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Network Rail to tackle early gender imbalance with new school schemes

Network Rail has pledged today (27 August) to “change its approach” in order to bring more women into railway jobs, after new research showed that girls can develop an ‘unconscious bias’ against engineering from a young age.

Focus groups with schoolgirls nationwide revealed that many women have “fully switched off” from engineering as a career option by the age of 14.

The ‘Switch On, Switch Off’ research found different trends between girls aged seven to 15, with negative age-related concerns about engineering being too dirty, dangerous, unglamorous or unsocial.

Positive age-related reactions included being interested in the social purpose of the career, admiring its strong role models and wanting to stand out with a “different” career choice.

The ideal ‘window of opportunity’ to interest girls was during pre-secondary years, during which schoolgirls are “most open” to becoming an engineer and respond strongly to female role models.

As a result of the study, Network Rail hopes to encourage thousands of girls to consider working on the railways through a boost in its school programmes.

Network Rail chief engineer Jane Simpson, said: “Role models are crucial to show girls and women what’s possible and where their potential can take t hem. I was lucky to have a female role model who saw my potential and helped me realise it.

“Some quite senior men were astonished that I could talk confidently about complex engineering problems, but they soon came to see me for what I could do, not my gender. As the most senior engineering in one of Britain’s biggest engineering companies, I know I can help girls along a similar path and be a part of something special.”

The programmes hope to deliver career advice to 3,000 teenage girls at five schools in Milton Keynes, alongside similar local programmes across the country. Part of this includes appointing strong female role models amongst its staff to serve as ambassadors for women.

In collaboration with Barclays, Network Rail will also roll out a work experience scheme in the new school year.

It will also run a host of open evenings at training centres targeted at women by showcasing roles, introducing applicants to female staff and “building confidence” to apply for engineering jobs.

Furthermore it has pledged to work with the campaign group Women in Science, Technology and Engineering (WISE) to increase the understanding of why girls turn down careers in these fields.

Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion at Network Rail, said: “We have some fantastically smart and creative women working for us, making a big different to the millions of people who travel by train every single day.

“We know that a more diverse workforce helps increase productivity and creativity and will help us deliver on our multi-billion pound railway upgrade plan over the coming years.”

Other opportunities to attract girls to the field include gaming – particularly Minecraft – that can take a school subject and “put it into the girls’ social lives”.

Recommendations also include communicating the social value of engineering, identifying what engineering is from an early stage, and celebrating women who have chosen the job as a profession rather than “bemoaning” a general lack of them in the industry.

In February of this year, Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne called for an end to the “macho” culture on the railways, vowing to introduce plans to make sure qualified women were shortlisted for posts.

Measures announced then also included a commitment to make sure women received extra career development plans and mentoring.

Adeline Ginn, founder of Women in Rail, told RTM at the time that the rail sector has begun to make great strides in tackling its historic gender imbalance.

Network Rail is also introducing a 10-point plan pledging to transform the relationship between the industry and female involvement.

At the time, only 14% of the company’s workforce was made up of women.


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