How did you get into the rail industry?
By choice, yet I would say there was an element of serendipity about it. I had worked on the construction of the Olympic Park as Head of Equality, Inclusion, Employment and Skills, which gave me my first entry into the engineering sector. I worked there from 2007 for four years when David Higgins, was Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). He then became the Chief Executive of Network Rail and in 2012, when I was running my own business, David approached me as there had been a review of Network Rail’s approach to promotion and recruitment through a diversity and inclusion lens. He asked whether I would be interested in assisting Network Rail to respond to the findings of the review, and as a consequence of that I started working for Network Rail as a contractor. About 6 months later I agreed to join Network Rail full time and become its first ever Director of Diversity and Inclusion.
It’s a great organisation, the rail industry is fantastic to work in and Network Rail in particular has a really strong commitment to progressing diversity and inclusion as part of its day-to-day work.
What do you do?
The objectives of anyone working in diversity and inclusion, is to make sure that people get a fair chance at job opportunities and promotions, that people are treated well and are encouraged to perform at their best in whatever environment they work in. Specifically for Network Rail, we are working towards building a more open, inclusive and diverse organisation, because we know that where businesses are more diverse they are more innovative, more creative and they perform better. Why wouldn’t we want to ascribe to those sort of attributes and benefit from the diversity that is out there?
So I am the strategic lead for Network Rail’s approach to diversity and inclusion, with a small team which operates as a ‘centre of expertise’, providing guidance, advice and monitoring performance and practice. We have an ambitious, five-year diversity and inclusion strategy called “everyone” which is closely aligned to our corporate business plan and I’m responsible for making sure we deliver our strategy.
What is a typical day?
There is no typical day for me. It can range from looking at strategic issues and policies, providing training and to being an internal consultant to different teams. My days involves a lot of interaction with different people up and down the country, including with our stakeholders be it the DfT, the RDG, our passengers, and our signallers and colleagues in depots.
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging?
I think there needs to be a balance between ambition and pace. I am a very ambitious about what we can achieve as an organisation; I want us to be the best we can be. I want us to deliver on all the things we say we are going to do, but at the same time I know that change takes time
and so our pace is not as quick as I would like. It is a positive challenge because you can see the changes happening. I also know from my own experience that the quicker we get there the better we perform, so another challenge is to create that tipping point within the business where you’re still moving in the right direction, with more people becoming advocates for diversity and inclusion.
Change is about people and you have to influence, encourage and engage with people in order to make the changes necessary. We’re trying to make that shift in an environment which is very focused on our performance and sometimes we don’t always make the correlation between performance and the way we behave, so that is challenging. Engineering provides tangible outputs, the rail industry does as well – we’re moving people from A to B. So Network Rail’s job is to provide the infrastructure to support the trains that get people and freight from A to B. This is a tangible output and it’s a service that is easily communicated. Yet my day-to-day job is about good treatment and behaviour, and if you ask what good treatment looks like, people are less able to articulate that as an output, but we know it and we feel it on a daily basis. So we need to get the momentum behind encouraging people to perform at their best rather than resort to default attitudes or behaviours which don’t create a diverse or inclusive environment.
What do you like most about your job/the rail industry?
The very challenges I have just talked about, seeing people have a light bulb moment, when they go ‘oh, I get it, I see why it is important, I see how that ties in with my job’. Then seeing them fly with it and inculcate their teams or colleagues that they work with, or bringing further challenges or further observations about how diversity and inclusion impacts on their work, and how they could respond better – we get that all the time.
Our industry is starting to engage with inclusion in ways which have not been foreseen. If you asked people who work in rail a few years ago whether they would be talking about diversity and inclusion, or whether there would be groups such as Women in Rail, in 2015, I don’t think anybody would have believed it. Riding that wave of change and progress is extremely exciting.
What made/makes you stay in the rail sector?
It’s a fantastic industry. If you think about it, we reach 4 million people a day with the work that we do, and it’s commonly noticed if it goes wrong, but for the most part it goes unnoticed and we impact on our economy and people’s lives. The process of getting people or goods from one part of the country to another, whilst it seemingly straight forward is actually quite complex and we do that on a daily basis. It’s incredibly humbling and incredibly exciting to be part of this sector, so why would I be anywhere else?
What do you think could be improved within the rail industry for you personally?
In this industry we need a greater comfort with difference, we’re still learning about how to manage different people and how to manage different skills, but a better openness towards and acceptance of, difference would be great. Again, because we will benefit from people who see things slightly differently and therefore challenge our traditional ways of thinking or operating. In that challenge you get innovation and creativity, or you get a moment where you say ‘do we actually need to do it this way?’ and in that you can improve your performance.
We need to challenge the image we have of our sector: we are almost invisible (infrastructure is by its nature unseen) yet we are really important to our country and the economy and we have an ageing workforce and skills shortage. How are we going to plug that skills gap if we’re not reaching out to the wider community and telling people how fantastic our industry actually is? So the more we promote the ‘unseen’ work and the silent successes, the better it becomes in terms of attracting talent, not just for me but for the industry and our future.
What would you say to a young graduate considering a career in rail?
Oh, absolutely join: sign up on the dotted line! There are so many careers and pathways, it’s such an exciting environment to be in. The industry is really changing; we’re trying to be at the cutting edge of transport. We are a growing sector, the safest rail in Europe, as I said we touch on 4 million passengers daily and that’s increasing. The challenges of meeting the demands are exciting. How can we make the train journeys better? How can we improve on what we’ve got? All this is a fantastic opportunity for young graduates, and for any graduates that are interested in giving back to the public.
What would you say is the biggest achievement of your career to date?
I think the sense of achievement comes in being able to see the shifts in the industry; it’s a day-to- day thing. When people tell me changes are happening in their environment and they ascribe that in some way to my presence – that is a great feeling. It’s not necessarily the big things. I mean it is tremendous to be honoured, receiving an MBE for my work on the Olympic Park and being a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts is wonderful. However, the real thing is working with people who are helping to deliver a progressive change in our industry and I am humbled that I am able to make a difference.
Do you think men and women handle leadership roles differently?
I think that some men and some women handle leadership roles differently; I think you can also be a product of your environment. If you think about our rail industry and in Network Rail we have a demographic which is 85% male so you will have predominantly male behaviour. That will mean that women may think that they have to behave in that way in order to be successful. The environment can really influence how people may act.
Similarly I think women can have very different approaches to leadership in terms of being more collegiate, collaborative and can get to resolutions in slightly different ways to some men. I think it’s about understanding where those differences are and having equal value, so one style of leadership isn’t more valued than others and that is our challenge. So, for example if you are an introverted man you may not be as valued as a extroverted male or an extroverted woman. We need to challenge the decisions around the kind of bias we hold, which affects how people are able to progress or able to function in their environment. If our bias says: ‘men do this’ and ‘women do that’
such attitudes can get in the way of appointing or promoting people who do not conform to our biases, that’s what we really need to challenge.
What is the importance of groups like Women in Rail?
It’s fundamental. You need to shine a light on what the issues are and you need to help both individuals and institutions begin to address those issues and appreciate both the talent and skills they are potentially missing out on. You also need to have groups like Women in Rail who support and enable organisations to identify talent that they may not have seen before. I’m really honoured to be a part of Women in Rail and I think in its short existence it has had a very positive impact both on women, through its mentoring programme, through providing networking opportunities through training in confidence building and such like, but also for the organisations that have seen those women flourishing and growing. The work we have done on looking at the demographics of women in the rail industry really helps those companies that are serious about adding to their talent pool.
Interviewed March 2016