Inspiring change in rail freight: DB Cargo’s diversity agenda

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 16

034 Amy Pressland editAmy Pressland, specialist HR projects manager at DB Cargo, outlines how the company will tackle the gender gap in the rail industry through the new ‘Women in Management’ research project.

Let me tell you a story: Jonny and Josie are twins who love to play together. At two years old they start nursery and instinctively select to play with the same toy: a wooden train set with ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ in bright primary colours. One of the nursery staff says to Josie, “Wouldn’t you rather play with the doll house over there, Josie? These are boys’ toys.” 

Fast-forward 10 years: Josie and Jonny already have a clear idea of which jobs are appropriate for their gender, due in part to their play-time activities at nursery school. Another decade passes and Jonny becomes a train driver. Josie, despite hidden dreams of driving trains just like her brother, works as a conductor. 

This story is not unique to Jonny and Josie. According to UNICEF, children are socialised into gender roles from as young as two years old, and their understanding in regards to what is ‘appropriate’ for their gender is strengthened throughout their adolescence. Thus boys and girls are encouraged to consider very different career paths from childhood. As such, the image of a train driver controlling a powerful, heavy engine, hauling coal-filled wagons behind it, is rarely considered as an attractive career path for women. 

Women in Management 

In order to address this asymmetry in the rail workforce, I am leading the Women in Management (WiM) project at DB Cargo. The moral and social impetus to increase diversity in the industry are clear; however, there are two further factors driving this project. Firstly, the business rationale for diversity is indisputable: research by McKinsey suggests that with a 10% increase in diversity at board level, EBIT rises by 3.5%. 

Additionally, it is widely acknowledged that there is an ageing workforce in the rail freight industry and many loyal, hardworking employees will retire in the next 10-15 years. 

These employees will need to be replaced; however, the industry should use their experience now to develop the next generation of train drivers, shunters, engineers, etc. Thus, the time is ripe to update the image of the industry in line with the times, and attract a more diverse workforce to represent the rail freight industry of the future. 

Currently in the UK women constitute only 16% of the rail workforce, and the number of women in operational, ground staff and engineering roles is significantly less. The male-dominated status quo in rail freight is not based on physical ability; at DB Cargo UK, our 17 female drivers do just as good a job as their 1,100-odd male counterparts. 

Achieving real cultural change 

The WiM project aims to understand the current status of diversity in DB Cargo UK, ECR (French sister company) and Transfesa (Spanish sister company). I will be interviewing women across the company, encompassing both horizontal and vertical elements of the management pipeline. By understanding where our female employees are and how they experience working in rail freight, we can develop accurate and focused strategies to further improve our company culture in order to retain and attract more women into the industry. 

I don’t expect to see any immediate changes to the demographic of DB Cargo; however, in a world of seemingly quick fixes and sound bites, where people want to see results immediately, the WiM project demonstrates DB Cargo’s commitment to achieving real cultural change in its workforce diversity, rather than adding a few tokenistic women. The project will take place over the coming five years, with discernible improvements expected by 2020. 

Involving key stakeholders such as Aslef, Women in Rail, the National Skills Academy for Rail, Young Rail Professionals and the Women in Engineering Society is imperative to the success of this project. Moreover, we are working with schools, colleges and universities across the country to engage with the next generation of rail freight workers. Collaboration across the rail freight industry to share knowledge and pool resources in order to tackle the issue of diversity is essential, and to advocate that diversity is an industry-wide objective.


Tell us what you think – have your say below or email


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

Bid submitted for £100m Darlington station regeneration

28/01/2020Bid submitted for £100m Darlington station regeneration

Tees Valley Combined Authority has submitted ... more >
ORR launch signalling systems market study

27/01/2020ORR launch signalling systems market study

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has today (... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Year with brand-new infrastructrure to... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

14/11/2019Maximising efficiency requires investment in data, but it’s rewards for rail could be extensive

Rail Technology Magazine’s Matt Roberts explains the significant role data can play within the future development of the rail industry. Standing as a cornerstone of the UK transport network, the rail industry is forever striving to innovate and maximise efficiency in all aspects of its work. Data is just one such way of achievi... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he wo... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projec... more >
Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

12/03/2019Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

RTM sits down with Samantha Smith, sole female member of the TransPennine Route Upgrade Alliance Leadership Team, to find out more about encourag... more >
TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

22/01/2019TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

Peter Molyneux, Transport for the North’s (TfN’s) strategic roads director, has been leading on the development of the seven economic... more >