Women in Transport – Full steam ahead!

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We are delighted to feature this exclusive blog post from Claire Perry, Minister at the Department for Transport. The Department is looking to significantly increase the number of women. It won't happen overnight but a change is coming with returnships and other exciting opportunities...

New figures last week showed that more people are in employment today than any time in Britain’s history – and that includes a record number of working women. Nearly seven out of ten women in modern Britain have jobs, and as our economy continues to recover, that figure is growing.


But as you will know, women in this country still face real barriers to career development. They are more likely than men to work in lower paid jobs, and less likely to be promoted. Women continue to face prejudice from employers who consider maternity leave as a drain on their resources rather than a fundamental right. And although there has been a welcome increase in diversity in the workplace, certain industries – like transport for example – remain dominated by men.


Men make up 97% of airline pilots, 94% of engineers, and 80% of Network Rail staff.

Nine out of ten haulage managers are male, as are 85% of people working in passenger transport. In 2016, that’s just not acceptable. It means that not only are women missing out on great career opportunities in transport, but transport is also missing out on the skills and know-how that we would bring to the industry.


Before I became Minister for Rail, in all of my years of working I had never realised what opportunities were out there for people in the rail industry. Huge government investment is stimulating demand for a highly skilled workforce. Yet currently only 17% of these jobs are occupied by  women.


But slowly, things are changing. Take the Crossrail project – a new railway we are building for London and the south east, linking Reading in the west with Kent and Essex in the east.


Due to open in 2018, Crossrail is a game changer. A blueprint for how infrastructure should be built in the future. For women in particular, Crossrail is opening doors of opportunity. Of the 10,000 people working on the project, nearly one third are women. Of those who have undertaken work experience on the scheme, over a fifth are female. And women make up almost a quarter of people taking part in Crossrail’s graduate programme.


Under the Young Crossrail programme, Ambassadors from Crossrail – of whom over half are women – have visited schools and careers events to promote careers in engineering, construction and railway infrastructure. In total, 277 schools, colleges and universities and over 36,000 young people, parents and teachers have been directly engaged by Crossrail.


Today’s infrastructure sites are increasingly sophisticated places. Teams need good communication skills, the ability to manage complex projects, and a knack for winning the trust of clients and site neighbours. They’re all skills that women tend to have in bucket-loads. Through Crossrail, they’re steadily becoming a hallmark of modern construction.


The challenge is to keep this momentum growing. Certainly, investment in new infrastructure has never been higher. We are spending £61 billion on transport this Parliament – that’s 50% up on the last. Next year we start building HS2. But there are hundreds of other infrastructure projects going on around the country. The opportunities for women to forge a successful, rewarding and lucrative career in transport are growing all the time.


This week the Department for Transport is launching its transport infrastructure skills strategy. This major initiative sets out how we will create 30,000 new road and rail apprenticeships by 2020, upskill the existing workforce, build a network of skills colleges, and ultimately make the transport industry more diverse.


As part of this, we have agreed with Network Rail, Highways England, HS2, Transport for London (TfL) and Crossrail to significantly increase the number of women employees so they achieve parity with the rest of the working population by 2030. This will mean, for example, quadrupling the number of female engineering apprenticeships at Network Rail and TfL.


We are also encouraging transport employers with over 250 staff to offer a ‘returnship’ scheme, which will give women a bridge back to work after a long break – typically for childcare. A recent study found that 70% of women fear taking career breaks, but returnships give them a guarantee that their professional prospects will not be harmed when they come back to work. Indeed, studies in the United States suggest that returnships benefit both employees and employers.


There is another reason for wanting more women to join the rail industry. The best  companies are those which employ people who represent their customers. We know that rail is a vital service for millions of women getting to work and coming home to see their families. To ensure we deliver the service improvements that passengers deserve, we need to get more women involved.   


Changing the employment culture of male dominated industries like transport cannot be achieved overnight. But make no mistake, a change is coming. The Crossrail experience has shown that the old assumptions about women in construction and engineering are completely outdated, and fundamentally wrong. The lesson is clear. If we want a successful, modern transport system, then we need a successful, modern workforce, where women are just as appreciated and rewarded as their male colleagues.