Ginn was on a train, travelling with her CEO to a meeting about women in business, when it occurred to her that, at a time when diversity is very much on the agenda, there was no support network for women in rail, an industry that very few women join, where those that do can feel isolated, and with only a small minority in very senior positions. ‘And he challenged me and said ‘Well what are you going to do about it?’ so I said, ‘I’m going to create Women in Rail’.’
Thinking about the best way forward, Ginn chose LinkedIn as a low cost vehicle to ascertain whether there would be an appetite for such an initiative. ‘Very quickly I got some fantastic feedback from women saying it would be great to have a platform to discuss issues and meet other women in rail. And it really snowballed from there.’
Ginn’s CEO arranged meetings with MP’s Theresa Villiers and Esther McVey ‘who does a lot of work in schools’, and Ginn contacted a variety of women to see if they would join a steering committee, ‘What was important for me was that the group was a true cross-representation of the industry, and that whatever stance we were going to take would cover the fundamental issues that had to be addressed in order to bring more women into rail.’
In due course Ginn gathered a committee with representatives from Angel Trains, Bombardier Transportation UK, Clifford Chance, East Midlands Trains, Network Rail, Northern Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation, and together they brainstormed on how to improve diversity in the sector.
Three core issues were identified. The first was creating a platform where women can network with like-minded colleagues, make new friends and discuss current issues – something that took effect very quickly through LinkedIn according to Ginn: ‘We had some fantastic discussions and some quite personal conversations very quickly.’
The second was around helping and guiding women in the industry to be able to progress their careers and realise their full potential. And the third priority was to help ensure that more females join the industry at entry level by raising awareness of the benefits of working in it.
Elegant and cultured, Ginn, a lawyer who joined Angel Trains in 1999, stressed that ‘Women in Rail is not here to take over. There are a lot of initiatives going on in the industry, especially trying to stimulate youngsters to have a career in rail, and it’s about us all working together rather than in isolation.’
The official launch of Women in Rail took place in April this year, attended by prominent members of the industry, both male and female, a fact that Ginn mentions several times. ‘We have around 548 members which is fantastic and that includes a lot of men as well. The great thing I’ve realised is that many women come to the industry by accident but stay out of passion and I think for the men in the industry, pretty much all of them are passionate like we are. So we all want the industry to progress, we want the succession pipeline open and stimulation at entry level, so it’s a question of attracting more women and retaining them by having a structure in place that enables them to fulfil their potential.’
As a sector, rail is historically male dominated, and Ginn believes one of the biggest challenges in attracting women lies in overcoming this perception. I mentioned that in Rail Professional’s recent interview with Alison Munro, she spoke about how, when she was at the DfT, she was one woman among hundreds of men, but she never said that she encountered sexism and seemed surprised at the mention of the prospect.
‘Absolutely,’ said Ginn, ‘men in the industry really want to help. The industry might be male dominated but that’s not because it’s anti-female. I’ve never come across that and it’s certainly not how it seems.’
A business case for more women
Ginn’s message at the launch event was twofold. Firstly, that it’s important for women to have a platform to meet other professionals who understand exactly where they’re coming from, but she also pushed for the business case, ‘because a few of the comments I had in setting up the group were sceptical, as if I’m on some sort of feminist crusade, or it will be a fluffy all women together thing, so I wanted businesses to understand that there is something in it for them as well, which is the economic benefit of diversity. Lord Davies’ numbers are unquestionable*. He said as soon as you have a diverse workforce you have a productivity increase.’
‘I always say that two heads are better than one,’ continued Ginn, ‘and women bring a completely different perspective. I think we tend to be carers because of our genetic make-up so we will always look at the emotional side of things. It’s like the yin and the yang, and that’s an aspect of the emotional intelligence that diversity brings. And if you ask a woman to complete a task, you know it will get done.’
Despite bringing so much to the mix though, Ginn has noticed an issue around confidence in women. ‘Our perception is that they can have a lack of it, for example in looking at job advertisements, we always consider the aspects we feel we can’t do rather than recognise we could do the job. And networking is not generally something women are comfortable with because we like creating meaningful relationships, so it can be seen as shallow. To help address this, we’re holding a workshop on confidence on the 9th October in York (see WiR’s LinkedIn page and Twitter for details).
Big response to mentoring scheme
The buzz coming out of the launch was ‘fantastic’ said Ginn, ‘because women realised that we’re here to stay and we want to make a difference. And everyone is ready to work with us as well, as illustrated by the response we had to the mentoring scheme.’
Ginn explained that the scheme came about through Clare Burles, HR director at East Midland Trains who had a contact at Women First, who work with People First. ‘They had a grant available that enabled us to receive mentoring training for ten of us. So initially, a member of the steering committee learned more about mentoring, and after that all ten of us went on the one-day course, which was really informative because it showed the difference between mentoring and coaching and so on.’
From there, the group decided to issue an appeal to the rail industry having already ascertained that the level of interest would be high. That took place earlier this year and 45 mentors and roughly the same number of mentees responded.
The average level of seniority of the mentors is ‘really, really high’ said Ginn and around 50 per cent are male. ‘We have a great number of MD’s, CEO’s, CFO’s and COO’s. We even have one who is not from the industry – Heidi Mottram, (now CEO of Northumbrian Water) who was MD at Northern for many years, and of course she is the perfect mentor because she’s very highly regarded and inspirational, a role model, which is something we want to develop at Women in Rail, to showcase role models.’
Training took place in the summer for mentors and mentees who are new to the concept and the matching process continued with all involved meeting face- to-face ‘so they could get back to us and say ‘yes the chemistry was good’ or ‘no I’d rather be with someone else’,’ explained Ginn. That process finished at the end of August and September marks the formal start of the scheme.
‘Mentoring is about creating a relationship,’ explained Ginn, ‘and while it is supposed to last for around one year, the key to the success of this scheme will be if it continues beyond that, even informally, without Women in Rail being involved.’
The relationships will be regularly monitored for one year to address any issues. ‘After that’ said Ginn, ‘as far as Women in Rail is concerned the process is finished in the sense that we will stop supervising, but of course, as I said, we would be happy for them to continue.’
The success of the scheme will be assessed in due course, with a view to repeating the process yearly.
Women want to make a difference
Women in Rail is currently establishing links with organisations such as Young Railway Professionals and the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, and speaking to educational establishments to raise awareness of careers in rail. One of its initiatives is a promotional video aimed at that vital audience for the future of the industry – school children. Said Ginn, ‘Rail is not on the menu of potential careers in schools, it’s perceived as low pay, long hours, dirty, steamy and is currently only promoted through initiatives like that of The Smallpeice trust, which shows Year 8 and 9 pupils what rail engineering is really about.’
‘One thing we’ve realised is that women and young girls want to feel that they’re making a difference, and maybe the reason why rail is not appealing is because they don’t have that connection yet, so we want the video to make clear that there is an opportunity to make a huge difference. We have the PRMTSI/ RVAR disability regulations coming into force for example, and we want to show girls how helpful their input will be in making a difference to everyday people.’
Sponsor for a new website
Other initiatives include establishing links with RRUK and its work with youngsters, ‘RRUK is very happy to have us because it says we have women talking about rail,’ said Ginn excitedly, and there is the Rail Know your Woman initiative, which will see Ginn traveling around the UK spending time with suppliers and groups of women in the industry, following them in their day or night duties and videoing them talking about what they like about rail and their jobs. The idea is that those videos will be showcased on a new website that Women in Rail is currently looking for sponsors to help build. ‘That way any young woman or graduate considering rail can watch live testimonies, which I think will help change the image of rail – and I think that’s the fundamental issue – we need to bring it into the 21st century.’
A need for flexibility
One of the women Ginn spoke to in setting up Women in Rail was Anna Walker, chair of the Office of Rail Regulation Board, who mentioned that she was lucky that her employers had enabled her to bring up her young family via flexible working. ‘And this is absolutely an issue we need to push,’ said Ginn. ‘A lot of women have told me they are happy to put their children to bed and then carry on working for a couple of hours or so, but they need that flexibility.’ Asked if she thinks it currently exists enough in the industry, Ginn hesitated, ‘yes, but maybe not enough, and that’s one thing I discussed with ASLEF and the TUC recently. But at the end of the day it’s down to the rail companies. All we can do is start a conversation and bring awareness. Women should review their company’s diversity policy to see if it involves flexible working, and if it doesn’t have one then maybe they could create one. But that’s as far as Women in Rail will go because we don’t want to become political, but we will be the voice of women in rail.’
Given the demands of her high-flying career, Ginn is clearly a highly capable woman to take on such an initiative and make it work, and to say she is busy is an understatement. ‘Yes but I love it,’ she laughed, ‘because I can see the testimonies to Women in Rail are fantastic and inspirational and there are a lot of great women out there who will make sure the industry knows it needs tap into the female talent pool.’
*Lord Davies of Abersoch and his report Women on Boards 2013: two years on Women in Rail can be found at either www.linkedin.com/groups/Women-in-Rail-4403652/about or www.womeninrail.org