Train operators are using International Women’s Day (8 March 2021) to promote the opportunities for women to take up jobs on the railway, particularly those for train drivers.
London North Eastern Railway (LNER) is aware that driving roles currently represent the biggest disparity between male and female applicants. Industrywide, the 2019 ASLEF Diversity report showed that just 6.5 per cent of train drivers in the UK were women.
LNER is one of the leading organisations in the rail industry for gender diversity across the business, with a 42 per cent female workforce compared to the industry average of 16 per cent females in roles in the rail industry.
However, just 10 per cent of its drivers are female, and, although that is already above the ASLEF average figure, LNER is aiming to increase female participation in its driving workforce still further.
The number of women applying to LNER for driver roles has more than doubled in three years, increasing from just seven per cent of 2017 applications to 17 per cent in 2020. LNER is encouraging more women to consider train driver roles in the future, with a goal of 40 per cent of driver applications to be from females by 2025.
LNER’s people director Karen Lewis said that more still needed to be done to promote careers in rail to women, including train driver roles. “The rail industry needs to do more to encourage women to consider a career in the sector,” she said.
“LNER has a workforce made up of 42 per cent women and some of our female drivers have been with us since the early 1990s. We’re pleased to see an increasing number of applications each year from women who are interested in pursuing careers as a train driver and we’re looking to speak to women who have never considered the industry before and encourage them to learn more.”
LNER research has shown that only one per cent of women said they had wanted to be a train driver when they were young, compared to 21 per cent who wanted to be famous and 23 per cent who wanted to be a teacher.
It also showed a clear divide in roles that were ‘stereotypically’ male and female when it came to the aspirations of women when they were younger, with 18 per cent wanting to be a nurse or a vet, compared to two per cent considering a career as a mechanic or less than one per cent as a plumber when they grew up.
On the other side of the Pennines, on the West Coast main line, 25-year-old Chloe McKinlay is a trainee driver for Avanti West Coast. She joined the company’s driver training scheme in August 2020 and, when qualified, will join her dad Kevin to become the first father/daughter driving duo for the company.
Chloe, from Liverpool, is hoping her involvement in the scheme, and events such as International Women’s Day, will inspire others to challenge long held stereotypes around gender and career choice.
Things are already changing. While being a train driver has historically been seen as a male dominated profession, a third of the new recruits on Chloe’s course are female.
“Even though my dad is a driver, growing up, never once did I think driving was an option for me. Only men drive trains, I thought,” explained Chloe. “As a degree apprentice, I spent some time working with the driver team and I thought, why not?
“The company have been incredibly supportive, and that’s given me the confidence to ‘go for it’. And on International Women’s Day, that’s the message I’d like to pass onto other women. Don’t be afraid to challenge gender stereotypes. If I can do it, why not you? Train driving is a wonderful career, one that carries a lot of responsibility and job satisfaction.”
Paul Makepeace, head of drivers at Avanti West Coast, added: “We, like many other train operators, face a potential skills shortage, with a large number of our drivers expected to retire in the coming few years.
“The industry needs to identify and develop the train drivers of the future, and we’re hoping that Chloe’s story will encourage more women to seriously consider it as a realistic and achievable career to pursue.”
Chloe’s dad Kevin, who has over 20 years driving experience behind him, was full of praise for his daughter: “We’re so proud of her, not only for getting this far, but also how she’s wanting to use her story to encourage other women who might have previously been put off from applying to be a train driver.”
Transport for Wales’ first female train driver instructor and a former RAF aircraft engineer turned TfW project manager are among those being celebrated this International Women’s Day (Monday 8 March).
In Wales, Bev Hannible has recently been promoted to driver and operations trainer at Transport for Wales and is already helping to guide the next generation of female train drivers into the industry.
Bev started her career as a conductor in 2005, before progressing to become a driver and now into her new role in the TfW training school. She commented: “Slowly but surely, more and more women are coming into the train driver’s role, which is great to see.
“Hopefully, as I’ve become the first female trainer, and with more women in senior positions, it puts a powerful message out there that it’s no longer just a male dominated industry.
“I’d encourage more women to think about a role as a driver, we’ve got all the support you’ll need, excellent development opportunities and a great team to guide you through your career.”
Katherine Williams, one of the next group of train drivers currently undergo training with TfW, previously had a career in the military police and with South Wales and Gwent police forces.
She said: “It’s been a very welcoming environment, the training has been building gradually and is starting to ramp-up now.
“It would be great to see more women on the course. For any women thinking of coming into the rail industry I would definitely say go for it, I’m glad I made this jump to this career.”