Yesterday was International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an annual campaign ran by the United Nations to champion women and girls in Science and other STEM fields.
Although Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are widely observed as vital to national economies, so far, most countries, no matter their level of development, have not achieved gender equality within these subjects. At East West Rail, we champion the women within our company working within the STEM fields, and asked members of the team to share their thoughts on this awareness day and the benefits that East West Rail can bring to the route once the project is complete.
2024’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science gives the rail industry opportunities for both celebration and reflection. Progress towards gender inclusion is being made in pockets; Govia Thameslink Railway revealed a 50% increase in the number of female applicants starting an apprenticeship with them from 2022-2023. LNER and Network Rail are supporting the ‘Never Mind The Gap' programme, which offers a fortnight of placements in rail for women.
Celebration of progress is vital, but we must also use awareness days to highlight how far we have to go. Only around 17% of those employed in rail in the UK are women, and the gender pay gap has also increased across all modes of transport employment – in 2017, the pay gap between men and women was 9.6%, and in 2022 it was 10.4%.
Across the rail and transport sectors, we must do more to recruit, retain, and promote women within the sector. The opportunities in rail are limitless; from public-facing roles, to creative marketing and engineering, this is an industry that should have people from all backgrounds clamouring for a role.
As East West Rail progresses, the project offers a superb opportunity to address these challenges. A new and exciting project offers an ideal route to promoting the opportunities this sector has to offer, and it is vital that we have more women working within transport for a wide range of reasons; centrally because women use the system and should be represented in shaping it.
What practical action can rail take? Companies should assess their gender balance and gender pay gap –benchmarking is essential for progression. Organisations must review their policies to ensure they offer equal opportunities, engage with offering equal parental leave, flexible working, in-company continuous development/leadership programmes, educational engagement, and more. Education is vital, as the rail industry is facing many employees nearing retirement. Engaging younger workers is essential in ensuring a continuous/skilled labour force and in preventing potential shortages and knowledge gaps. – Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, Innovations Manager
The best thing for me about working in the Engineering sector is that I can leave a positive legacy for future generations. Currently, I work for EWR where we're delivering a new railway connecting communities and providing a sustainable transport mode that will reduce carbon emissions, and in the past, I’ve helped to build the new Super Sewer under the river Thames that will prevent sewerage discharges into the river, significantly improving water quality for the people of London and our local wildlife.
The other things I love about engineering is that every day is different, there is always the opportunity to keep learning, I get to work with a very wide range of people with different expertise and there is secure employment that is well paid.
It is vital to the Engineering sector's success to attract more girls and women into STEM roles. As engineers we are creating infrastructure for everyone not just men, and so it's important to have women's voices present to inform the solutions.
In my experience having women on my team helps to bring a more balanced approach to risk and the approach to solving problems is more holistic. – Beth Willoughby, Programme Director for Define Solution
To find out more about International Day of Women and Girls in Science, visit the website here.