Please tell us about your background..
I started as a prison custodial officer, transporting prisoners from A to B. However, there was little room for career development and I wanted a job where I could progress and climb up the ranks. A friend recommended a Revenue Protection Officer role in the railway industry. I was interested as it would allow me to use lots of transferrable skills. I am afraid, working in the rail sector was not initially the key driver, it was more career development opportunities. My initial perception of the industry was that it was male dominated but then, so were the prisons! That being said, that perception was squashed quickly after I joined the sector. My role was initially focused on operations but I got a chance to step up to Station Manager. I learned new skills and knowledge and moved from managing people to being a leader. I was part of the station management team on the Underground which is really fast paced. I was looking for a management position and a permanent role so I applied to be Assistant Train Presentation Manager and was successful. There was less direct customer interface but the role was more technical, more engineering focussed which was very interesting. I am now Train Presentation Manager for MerseyRail. I am responsible for the whole cleaning department, the teams on board and also the teams that clean the trains during the night. We are accountable to Mersey Travel and are inspected regularly so our job is very important.
What do you like about the railway industry?
I am passionate about collaborative working and helping others. This is what drives me. I therefore find the railway sector suits me well. It is a very welcoming industry. It has a great family feel to it. Everyone is very supportive of each other.
What has been your greatest successes and challenges to date?
The last 2 years have been the most challenging: learning new skills, getting to grip with the technical aspects of the job. As I don’t have engineering experience, I have had to use collaborate working to help develop myself whether that has been out on the front line or out with peers. That was very rewarding and a success to me.
You come from a male dominated industry – the prison system – how does rail compare to it?
Although I have been the only female engineering manager, there have been no stereotypical reactions. I have always felt welcomed and appreciated.
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years’ time?
I want to develop personally. The opportunities are endless in the railway sector and this is what I like most about the job and the industry. I have moved around a lot already and have experienced different functions. I have learned to be open minded. For example, I applied for this engineering position when I am not a qualified engineer. I also want to pass on my knowledge to others. I have come so far already in the last 2 years and I am still not sure where it will all take me. I love the industry and would love also to inspire others to become leaders. In terms of the future too, I don’t necessarily need or want more qualifications but there is lots of training that I could give which would help others as I can bring my own skills and experience to each role.
Being a winner of the 20 rising stars hopefully sends a powerful message about women in rail, how do you think it will be interpreted by colleagues?
I have received a lot of positive feedback. This has been a massive recognition within the business and it has been a huge compliment to be nominated by my peers. It is a rewarding personal achievement and I am very grateful. This award has given me a huge boost in what has been a challenging year and I want to also extend my congratulations to all the other winners and nominees. It is just fantastic to see others succeed. I have spoken to my line manager and functional director and they are both really happy for me and say I deserve it. I have told a few other colleagues and when they found out, they have also been generally supportive. Hopefully, for others, seeing me win will give them the confidence they need to push themselves forward and achieve more!
What would be your advice to young women entering the industry?
Don’t be influenced by the old stereotypes of rail! When I first started, I assumed it would be a very male dominated industry but it is not and I have not had any negative experience or comments from male colleagues since I have joined the sector. There are, for example, 2 strong and capable women in MerseyRail director team which is great. The key is don’t let anyone discourage you from joining the railway: there are great male and female role models out there and you can get a fantastic career in the industry. The rail industry needs to keep on devising or supporting initiatives to raise awareness of what it can offer: a close knit community, full of passionate and supportive people and great career opportunities!
What message would you have to encourage girls to join the industry?
I am the only female manager in engineering but I was selected because I was seen as the best for the job, not because I was female. It is important to be true to yourself. Don’t change for any role, continue to be positive and use your network of both men and women to help whenever it is needed.
Do you have a role model?
To be honest, it is something I have never been asked before. However, I have been privileged to work beside a number of motivational people. My mum has been a great role model for me: she is both strong and also successful in her own right and it makes such a difference to see someone like her succeed.
What are your interests outside of rail?
I have always kept work and personal life separate and a strong work life balance is really important to me. My friends and family are my priority outside of work and I also enjoy activities such as bike rides, home cooking with the kids, dog walks – anything to keep me healthy and happy. Health and wellbeing is so important and it has such a positive impact back at work too.
Interviewed August 2017