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Network Rail: Employee Network for Gender Equality

Category: Gender Equality, International Women's day, Network Rail, Support, organisation, inspiration, encourage, supportive, employee network

Gender focus on red VERCIDA background

This International Women’s Day 2018 we highlight the inspirational work of Inspire, our employee network for gender equality.

Inspire presses for progress on creating a fair and supportive working environment for people of all genders at Network Rail.

Set up in 2014, its founding aims were to support other women in Network Rail and help encourage women to see the organisation as an employer of choice.

These continue to be an important part of what it does today, but as the network has grown, it has developed a wider focus to support Network Rail’s objectives for safety and culture. Inspire now champions, for example, the provision of inclusive facilities in the workplace, an inclusive culture and career development opportunities for women.

Above: Grace Bannon, Inspire vice chair

It is itself a network of networks, with local groups across the country holding events and promoting nationwide initiatives such as the WISE Campaign’s People Like Me (an in-schools programme where volunteers from businesses help inspire girls to continue with STEM subjects), and Women In Rail events or programmes, such as its popular mentoring scheme and discussion panels.

This International Women’s Day the network is hosting a number of events within Network Rail featuring inspirational speakers from inside and outside the business. These include Anna Delvecchio, commercial account director at Amey and Women in Rail South representative and Sarah Churchman, chief inclusion, community and wellbeing officer at PwC, as well as Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne.

“How I’m pressing for progress on International Women’s Day and beyond”: an inspiring story

Gender on the agenda

Inspire is supported in its aims by an increasing focus on gender equality within the wider business. By engaging with the chief executive and other groups within Network Rail to press for a more inclusive and diverse culture, the network has helped to shape this.

    Above: Jo Bywater, Inspire communications lead

It’s a reciprocal relationship. The Inspire network actively supports initiatives from the Diversity and Inclusion team to drive Network Rail’s commitment to be a more diverse and inclusive organisation. The launch of Inspire Allies last year is one way the network is trying to help achieve this.

Men as Allies

Network Rail recognises that gender diversity and equality will not be achieved without men helping to facilitate a culture change. With male membership of Inspire relatively low, the Inspire team set about to change its perception by engaging men to help make Network Rail a more inclusive workplace and an employer of choice for women.

Inspire Allies was launched in September 2017, actively appealing to men to get involved and share their thoughts. Since then the number of men supporting Inspire has grown by more than 50 per cent and looks set to increase further, although there is still a way to go before numbers are more representative of the business.

Inspire Allies promotes flexible working, shared parental leave and paternity leave, and challenges behaviours that get in the way of the business being open, diverse and inclusive.

Allies are asked to make commitments to ways in which they can help with gender equality in the workplace, from specific ways to raise awareness and support an inclusive culture, to how they can ensure inclusive recruitment and interviews and support mentoring and coaching.

Above: Bern Fanning, Inspire Allies lead

I joined Inspire Allies because I wanted to play my part in supporting all of our colleagues to be the best that they can be. We know that people are happier and teams are more productive when every single person can be themselves at work every single day - we don't want our people forced to change their behaviours to match and conform to the stereotypes already in place, which for the railway industry is people like me - old, white men. Supporting gender diversity is part of building a wider culture that treats all our people with dignity and with the respect each of us deserves as individuals. Because gender equality isn’t just a ‘women’s issue’ and it’s time to stop thinking that the responsibility rests solely on women to change their working environment. Gender diversity is something to be supported in our business and I want to see the change to gender parity at Network Rail. We want to reflect the society we live in and the customers we serve through the diversity of our people because that will let us do a better job at delivering a vital public service.

Above: Tom Higginson, Inspire Allies sponsor

Pressing on

The launch of the Allies is a significant step, but Inspire has seen progress on other fronts, with membership rising. In 2017, Inspire also launched its own mentoring programme and a career development day.

During the development day, women from across the business attended to learn useful skills to progress their career, including public speaking, networking, assertiveness, mentoring and career planning. Such professional effectiveness skills are integral to career progression but are often overlooked. Chief executive Mark Carne also gave a presentation about the importance of gender balance in the workplace. The event’s success has ensured that similar will be planned for the future, at both a local and a national level.

Above: Rajinder Pryor, Inspire career development lead


Diversity and Inclusion strategy

Only 16 per cent of Network Rail’s employees are women. Network Rail’s commitment to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation is set out in the Everyone strategy and, more recently, its Strategic Business Plan, looking ahead to the years between 2019 and 2024:

We want to create an environment that will allow everybody to reach their full potential, and we are leading the way in moving the rail industry to become more diverse and inclusive. By the end of CP6 [2019-2024] we aim to increase the number of women in our business by 50 per cent, and have gender balanced recruitment of apprentices and graduates. Diverse teams perform better.

Chief executive Mark Carne’s introduction to the Network Rail Strategic Business Plan


More to be done

While progress is continual, the Inspire leadership team – as well as the Network Rail executive and Diversity and Inclusion team – are aware that there is still a long way to go before Network Rail can lay claim to gender parity.

For example, Network Rail published its Gender Pay Gap report in December 2017 – ahead of a number of businesses – which revealed that its gender pay gap is 11 per cent. While this is better than in most organisations, the 20by20 Project is looking at how to reduce the gap, including by recruiting more women into leadership roles.

The 20by20project, led by the Diversity and Inclusion team, is reviewing the way Network Rail attracts, recruits and keeps women in the business; increasing the number of women apprentices and graduates; and making sure that the organisation removes any practices and processes that have the potential to discriminate against women. 

As part of this, an overview of the Network Rail recruitment processes from start to finish is helping to remove unconscious bias, with the promotion of more mixed selection panels, and all people involved in recruitment having to undertake the organisation’s Inclusive Leadership Programme.

Each business area and each of the routes has its own 20by20 action plan. At the end of March, a new 20by20 steering group of people from across the business including Inspire, as well as from trade unions and external stakeholders, will hold its first meeting, providing support and challenge to ensure Network Rail presses for progress into the future.

The achievements and progress of the Inspire Network demonstrates significant levels of engagement in women at Network Rail.  The commitment of the members and our allies to support the business to improve gender equality has exceeded expectations and deserves to be celebrated today.

-Anthea Hague, Inspire chair


Are you interested in a career with Network Rail? Please click here!

VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email info@vercida.com for more information.

We are also officially recommended by Disability Confident as a step on achieving Employer status, please click here for more information.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email info@vercida.com for more information.

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