Only 16% of Network Rail’s 40,000 staff are women, and boss Mark Carne has concluded that ‘it is clear that equality of opportunity is not enough’

 

Network Rail, Thameslink Programme and contractors celebrating Women in Engineering Day in 2015

 

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne has told senior managers throughout the company to draw up plans to raise the proportion of women employed to a minimum of 20% in each area of the business.

The decision was based on a Network Rail research project which showed teams with at least 20% of women work more safely, productively and collaboratively, with less sickness absence and are more engaged with customers. As well as defining the ‘critical threshold’ for achieving these benefits from workforce diversity the study showed that the benefits multiply in Network Rail teams with a more even gender balance.

However, Carne acknowledged that meeting this initial target for all Network Rail teams would be a significant challenge. Announcing the plan at a Network Rail summit, he pointed out that only 16% of the company’s 40,000 staff are female. “And, in the operationally focused parts of the business – the bits that actually run the railway – it’s more like 10%,” he said. “Just 280 of our 3,100 engineers.”

The truth is that stories of the laddish boys’ club atmosphere in parts of our industry make me angry

He called for people throughout the business to rethink their views and their approach to inclusion in the workplace. Network Rail’s research showed that 37% of its staff didn’t have a strong opinion or didn’t think a better gender balance would make a difference, while 3% believed it would have a negative impact – findings Carne described as staggering. “I was honestly dumbfounded that so many people were uncertain about the merits of gender balance,” he said, adding, “the truth is that stories of the laddish boys’ club atmosphere in parts of our industry make me angry”.

To reform the company’s culture and work towards the target, Carne said action would be taken in the way Network Rail attracts, recruits, retains and progresses female staff. Initiatives will include training in avoiding bias for managers involved in recruitment; ensuring recruitment campaigns are gender neutral; Network Rail ambassadors promoting career opportunities to female university students; a review of flexible working policies; a ‘Men as Allies’ campaign to assist managers in creating a more inclusive workplace; and gender equality targets for route managers. In addition, programmes will be set up to assist female employees in progressing towards senior roles.

“We have reached a point where it is clear that equality of opportunity is not enough,” Carne concluded. “We need to recognise that women working in a male-dominated environment will need more support than their male colleagues to make sure they get the recognition and progression opportunities they deserve. That is not discrimination. It is positive action to end years of injustice through either conscious or unconscious bias.

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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