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Revealed: Damning stats show shocking UK rail gender gap

The shocking lack of women currently involved in delivering the country’s biggest rail infrastructure projects has been laid bare by analysis carried out by Construction News.

An investigation of the UK’s four biggest rail infrastructure clients found a dearth of women in delivery leadership roles. 

On the country’s biggest rail infrastructure project to be built, HS2, only eight out of the organisation’s 53-strong construction directorate are women.

Five of the eight were working within the directorate’s health and safety team, while no women have been chosen to project manage the delivery of any of the seven civils packages or four station projects.

In Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects division, the arm of the client that is charged with delivering the £38.5bn Control Period 5 capital investment, only three of the 13-strong senior management team are women.

Of 88 senior leaders in the division, who are working on enhancements and maintenance projects and programmes across England and Wales, only five are women.

On Europe’s biggest infrastructure scheme under construction, the £14.8bn Crossrail project, just four of 29 members of the client’s station delivery management team are female.

Of the 13 project managers currently overseeing the construction of Crossrail stations such as Paddington and Bond Street, only one is a woman.

The management team that makes up Transport for London’s Rail and Underground division currently counts six women among its headcount of 22.

In data shared exclusively with Construction News, the National Skills Academy for Rail found that only 8.4 per cent of the workforce currently delivering investment projects across the rail network were women.

The proportion of women currently working in the rail maintenance sector is even less, at just 7.1 per cent.

The NSAR findings also revealed that women made up less than 2.5 per cent of the workforce in a number of construction and engineering related roles in the rail sector – including construction manager, design manager, maintenance technician and track plant specialist.

NSAR head of skills and intelligence Neil Franklin said: “There has been slight improvement in the proportion of women working in the industry, but there remains a great deal to do to persuade more women into our industry.”

More on women in construction

Overall, the picture improves as you move up the management ladder with 16 women among the 45 people that make up the boards of Crossrail, HS2, Network Rail and TfL.

TfL has the highest level of female representation at board level, with nine women on the board of 15.

However, only 12 of the 48 executive committee members across all four clients are women.

The rail clients analysed by Construction News recognised the problems facing the industry and said there needed to be action to ensure greater representation at all levels.

HS2’s commercial director Beth West told Construction News: “It’s about attraction, retention and promotion – no woman wants to be on a board just because she’s a woman.

“If the pipeline isn’t in parity, you’ve got an issue when you get to the top – you won’t have parity, or even a good balance.”

Network Rail head of diversity and inclusion Loraine Martins told Construction News that the industry needed to drive out subconscious bias, make working environments in rail more female-friendly and educate children earlier if it wanted to help address the gender imbalance.

Ms Martins said Network Rail was trying to encourage more schoolchildren into the sector through its outreach programme, as well as making onsite working more inclusive with the introduction of better onsite facilities, including mobile maintenance trains.

Crossrail has also carried out a number of changes to address gender disparity, including working in partnership with Women in Construction, while TfL has a stated 2020 goal of “achieving a workforce which is reflective and representative of the diversity of London”.

Crossrail Talent and Resource Director Valerie Todd said: ”Crossrail has a higher than average proportion of women working on the project compared to the rest of the sector as a result of our apprenticeship and graduate programmes and our partnership with Women into Construction.

“Much more still needs to be done by the entire industry to increase diversity and build a workforce of the skill and scale needed to deliver the unprecedented pipeline of infrastructure projects.”

A TfL spokeswoman said: “Through a number of different programmes such as our Women In Transport initiative, our routes into work programme with suppliers and our projects with schools and colleges, we are actively encouraging women to pursue a career in our industry.”

Last year the number of female apprentices joining Crossrail was 20 per cent of the total, in 2015/16 27 per cent of the intake were women.

The Rail Delivery Group said more needed to be done to ensure the rail sector workforce was representative of society.

Director of policy Elizabeth de Jong said: “We want to see more women – not just directors and managers but engineers, signallers and drivers, too – helping us to build the bigger, better, more modern railway that the country needs.”

In January 2016, the government launched its Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy to ensure the sector had the people it needed to deliver the £61bn pipeline of transport projects to be delivered by 2020.

One of the key areas of focus for the strategy was to ensure that 20 per cent of all female engineering and technical apprentices entering the transport sector were female.

Responding to Construction News’ findings, a Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We are determined to increase the diversity in top jobs in the rail sector, including through greater female representation and we encourage the industry to attract the best and brightest from the widest and most diverse talent pool.”

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