South Western Railway (SWR) is celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 by interviewing some of the female role models making a difference to passengers every day.
The rail industry is traditionally dominated by men. The Women in Rail’s 2015 survey revealed that less than one in five women make up the sectors’ workforce, with the majority employed in customer-facing and non-managerial roles, and only around one-in-ten are engineers.
SWR - and the rail industry - recognises the value of diversity and inclusiveness and that more needs to be done. Investing in development programmes, new pilot schemes and training, and proactive engagement throughout the year with events and forums, reflects our commitment to making the sector an attractive, exciting career for women as well as help retain the best talent.
Glen Willie, SWR’s Inclusion and Diversity Manager, said: “Having more women in a traditionally male dominated industry shouldn’t be a fad or a project, it’s the right thing to do and it works as we see greater staff retention. Encouraging more women into the rail industry means the customers and communities we serve everyday will see an inclusive employee, and potentially inspire someone to become a future employee at SWR.
“SWR understands the importance of celebrating International Women’s Day, but our engagement, events and forums continue throughout the year.”
Jenny Saunders, Head of Stations and Revenue Protection
What do you do at South Western Railway?
I joined South West Trains ten years ago, in 2008, as an Area Manager, looking after the Suburban Area and managing a team of about two hundred people. Since then, I’ve conquered bigger and bigger challenges, and I’m now Head of Stations and Revenue Protection at South Western Railway.
I was also recently ‘Highly Commended’ in the Women in Rail category at the Business Rail Awards.
What opportunities and support have you come across during your career?
This industry offers so many diverse opportunities, something you would never expect when looking from the outside in! Over the years I have been involved in a variety of initiatives and projects, many of which have grown as ideas from frontline colleagues. Most recently, being given the opportunity to lead our Revenue Protection team has been an amazing opportunity and it is wonderful to be learning more about the commercial side of our business.
Who has inspired you during your career?
So many people! Before becoming a Head of Department, I had a mentor who really helped me to see my potential and where I should focus my development if I wanted to progress. We are lucky in this industry that there is such a strong focus on internal progression.
What advice would you give to women wanting to join or progress within the railway?
I never thought of rail as a career until when I was commuting one day I saw an advert for an Area Manager role and I thought, ‘I could give that a go, why not apply? I joined this network in 2008 and have not looked back since.
The only advice I would give is that the only person who can limit your dreams is yourself. This industry embraces diversity like no other I have seen. I would say to any women either wishing to join or to progress to believe in yourself, never be afraid to ask for help (I do every day!) and to grab opportunities when they arise.
How would you build a more gender-balanced world?
I will actively seek ways to celebrate and promote gender diversity. A balanced team is a successful and fun place to be!
Better the balance, better the world #BalanceforBetter.
Amelia Woodley, Head of Sustainability
What do you do at South Western Railway?
I began my career 17 years ago as an environmental consultant in the construction sector before joining the rail industry 8 years ago. I’m passionate about sustainability and provide leadership across SWR to create positive change for our customers, local communities, our staff and the environment. In late 2018, I helped us win a prestigious Green Apple award.
Who has inspired you during your career?
My mentors. Throughout my career I’ve always reached out to mentors to help shape my career path. It’s important to always self-reflect and challenge yourself both professionally and personally - they’ve helped me become the best version of myself.
Do you think women handle leadership roles differently from men?
I think everyone has a different leadership style. I look at leaders around me and learn from them the type of leader I would like to be. I look more at the person rather than the gender. Leadership is not different across each gender, it’s more about being personal and learn from what you see.
What advice would you give to other women in rail?
I'm passionate about supporting women in the industry and recently joined the Women in Rail board in London, where I co-hosted SWR’s first Women in Rail.
My advice for women in the rail industry is this: you can do anything you want if you believe in yourself. Gender shouldn’t limit that.
‘Step Up’ - the women’s development programme
Carolyne Taylor (far left), Customer Ambassador at Basingstoke Station, and Preeti Ratanshi, Platform Supervisor at Woking Station, are two of the ten women taking part in the ‘Step Up’ development programme for women from SWR. The programme - run by FirstGroup - is helping the next generation of leaders at SWR to develop their skills and progress into more senior positions, such as team supervisors or managers.
We spoke to them about what they do and their experiences on the programme:
Carolyne Taylor (CT): I really enjoy my role as an Ambassador: helping our customers throughout the station - supporting, guiding and assisting them - to have the best possible journey experience. I get to meet all different types of people: no two days are the same.
Preeti Ratanshi (PR): I lead a wonderful and very supportive platform staff as well as ensuring the station is safe, clean and presentable at all times. I agree with Carolyne that no two days are the same as you’re faced with a new challenge every day. I’m constantly learning new things about the day-to-day running of the station as well as the operational side. This keeps me on my toes and makes every shift exciting and motivating!
Why did you apply to the programme and what has been your experience?
CT: I felt the programme was an ideal opportunity to work with likeminded and dedicated women. It’s been very positive, rewarding and stretching experience - helping us step out of our comfort zones - and I’ve worked with many interesting and inspiring women.
PR: Being on the programme has helped me develop my skills further and gain a better understanding of leadership. I found the statistics about the low percentage of women in leadership roles within the industry rather surprising. This has driven me to aim higher and achieve bigger roles within the travel industry.
How do you feel this programme has supported you with your future career aspirations?
CT: For me, the programme definitely increased my confidence. I will pass on the skills and abilities I’ve learnt to others within my Ambassador role. I’ve been inspired to attend a number of Women in Rail events and have felt empowered by the visiting speakers and by the great people I’ve met.
PR: This experience has inspired, motivated and taught me that the sky is the limit. We women should not limit our goals: if you put your mind to it, anything is possible, anything is achievable. You don’t know until you try and never underestimate yourself.
What advice would you give women wanting to progress in the rail industry?
CT: I would advise any colleague, or anyone who wants to get involved in the industry, to look out for courses/opportunities and get yourself a mentor to help guide you in the direction you want to take.
PR: Women should always aim higher, nothing is impossible. I will support them to the best of my ability. I would encourage them [at SWR] to attend the programme as it’s very inspiring and opens your eyes to a new world of possibilities. I’d say: take a step forward to experience and succeed.