Interview with Michelle Papayannakos

Sustainable Development Specialist at RSSB

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?)

I have been in the railway industry for 9 years. I was quite fortunate to join the sector through chance rather than deliberate choice because at the time it was a big recruiter and had quite a number of positions open.

What does your role consist of? What is a typical day?

I work helping the rail industry embed the 10 Railway Sustainable Development Principles that were relaunched this May by the then Rail Minister Claire Perry. Every day for me is extremely varied. One moment I can be working with colleagues in government on a policy issue the next I can be in a meeting with the communications team to work out how best to enable industry engagement for the Rail Carbon Tool.

How do you balance home and work life? What advice would you give to other women?

It can be a challenge, I would say it involves effective time management and discipline to switch off the mobile phone at home! I think everyone has to find something that works for them and importantly to recognise when it isn’t working.

What is it about the industry that you love? (what do you find most rewarding in your career?)

Someone once told me that the rail industry is like a family, and I couldn’t agree more. Especially in my current role, maintaining communication and good relationships with stakeholders and colleagues across the industry is critical to improving sustainable development culture.

What would you say is the achievement you are most proud of?

I played a small part working on the redevelopment at Kings Cross Station.  It is an architectural feat, a great station as well as being a major catalyst for regeneration in the surrounding environ.

In your career, what is the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

I think one of the biggest challenges was and continues to be getting the railway industry to think more widely as its role as part of a multi modal transport system. It can be very easy for projects to have narrow vision on project delivery especially time and cost.  Embedding sustainability where the agenda focuses on intergenerational justice can be an abstract concept to a teams focus on delivering set scoped projects. I find it’s important to recognise the levers in changing behaviour – it could be a standard change or it could be working with individuals. For example, LED lights are proven to be cheaper to run and better from a sustainability perspective so why are railway projects not installing these as the norm and how can I in my role contribute to changing this?

Has anyone inspired you during your career (and, if so who and why?)

I have a mentor who is fantastic in providing, support and advice in terms of career decisions.

In your opinion, what is the recipe for success – for a team, career, or otherwise?

I think you have to recognise early on what motivates you and keep reminding yourself of this.  No person is an island and it is important to nurture relationships. I also am a great believer of you only get out what you put in!

Do you think women handle leadership roles differently from men?

I wouldn’t pin point differences as a gender issue. I think everyone is individual and the quality leadership is not led by whether someone is female or male but by more general personality.

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?

I think that there is an inherent cultural bias for the railway not to be considered as a career destination generally not just for women. I think everyone has a role to play in changing this. From when someone might be recruiting to make sure that advert reaches the widest reach possible audience, to considering how the job title could affect those who might consider applying. For example, it has been shown that roles advertised as ‘train guard’ and ‘customer service’ get very different applicants!

What advice would you give to young women / other women working in rail?

I would say work in building relationships and network as they can prove invaluable in the future.  Always take opportunities when presented. And as my first boss once told me (many years later which I didn’t know at the time), ‘no one ever accepts their first pay offer at interview’ always push for more!

 

Interviewed October 2016