How did you get into the rail industry?
I definitely got into the rail industry by accident. I studied a masters in Electronic and Electrical Engineering at Loughborough University. When I began looking for jobs I was keen to do something other than pure engineering, but had trouble figuring out what. I applied for several different jobs from working in Museums like the Wellcome Trust to an engineering job with Siemens. I went to an assessment centre with Siemens for a job as an electronic engineer at a machines and drives factory in Congleton. I really enjoyed the day and everyone I met was very friendly. I wasn’t surprised when I got a phone call saying I didn’t get the job; when you’re one girl up against seven boys for an engineering position the general assumption is that you won’t get it! I did, however, get asked to apply for other positions within Siemens because they liked me as a person. As a result I applied for a sales job within Siemens Rail Systems. As a result of my engineering degree and a background in sales (from setting up a business with my mum at age 16) I breezed through the interview and was offered the job.
What do you do?
I am now working as a Sales Graduate with Siemens Rail Systems and am 18 months into a 2 year scheme. For my first three months I worked in one of our train depots in Southampton. While there I spent time as a technician, a production manager and worked with the fleet performance technicians. It gave me a chance to get hands on with the trains, to understand how they work and it put my engineering degree to a more practical use.
In the following 6 months I worked for my line manager who is the Head of Business Development. This placement gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of our customers and develop important relationships for when I hopefully have a permanent job in sales a Siemens. I was also able to manage the sales input to our sponsorship of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground.
After that I went to work for London Underground in their depot at Ruislip. I was working on their 1992 Central Line stock which was quite a change from Siemens’ 10 year old Desiro Fleet in Southampton.
I then travelled to Germany to spend 10 weeks at Siemens’ headquarters working with their metro and mainline sales teams. They are based in Erlangen near Nuremberg, it was a really great opportunity to test the German I learnt when I was 13. Siemens have now given me the opportunity to have weekly German lessons, which I am really enjoying. After 6 months of working in various other locations I returned to Siemens’ offices in London and spent 2 months working with our Finance and Commercial Team.
I was seconded to Angel Trains for two months, who are a Rolling Stock Owning Company. I’ve been given a great opportunity to work on my very own project whilst at Angel, which has been both nerve wracking and a lot of fun. I have 6 months remaining in my Graduate Scheme and while not all my placements are confirmed I will be returning to Germany in June for two months. I will be working with our Thameslink team near Dusseldorf.
What is a typical day/night?
It’s difficult to say what a typical day is because placements mean my typical day changes every 3 months or so. At the moment a typical day is getting into the office a bit before 8am, then I spend the day working on my project, having catch up meetings and chatting to the guys in the commercial team. On the other hand, when I worked in the depot I would get to work just before 7am and work on the trains with the other technicians; changing brake pads and checking doors, until we finished at 3pm.
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging?
At the moment I find it very difficult to juggle my placements with on-going work that I’m involved with at Siemens. Continually being away from the office and the colleagues I’m working with makes it difficult to keep up to speed with what work is being done.
What do you like the most about your job/the rail industry?
I love the variety. One day I could be sat at a desk working on my computer and the next I could be going to a customer meeting in Victoria or a champagne reception in the St Pancras Grand Brasserie (this has actually happened!).
What made/makes you stay in the rail sector?
The people are definitely what keep me in the rail sector. Particularly because, working in sales, I get to meet a whole range of friendly and interesting individuals.
What do you think could be improved within the rail industry for you personally?
As a graduate coming into the industry my work is based in central London. I moved to London from the South Coast and had a lot of issues when looking for flats. There’s a constant compromise between how expensive flats in central and even Greater London are, and the cost of commuting from further afield. Working in the rail industry it seems a shame that we aren’t given the opportunity of reduced fares on rolling stock when we are contributing to the industry.
What do you think the rail industry should start doing, stop doing or continue to do to support women within the rail industry?
I think an important step forward would be more women in senior positions. There seems to be a general culture of women as secretaries or lower ranking employees. Of course, there is nothing wrong with women as secretaries and personal assistants, but in a predominantly male dominated work place I have found that on more than one occasion it has been assumed that I was a secretary. I have also encountered men who have assumed, because I am young and female, that I am not as intelligent as them. It comes as quite an obvious shock when they discover that I have a Masters degree in engineering, have jointly set up a business from scratch and have spent months working in foreign countries. So, I think a serious update in attitudes is sometimes needed.
What about to attract more women within the rail sector?
Perhaps having a more flexible attitude to maternity leave and child care. Most importantly I think that fast track promotions and a visible equality with men in the same positions would make a big difference.
What would you say to a young graduate/woman considering a career in rail?
I would say that it’s a highly under-rated sector to work in. It’s an industry that needs more women to even out the gender balance as well as younger people to bridge the age gap, but it’s also an industry that is continually growing and improving. There are so many varied opportunities, from engineering to finance to sales to law; it’s a great place to start any career.
What would you say is the biggest achievement of your career to date?
I am most proud of living in Germany for a couple of months and surviving in a place where people on the street simply do not speak English. Being at work was not as difficult as most people spoke English to a certain degree, although every Monday I got to sit through a two hour engineering meeting conducted entirely in German.
In terms of work I’ve done I think that I did a good job when I worked with Siemens’ communications team on our year sponsorship of the London Underground 150th Anniversary.
Why did you join Women in Rail? What would you say are the benefits of joining the group?
I joined Women in Rail because I think it’s really important to bring diversity to the work place. Women bring a different perspective and additional experience which can only go to benefit the rather male dominated rail industry. Joining Women in Rail has made me feel like any concerns I have are shared by others and are starting to be addressed. Sometimes the most important feeling is knowing you’re not alone if you ever have a problem. I’m also getting the opportunity to engage with schools and universities to encourage women into the rail sector. Particularly important for me is encouraging women engineers into the rail sector.
Interviewed May 2014