Angie Doll highlights why diversity in rail is more than just a buzzword

The creation of the railway in the mid-1800s brought new opportunity for employment for people in Britain. And at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) while we continue to see technology change the way this industry operates, one thing has remained a reliable constant since the early days of rail; the need for excellent people.

Though functionality – and of course, the trains themselves – have evolved, 2019 is no different when it comes to the breadth of opportunity in this fantastic industry.

But in order to ensure that we are evolving in tandem with these advances, the workforce at the heart of our business must do so too. Traditionally a majority male-dominated sector, this shift requires dedication and focus as it is changing the employee make-up of an industry with a history so rich that it remains one of few in Britain today where long-service awards ceremonies are frequently held to celebrate extensive service commitments.

A focused campaign
To attract more women and young people to consider a career in rail, earlier this year we embarked on the industry’s biggest rail recruitment drive.

Supporting the four brands under GTR – Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express – this campaign is helping us change the demographics of our workforce, and crucially, the wider pool of talent joining the industry. As the UK’s largest rail franchise, we have a real responsibility – and opportunity – to support and shape the next generation.

In my role as MD for Southern and Gatwick Express, I get to meet many of the brilliant new recruits joining the organisation, and it’s been fantastic to see how the demographics of our growing workforce has changed since I joined the industry 20 years ago.

We want our teams to reflect the communities they serve. The aim is for our drivers to mirror the local population, with representation across society and this ethos feeds into all areas of the business.

Diversity is more than a buzzword
This is an incredibly rewarding industry to work in, with many routes for progression. I joined as a station manager at Brighton and have worked my way up to my role as Managing Director of the UK’s biggest rail franchise; there are no limits to what women can achieve in this sector.

However, while women are well represented across our management, admin, stations and on-board teams, the story is not the same for operations and engineering so we are addressing this imbalance head-on.

The main purpose for recruiting more women into driver roles – in 2018 30 per cent of trainee drivers on Southern were female – is to tackle gender imbalance and bring more diversity of both gender and thinking into our driver depots. The progressive approach we are taking with the industry’s biggest recruitment programme will help the organisation flourish and help to drive real change across the sector.

That being said, increasing the number of female drivers is not a ‘tick box exercise’ – the process of becoming a driver is an intense one for all who go through it. The application process is vigorous and lengthy, with multiple points for potential failure, though I’ve been pleased to see the number of applications from women steadily increasing.

This tough process helps us whittle down the huge number of applicants – we receive more than 1000 applications per available role – and identify those with the skills we need in our trainees. There are many safety rules and precautions involved in train driving that the ability to remain focused and calm is imperative; there is a lot to deal with so this isn’t a job for everyone.

In order to attract more women to the industry, we’ve opened up our recruitment approach, for example, through posting job adverts on forums such as Mumsnet – resulting in their most popular job advert to date! As well as attending careers fairs at schools and colleges, a number of GTR employees work as mentors to help young women understand the different career opportunities open to them.

The next generation
Improving diversity in our workforce is more than simply improving our gender balance; we want to encourage the next generation that this sector is overflowing with opportunity.

This is a key focus across the business and can be seen across our apprenticeship programme; throughout 2019 GTR is aiming to offer 140 apprenticeships to help young people embark on a career in the railway. In 2018 a third of apprenticeships were filled by women and we want to attract even more to our schemes this year.

We have also increased our capacity for training engineering apprentices this year and currently take on more apprentices in this area than any other UK TOC; we have a lot of services to maintain across the 800 network miles our four lines serve!

To further help achieve this, earlier this year we launched our new Apprentice Station Manager roles on Southern Railway and Gatwick Express.

Every year Southern parent company, GTR runs ‘Get into Railways’ with The Prince’s Trust – a customer service scheme, which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into full-time employment. One hundred and sixty five young people have taken part in this scheme so far; GTR has offered 84 per cent of them full-time roles.

Rail = careers
The wealth of career opportunities is almost limitless in the rail sector. With our sister brands Thameslink and Great Northern, we are the UK’s biggest rail franchise and are supported by more than 7500 employees in roles including gateline assistants, drivers, ticket office sales, stakeholder managers, train planners, operational managers, communications officers, human resources, to name just a few.

While station-based roles can help to serve as daily reminders of opportunities, the behind-the-scenes operational, communication and support requirements for such an extensive network also offer many career options that our passengers may have never considered.

The railway is open to all and I look forward to being part of this industry’s continuing evolution.

Angie Doll is Managing Director for Southern and Gatwick Express, part of the UK’s largest rail franchise, Govia Thameslink Railway, carrying 24 per cent of the country’s commuters each day. Southern runs services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth). Gatwick Express offers fast, direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria.