Getting more women into the rail & haulage sectors

Anika Shenfield talks to about her role as learning and development manager for Pentalver and Freightliner and how she helped create the children’s book My mummy is a train driver.

Everywoman in Transport and Logistics Awards 2023. The Londoner Hotel Wednesday 28th June 2023. Photography by Steve Dunlop

Anika Shenfield not only does a busy job as learning and development manager for both the road haulage firm Pentalver and freight train service Freightliner, but she has managed to squeeze in creating a children’s book to encourage more girls into train driving.

All of this has won her the coveted Freight Award for going Above and Beyond at the recent 2023 everywoman in Transport & Logistics Awards.  She is keen to capitalise on the momentum and opportunities that the award offers for women and for her industry. 

Anika is passionate about getting more women into the industry. A single parent of two grown-up children, Anika has worked full time for most of her career and says she has been lucky to have a good support network and good working environments. She clearly loves her job. In fact, she says that her daughter, now 31 and following in her footsteps as a transport manager – and a founder of an independent travel company on the side –  finishes at 5pm every day, saying she wants more work life balance than her mum. “She thinks I work too much, but I really enjoy my work,” says Anika.

Getting into HR

Anika has worked for years in shipping, logistics and now transport. For several years she worked for CEVA Logistics as a customer services manager and it was while she was working at CEVA for Primark and doing back office support work that she got introduced to the world of HR.  From there she got a job as HR advisor at the port of Felixstowe in a shared service centre, working on learning and development. 

The managing director of road haulage firm Pentalver knew her from her days with Primark and was looking for someone to cover HR at their Felixstowe site. Five months after Anika joined Pentalver was bought by Genocee & Wyoming [G & W] which also owns rail freight company Freightliner. 

Anika’s initial role was HR and Business Improvement Adviser and covered everything from learning and development to diversity and inclusion and early careers engagement. Since 2017 she has been working across both Pentalver and Freightliner, which have 3,000 staff across the UK, as Learning and Development Manager and is responsible for a range of areas, including talent acquisition, development and retention within the UK/Europe region, succession planning, learning and development and performance management across the UK/Europe/Middle East region. 

Showcasing female workers

Anika says that culturally the two organisations are very different, with rail freight, for instance, being heavily unionised. A big focus for her has been on diversity and inclusion. She has, for example, been working with HR partner WORK180 since 2018. WORK180 approached the company and Anika helped set up the partnership and manages it. Together they work on strategies to boost the number of women in the traditionally male-dominated industry, showcasing female workers and male allies, conducting a survey of women in the business and doing various benchmarking exercises on key policy issues. Anika says WORK180, whose mission is enabling women to choose workplaces where they can thrive,  is helping the company to gather better data on its employees, for instance, on ethnicity so they can see where they have work to do.

Anika also supports the female drivers forum which is an offshoot of the company’s diversity and inclusion steering group. This is employee-led and meets three times a year. Anika says the aim is to let employees run the group themselves, but her team provides policy and other support. Key issues for female drivers include the fact that training hours and rostering are not as flexible yet as they might be and the lack of toilet facilities for freight drivers. But the benefits in terms of salaries for train drivers are high, pensions are good and drivers work no more than 35 hours a week due to the need for rest days.  

Her team also organises an annual International Women’s Day event which brings frontline female workers together in one room. Anika says this is invaluable as driving freight trains can be a lonely job and the event gives women a chance to network, listen to speakers on topics ranging from domestic violence to trans issues, and take part in workshops, for instance, on health and safety. The event went online during Covid which meant US G & W colleagues could join. This year it was hosted at the London Transport Museum and the team invited colleagues from Poland.

Anika is also working on getting a diverse group of young people into the industry through T Levels and apprenticeships, adding that Covid set that work back, but it is now picking up again.

My mummy is a train driver

All of this is part of her day to day work, but in 2019 she got involved in a project which has had a wider-reaching impact. She was at a launch event in Birmingham and got talking about how to get more women to think of a career in rail. She spoke to a colleague whose husband had just finished editing a book which is part of a series called ‘My mummy is…’ about women in male-dominated careers for children aged four and older. Through him Anika got in touch with the authors. She convinced them to do ‘My mummy is a train driver’, the ninth book in a series which includes ‘my mummy is a footballer’ and ‘my mummy is an engineer’. Through a rail diversity and inclusion forum Anika got 10 passenger and freight companies on board and female drivers from the companies fed back to the authors information about training, what they loved about their jobs and exploded some of the myths about being a train driver. 

The book was launched at an event hosted by West Midlands Trains in Wolverhampton. Children were invited and donned high-viz jackets and got to go on a new train. The event featured in the local press and one of the authors read from the book. “It was a fab day,” says Anika. Modestly she says she feels that she didn’t do the day-to-day work on the book, but she came up with the idea, drove it through and lived every minute of it. Over 4,000 copies of the book have been sold and Freightliner has been distributing some of them. The profits go back into education. One train driver went into a London school and read from the book and Anika says she would like to do more events like that. And with her Pentalver hat on, she is now looking at doing a similar book on lorry drivers, working with other haulage firms, when the time is right.

These are not the only creative approaches to outreach Anika has been involved with. She recently took part in a Big Bang STEM event with a desktop simulator so kids could drive a train. Careers champions talked to the children and a colleague devised some trump cards of different job profiles within the industry.  

Anika is keen to do more schools engagement and to update the company’s policies on issues such as flexible working and the menopause. She wants other companies and UK regions to get involved in outreach work and her enthusiasm is such that it is hard to see people turning her down.

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