Our last few blogs have focussed on the important roles women play in the sectors that we work in. This week we’d like to put the spotlight on rail, and talk about the fantastic opportunities there are for females in the sector. While it’s no secret that the industry has historically been male dominated, over the last few years there has been a sharp pick-up in women joining – and this is certainly something that we want to see continue. If we can encourage more women to work in rail, not only can we potentially help end the skills shortage, but also boost innovation and create true equality.

How women benefit the workplace

There are countless studies that show that diverse teams achieve greater success. Mckinsey, for example, revealed that companies with the most women on their boards significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41% in terms of return on equity and by 56% in terms of operating results. Leeds University Business School also reports that having at least one female director on the board appears to cut a company’s chances of going bust by about 20%. Having two or three female directors lowers the risk even more.

How bad is the skills shortage in rail?

While there’s no shortage of exciting and innovative rail projects in the UK, there is a severe dearth of talent to bring these plans to reality. Hitachi, for example, has recently announced that it will be investing £600 million into building a fleet of carriages based on Japanese bullet train technology. While this is undoubtedly a very exciting project and fantastic news for the sector, action must be taken now in in preparing the workforce needed. HS2, Crossrail and the Northern Powerhouse are also increasing demand for workers drastically, and with these projects already behind schedule, it’s vital that we get skilled professionals on the ground as soon as possible. It’s also important to think about the future. With a large percentage of the current workforce reaching retirement age, it’s crucial to ensure that there is a flow of fresh talent entering the sector to replace them.

Women’s role in fixing rail’s skills shortage

At the Women in Rail awards, transport minister, Nusrat Ghani stressed that 50,000 more people will be needed to work in rail between now and 2033 along with hundreds of thousands more across the wider transport sector. To reach the number of professionals required, we can’t afford to dismiss women. According to Southeastern, out of 85,000 rail employees across the country, only 14,000 are females. The Rail Delivery Group, also recently commissioned a national survey which revealed that a whopping 81% of women in Britain have never even considered working in the rail industry. If this trend continues, projects will remain delayed for longer than necessary.

Why is there a shortage of women in the industry?

Historically, the industry has been painted as “just for boys”, labour-intensive and unrewarding. However, this is far from the truthUnfortunately, the lack of females in the sector is the result of years of misrepresentation. A survey conducted by The Rail Delivery Group revealed that 11% of women attributed their lack of interest in rail down to it being male-dominated, 23% said that they would not feel comfortable working in a masculine industry and 20%  feared that they lacked the right skills. These notions are very commonplace, but, in fact, there is no need for them. Groups such as ‘Women in Rail’ celebrate female success in the industry, and big companies, like Southeastern, intend to increase female applicants for driver roles by up to 40% by 2021.

What the rail sector needs to do

To end rail’s skills shortage, managers and team leaders need to be proactive in encouraging women to work in the sector. As the perception of the industry being male-dominated is often highlighted as a problem, it’s important that strong, female representatives are put forward as spokespeople and are present at career fairs. It’s also vital that the right processes are in place to accommodate females. For example, more and more businesses are adopting flexible working practices, allowing them access to wider talent pools. Rail should have the same opportunities in place, as this will make the industry a real, valid career option for both genders.

By supporting women, putting practical processes in place and nurturing an inclusive environment, the industry can truly become one of the leading sectors for opportunities, innovation and equality.

To find out more about what we do here at Samuel Knight International, get in touch today