How long have you been in the rail industry? What brought you to the railway industry? (why did you join the rail sector or what inspired you to join the rail sector?)
This is my 19th year, I joined the railway in 1997 as a stop gap before going to University. I had part time jobs as a waitress and thought that the role of Senior Stewardess (providing catering in the buffet, First Class and Pullman Restaurant) would suit me and my experience. Within 3 years I had moved into admin roles in the offices and 1 year later was promoted to a manager’s role. I was, at the time the youngest manager.
I only intended to stay for 6 months but the sense of family, pay and conditions were so good that I decided to make a career out of it and I can honestly say, I have never looked back.
What does your role consist of? What is a typical day?
Within my role I have 3 core responsibilities. The Emergency side of things where I work closely with and liaise with the Blue light services, oversee plans for all conceivable emergencies on the railway, plan and carry out exercises to test these plans and promote the working of the railway with Local Resilience Forums. Another part of my role is overseeing the Fire Risk Assessments for each property where we have staff or a responsibility. This part of the role also collates all the information regarding training of staff, designing training courses, outstanding actions from the FRA’s and ensuring compliance with all legislation and statutory duties. My third responsibility is to lead and manage a group of 100 Care Team volunteers. This team provide practical assistance and emotional support to our customers and colleagues after a significant traumatic event on the railway or any of our rail replacement vehicle. This involves training, exercising and the day to day management, it also involves liaising with Category 2 responders and other TOC’s and I sit on the ATOC Incident Care Team Management Group.
There is no typical day in this role, every day is different and as always in this industry, whatever plan you make for the day can change in the blink of any eye depending on what has happened.
How do you balance home and work life? What advice would you give to other women?
Balancing home and work is very difficult, especially when you love your job and are committed to giving your all. It is however, so important. Time with family and friends is vital not only to your loved ones but to your own health and wellbeing. The world will not stop if you have 2 weeks leave. If you cannot keep away from your email outside of working hours then limit the time you spend on it. I try to surround myself with really good people and I know that they can always stand in if I am not available.
What is it about the industry that you love? (what do you find most rewarding in your career?)
I love everything about my job, the work itself, the people I work with and the fact that no matter how much I think I know, there is always something new to challenge me. I find it hugely rewarding to have the involvement I do with the Care Team. The thanks we get from the customers we have helped really makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile. The team I work with closely, and all in my department are supportive and fun, nothing is ever too much trouble and they go out of their way to help. I meet different people every day and I learn from each of them regardless of whether they are railway or external. The railway is a family and even when we face tough times, we all pull together and work as one.
What would you say is the achievement you are most proud of?
I have been so lucky in my career, there is much I am proud of from qualifications I have achieved to feedback from those I have helped. Probably being given the opportunity to work in my current role is my proudest achievement to date. It has traditionally been a male dominated environment and I never thought I would have the chance to apply for the job let alone be offered it.
In your career, what is the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
When I joined the railway, it was very much a male dominated environment. This is slowly changing but it takes time and patience to break down those barriers and be accepted not just as a woman in the industry but for the experience and skills I have. Quite often, long serving staff think you must be new as the management structure changes quite often and as we have such a large geographical network I do not regularly see all of our staff. I find myself having to justify my ability in carrying out my role.
Has anyone inspired you during your career (and, if so who and why?)
I have had some wonderful role models both in the industry and outside of it. My mother taught me to never give up if I really wanted something, how to prove myself and my abilities without standing on the backs of others and to be proud but humble and thankful for all the opportunities and achievements. The Head of Security for GWR has given me such amazing support and guidance, she has taught me how to be strong but approachable and is always there should I need her help and advice.
In your opinion, what is the recipe for success – for a team, career, or otherwise?
Surround yourself with the best people and recognise their hard work and achievements, very little is gained by an individual more often than not team work is involved. Be open and honest with your colleagues, spend some time getting to know how you all tick, you need to understand people on a personal level without having to be intimate.
Do you think women handle leadership roles differently from men?
I think they have to. Traditionally, strong women have had reputations for being ball breakers or eyelash flutterers. Women are now much more confident to be their own person and not be afraid to show their own style. On the whole women take time to speak to people more and learn how to get the best from them. It’s a tough combination to master.
What do you see as the challenges to attracting more women into rail and what do you think could be done to make a difference?
Rail still looks like a male world, not much is advertised to make it attractive to women. It would be a good idea to get involved in careers days at schools or produce a short video to show just what roles are available and starring those in them that really love their jobs.
What advice would you give to young women / other women working in rail?
Go for it, it is a world of opportunity, you will never stop learning and there is so much support and help for you, you only have to ask.
Interviewed October 2016