Please tell us a little bit about your background…
My parents were born in Cardiff but left when my Dad joined the British Army. As an ‘Army child’, I was born in Germany and moved home many times before we settled down in Richmond. I was lucky to spend my secondary education at Richmond School and made friends that would still be my closest allies today. After finishing A Levels, I went on a gap year in West Africa, before venturing off to Paris for university.
What has been your career journey so far?
Like many people, I often say that I ‘fell’ into the rail industry. In 2011, I moved to Birmingham after studying and working in Paris for 6 years. Looking for a meaningful job, I contacted the University of Birmingham rail research group (BCRRE) and was surprised to be offered the opportunity to start a PhD. Although it wasn’t something I had considered (and was very happy that my student days were over!), I embraced the challenge. I couldn’t have imagined the doors that it would open for me. In 2013, keen to gain some industry experience, I started a placement with Atkins Rail Solutions in London. After completing my PhD in 2015, I became a Research Fellow at BCRRE. This year, I excitedly took up a new role in the Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) as Research & Development Lead. I am part of the VTEC Innovation team, which was established to drive and support innovation in franchising. I search for innovative solutions to address some of the biggest challenges facing VTEC. I write business cases to secure funding, then support the delivery of the innovation in the business.
What in rail are you passionate about?
I enjoy working in an industry that impacts almost everyone I meet. I love that my career is about connecting people and places, creating opportunities and making new experiences possible. Something that I didn’t consider when joining the rail industry is just how many different career options there would be!
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging and rewarding?
At various points, I have found myself in a totally new working environment. It is often daunting to step outside of my comfort zone and I feel like I am starting again, but the reward of discovering a fresh perspective and learning from different people is always worth it! y
What has been your biggest success to date and what contributed to that success?
My biggest success was organising the 2014 High Speed Rail conference at the University of Birmingham. It was initially intended to be a small academic celebration for the 50th anniversary of high speed rail but it soon evolved into a 3-day event with prominent speakers and over 200 attendees! I organised the event with no prior experience or an established event team.
What do you like the most about your job?
The variety of activities that I am involved in makes my role really exciting – I have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of business areas and colleagues across different locations.
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years’ time?
It has never really been in my nature to strategically plan my life. I tend more to stay open-minded and seize opportunities. I also know that priorities change and things that make me happy now will probably be different in the future. There are some elements that I think I will always look for in a job: responsibility, freedom, variety and a great team!
What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and attract more women into the sector?
It’s great that there has been a drive in recent years to encourage more women into the rail industry, including the amazing work of Women in Rail, Young Rail Professionals and the National College for High Speed Rail. But there is clearly still a long way to go. I think that there needs to be a notable shift in how we recruit people into the rail industry. I believe we are missing a huge opportunity to attract new and diverse perspectives into rail because of tradition.
What message would you have to encourage girls to join the industry?
This is such an exciting time to be working in rail. The opportunity to make an impact in this industry now is massive. I would give the same advice to anyone joining the industry. The railway is full of people who are passionate about their job and want to share their precious knowledge: be curious, challenge traditions and embrace opportunities. There are so many possible routes within the rail industry.
How have you used your influence to drive change for gender equality in the rail industry?
I have spoken at events on skills shortages in rail and systems engineering sector and advocated a move away from traditional approaches to recruitment and a change in the way that we attract people to rail. I was really pleased to find that VTEC is ahead of the curve in this respect.
Do you have a role model?
I don’t have a famous role model but am hugely influenced by the people closest to me. My parents have inspired my love of travel and given me the ability to make a home anywhere. My free-spirited sister reminds me that we only have one life. And I am very lucky to have incredibly strong women as my best friends, who teach and motivate me all the time.
What are your interests outside of rail?
Outside of rail, I love music (festivals, listening, and playing), keeping healthy, travelling to new places and trying new things. Last year I got my motorbike license!
Interviewed August 2017