Stark study reveals women make up just 16% of rail workforce

Rail minister Claire Perry and ORR chair Anna Walker have called for greater gender balance after Women in Rail’s inaugural study revealed that just 16% of the rail industry workforce is female.

The analysis, one of the first to collect data across the entire sector and its different subsets, highlighted a need to tackle perceptions of rail, change education policies to widen STEM subjects and introduce roles that respect flexible working.

The data, encompassing more than 86,000 staff (though excluding Network Rail, the DfT and statutory bodies), also found wide variations across the industry: while 31% of rolling stock companies’ staff were women, the figure for suppliers was just 5%. Sandwiched in between were technology service companies (22%), train operators (20%) and manufacturers (12%) – all varying, but still low, percentages of female inclusion.

And, regardless of the company, only 4% of women working in the industry are in an engineering role. This figure matches that found previously by the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE).

Women in Rail’s study also mapped female representation by seniority, finding that nearly 80% of women are in non-managerial roles and less than 1% had progressed to director or executive level.

Most women are employed in service-focused roles such as catering staff, train guards, customer service and retail, while only 12% are in operational, office-based roles such as health and safety and quality control.

Previous research by sector skills council People 1st had estimated that across the entire rail industry (including drivers, on-board staff and station workers, for example), the split is 80%-20% men to women. In 2012, the number of women in rail construction and maintenance was “too close to zero for the official statistics to capture”, while train driving too was overwhelmingly male: around 96%. Then, about 23% of managers in the rail industry were women.

Commenting on Women in Rail’s new research, its founder Adeline Ginn said: “For the first time, we have an actionable benchmark upon which companies can identify and target the key areas for change. It is extremely important that the rail industry confronts this gender imbalance, as a first step towards changing it for the better.

“These changes will need to happen within the rail industry, as well as outside, to encourage women to follow career paths that lead to rail, such as engineering from a younger age.”

Speaking at the conference, Perry, who looks forward to see how these imbalances will be addressed, said the growing rail industry needs women now more than ever.

“I hope that we can inspire future generations of girls and young women to become part of this exciting and expanding industry,” she added.

The rail minister has recently moved the independent organisation Women into Construction to Crossrail’s headquarters in Canary Wharf in an effort to recruit more women into the industry and its supply chain.

Speaking at the time, she said she hoped the new partnership would send a clear signal that “now is the perfect time for women to pursue a career in this growing and exciting sector”.

(Top image: Women into Construction, c. Crossrail Ltd)


Leora Knight   19/11/2015 at 17:19


Concerned   20/11/2015 at 12:20

People in rail welcome competent people entering the rail industry whatever their race, gender or beliefs. Rail desperately needs more competent people to meet the current and future workloads. It is strange how we don't see nursing, pre-school teaching and other female dominated roles trying to balance the number females and males. That said, the industry and engineering in general need to get into schools, colleges and universities to encourage the young that engineering is a good career and rewarding.

Tim   20/11/2015 at 12:32

I don't think you're right 'Concerned' - there have been hundreds of news stories, government and private initiatives just this year about trying to get more men in some of those roles, especially primary school teaching. Try researching it, rather than letting your prejudices get in the way of the facts.

Concerned   20/11/2015 at 12:59

@Tim - so clearly you cannot read English. My comment isn't anti-women in rail, quite the opposite. If 100% of applicants for a role were women and competent, that would be wonderful. However, most studies show by the time of subject selection, most girls and many boys are steered away from engineering. Yet, rail and engineering desperately need competent people. For reference, refer to the studies conducted by the major engineering institutions: IET; IMechE; ICE etc. What should scare people is individuals being put into roles where they are not competent because they tick a box/target, being forced to make critical decisions and making the world an unsafer place. Yet here we are and my "Concern". As for researching other industries, I have and I do. Demonstrate to me where 50/50 is being demanded where the number of one segment of society is so low in interest, study or desire to enter it be forced to hit targets when the industry itself cannot enough get competent people or those wanting to become competent into it! I would suggest the prejudice is yours in thinking that positive discrimination is actually a good thing and that wanting people to fill jobs of any background in an industry desperate for new entrants to ensure a target is hit is a good thing for engineering. For the record, my wife is an engineer, many or my bosses and colleagues are women, I spend time aiding younger people into engineering whatever their gender.

Andrew Sharp   23/11/2015 at 15:08

42% of Heathrow Express drivers are female.

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