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18 Jul 2018

Identifying, supporting, growing and developing the next generation of female leaders in the UK rail and transport industry: top table dinner


On Wednesday 11 July, Stephenson Harwood, SNC Lavallin Atkins and Women in Rail hosted a top table dinner to launch the Senior Women in (or formerly in) Transport (SWIFT) initiative. Adeline Ginn, founder of Women in Rail and SWIFT, spoke enthusiastically to a full room about the challenges of developing and nurturing female talent in the transport and rail industries and what we, as senior women in those industries, could do to support that.

A lively debate around the tables followed, with topics such as approach to leadership, progression, role models, business plans and challenges on the agenda. A number of us then stayed on to cheer on England against Croatia (which sadly of course did not result in a win for England). If you attended the dinner, thank you for your contribution.

The following are our key points from the evening reflecting views expressed by attendees, although with the wide-ranging discussion, we appreciate that plenty more could have been on the list.

The challenge

    Gender balance is good for the long-term success of business. Sweden has one of the highest rates of female participation in the workforce in the world (74%), just behind the rate for men in the country. PwC analysis shows that bringing the female participation rate up to the level of Sweden’s would boost GDP in the OECD by $6 trillion (Women in Work Index 2017, PwC). But to get to this point in the Transport sector requires action. The industry must be prepared to take the long view even if this means foregoing short-term business initiatives. The main message is that gender balance is good for business. Makes companies more profitable; reduce risk; creates better alignment with customers; keep external stakeholders like the government on side.

Practical steps for transport businesses

  • The public sector is ahead of the private sector in this area, so why not use them as a role model?
  • Gender targets are needed to make equality happen. The glass ceiling is still in place. This is particularly true in the rail sector, which has traditionally been very male-dominated. Targets are controversial, but increasingly used. In financial services the Women in Finance Charter asks firms to set targets on female representation in senior roles (and publish if they have met them).
  • There is a gap between equality visions and values statements and what is being done at grass roots. Leaders need to make sure their aims are practical and being widely used.
  • Redefine Board roles so they are more flexible. The industry needs to think about what motivates women, as well as young people and people from backgrounds different to that of the existing Board.
  • Build a returners’ programme that focuses on getting women back into their jobs after they’ve had children. Make sure this caters for men returning from career breaks too.
  • Men and women leaders have different values; women feel they have to prove themselves and others they are the best at their job; women need to understand they need to be themselves and true to their values; a fresh approach is needed.
  • To retain female talent, promote flexible working, encourage managers to discuss and implement development plans; if women feel valued, they will be more engaged and committed to the business.
  • Need to recruit more senior women, but this means job descriptions needs to change. For example, by saying you need 15+ years of experience in rail you rule a lot of women out. Recruit on behaviours rather than previous experience. Advertise job sharing, flexible hours and consider blind CVs. Women’s definition of career is different now than 20 years ago; women have children later; women are likely to have more than one career, we need to make sure these are all in rail/transport.

Practical steps for Women in Rail/SWIFT

  • SWIFT: sharing experiences and helping women be in a position where they can receive support from peers who understand the challenges faced at executive level but also change things for the next generation.
  • Encourage mentoring and coaching for women of all grades.
  • Role models are very important. Women at the top need to be proactive and mentor more junior women.
  • Women need to plan their careers, remembering that success looks different to men and women.
  • Women tend to be more anxious about being successful so need to demand the tools they need to help them believe in themselves.


Charlotte Heywood

Charlotte Heywood

T:  +44 20 7809 2039 M:  Email Charlotte | Vcard Office:  London

Tammy Samuel

Tammy Samuel
Partner and co head of rail

T:  +44 20 7809 2227 M:  +44 7766 991 053 Email Tammy | Vcard Office:  London

Suzanne Tarplee

Suzanne Tarplee
Partner and co head of rail

T:  +44 20 7809 2389 M:  +44 7718 247 220 Email Suzanne | Vcard Office:  London

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