Susan Anderson, Head of Infrastructure Support Services at Network Rail, shares with us her recent speech at an International Women’s Day event:

International women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.  The day has occurred for well over a century, on the 8th March, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.  Today IWD belongs to all groups collectively every where.

The world expects balance and so here we are – 2020 is on the near horizon. Movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp and the significant global rise in International Women’s Day activity in every corner of the world – along with the many female-focused days and initiatives around the world -mean gender is firmly on the agenda!  Stereotypes and bias are more likely to be called out.  Men’s role in society is more varied and gender roles are fluid.

We are moving to a very exciting time in history where the world now “expects” gender balance. And now, in 2019, we can all continue to play a critical role in helping forge a more gender-balanced world as we work towards a #BalanceforBetter.

Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6) commitment, is to increase the number of women in the business by 50% by the end of the control period, and to have gender-balanced recruitment of apprentices and graduates reflects the call to action for accelerating gender balance. Network Rail has also established an employee network, Inspire, which is a group of men and women who together ensure women are treated fairly in all work situations and are supported in their careers and I am the Route Executive Sponsor for the Inspire network in Scotland.

I’m really happy that Network Rail are supporting International Women’s Day again this year. I am passionate about increasing gender diversity within the workplace – because only by replicating our societal balance in business, can we begin to be successful. Inspire is our network group promoting gender diversity and through the efforts of this group we are beginning to make a difference; we have introduced gender diverse interview panels, free sanitary products in our corporate offices and in Scotland we achieved our first ever gender balanced apprentice cohort.  We still have a significant way to go on our journey, currently, in Scotland Route, only 12.35% of our workforce are female, far from the current balance in society.  In trying to make some of this resonate, here are some of my personal experiences over the years;

  • I’ve undertaken a variety of roles over the years and thoroughly enjoyed my career, undertaking front line operational roles as well as being a General Manager for the West of Scotland.
  • At my interview to join BR as a graduate trainee I was asked what my boyfriend would think if I had to leave bed at 0200 to deal with a points failure!
  • For the first 4 years of my career I was the only female member of my team
  • On numerous occasions I’ve arrived at meetings and it’s been assumed that my fellow male colleague was the boss when actually I was.
  • On joining Inspire comments were made that I was joining the “knitting bee”
  • While on maternity leave my boss tried to re-organise the team and remove me from my post “as now that I was a mum I couldn’t possibly undertake a senior role”
  • And I’ve had to listen to comments about my hormones playing up when I’ve challenged things I’ve seen or heard!

Sadly, I am not unique to have encountered such bias and ignorance in my career.  My skin has hardened over time (thought it should not have had to) and I am concerned that what once struck me as startling I now accept.  The challenge for all of us is to continue to seek balance for better which will make our workplace better as a result and create an environment that our children can feel welcome and thrive in. I am sure many of you have daughters or sisters and wouldn’t countenance an environment that didn’t value their skills because of their gender.

Let’s jointly work towards a balance for better.