes a meeting she was leading when two men started talking about something she knew nothing about. She felt she couldn’t say anything during the meeting, but afterwards she asked them both what they had been talking about. “Both men said they had no idea what they had been talking about,” she laughed.
Adeline says the rail industry may be male-dominated, but it is not anti-women. Many managers allow women employees time off to attend Women in Rail meetings, she says.
Nevertheless, only 17.8% of employees are female and she feels there is a lack of awareness of how it might feel to be a woman in such an environment and a lack of knowledge of how to do something about it. “Women in Rail enables them to do something about it,” she says.
She has been asked to do networking events on a company by company basis, which she is happy to do, but says she likes the idea of getting everyone in the industry together, including men, to share ideas. “It is important to me that the meetings are open to men.
Our next networking meeting is in November and we would like to have 50% men. We need to work together to promote the industry to a younger generation and make sure we attract the people with the most potential,” she says.
Although the Women in Rail network is relatively young, Adeline has great ambitions. She wants, for instance, to organise regular meetings of senior women in the industry who can brainstorm on how to build the female pipeline and to organise more regional events.
She also wants to get Aslef more involved, although she says Women in Rail is not political. “We want to focus on solutions,” she says. “We are providing forums where discussions can be had and where no-one is held to ransom for something they have said.”
Those solutions include reaching out to more women through the way adverts are worded and flexible working. A recent meeting included a very interesting debate around job shares for drivers as a way around the complications of the shift system.
She has over 1,000 members on LinkedIn and several hundred others who are not on LinkedIn. In September Women in Rail will launch its own website highlighting the diversity of roles available in the industry from HR to law to driving trains.
Women in Rail will also build the business case for diversity externally in the national and rail media. “It should not be a tick box thing; a diverse workforce is more productive,” says Adeline.
The rail industry already works with schools and universities to promote careers in rail and Women in Rail members act as ambassadors and role models. “Lots of initiatives in the industry are coming together,” says Adeline.