Southeastern Railway leads the way for women in the transport industry

March 25, 2024
women in transport

A couple of years ago, a debate to determine whether there are more wheels or doors in the world rippled across the reaches of the internet. One of the prevailing theories was that because more things in the world have wheels than doors, wheels are more common in the real world.

But amidst the myriad of wheels turning across the transport industry, there is no debate that the number of doors open to build, design, or turn these wheels is greatly dependent on your gender.

Despite the vast array of businesses within the transport industry, a survey conducted by WORK180 and Women in Transport found that only 22.8% of their employees identify as women.

For an industry that’s very essence is about movement and progression, this disparity in gender representation is a stark reminder of the urgent need for equity and inclusion.

With all this mind, we have recognized Southeastern Railway with our prestigious Equitable Workplace Award for its outstanding commitment to gender equity in the transport industry.

What are the Equity Workplace Awards?

As a trusted authority for women in the workplace, WORK180’s annual awards are a coveted accolade for any WORK180-Endorsed Employer wanting to gain recognition for their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Far from just being another pay-to-play branding checkbox, our awards rigorously assess organizations for signs of continued progress (not perfection) across the key areas proven to drive positive change for women and marginalized groups. Key areas such as career development, pay equity, flexible working arrangements, and representative leadership.

A bit about our winner…

Southeastern Railway is one of the busiest commuter rail companies in the UK running more than 2,000 trains, and carrying nearly 470,000 passengers every day between London, Kent, and East Sussex.

But the value of this organization comes from more than just the number of wheels turning. We asked Josie Wright (she/her), Inclusion & Diversity Partner to share more about the culture at Southeastern Railway:

“It might sound cliche, but we really do have the best people working for us. Our strategy for everyday inclusion is creating a culture where inclusion and diversity are at the heart of everything we do, at every point in our employment journey.

“It’s the power of our people that helps us to stand out as a great employer and a pioneer for women in rail – an industry that has traditionally been a male-orientated.”

The initiatives, benefits, and policies that helped Southeastern win this award

“At Southeastern we believe in creating a culture of everyday inclusion, and firmly believe in our workforce representing the communities that we serve. That includes improving our representation from not only gender, but also ethnic diversity and LGBTQI+ as well as other identities across all levels of our organization, and in our leadership teams.”

This quote from Josie, is backed by the actions she and her team have been undertaking across the business, including:

  • Launching a Menopause in the Workplace program in 2019 and following it with an independent accreditation as a Menopause Friendly Employer in 2023.
  • The establishment of six internal colleague network groups that engage with and support colleagues from many different backgrounds and identities.
  • Externally, Southeastern also sit on the Rail Unites for Inclusion Leadership team (made up of representatives from all train operators and suppliers across the industry).
  • They partner with the Prince’s Trust Program which supports young people into the workplace who might face barriers due to neurodiversity, socio-economic diversity, and age diversity.
  • They have another partnership with The Schools Outreach Company and Study Smarter, and have attended school and college job fairs to inspire students to consider a career in rail.
  • Others initiatives include updates to its carers leave, shared parental leave, fertility support and guidance, baby loss awareness, endometriosis support, period normalization, and gender identity guidance.

What impact have these initiatives had on employees?

Josie shares that employment surveys undertaken throughout the business demonstrate that these initiatives are making a difference.

women in transport

“The surveys show improving scores in gender and ethnic origin. Women continue to be the most positive group with a higher score in every single category asked, compared to the overall score for the question asked.

“And we have seen significant improvements in engagement from colleagues from ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Black colleagues average 10% above the Southeastern overall for all question categories. Meanwhile, employees with primary caring responsibilities feel well supported, with 77% saying they had a good work-life balance.”

And on a more personal level, Josie shares her own joy as a woman in this industry at seeing these initiatives in place:

“It feels fantastic to work for a company who are continually moving the bar for diversity, equity and inclusion in so many different areas.

“As someone who never imagined I’d have a career in Rail (there were not passenger trains in New Zealand where I grew up), there is just something dynamic about Rail. It’s a sector that really does have opportunities for everyone.

“Six years into my journey here (which is young in rail terms), I’ve been able to graduate twice, get married, and build a career where I’m making a difference every day. And I’m not finished yet!”

What’s next on the horizon for Southeastern?

Indeed, Josie is definitely not finished yet, and neither is Southeastern Railway. Far from an invitation to use this award as a place to stop and rest, they have ambitious targets for continued progress.

“We want women to see rail as an industry where they can thrive.

“As an industry we are behind other sectors generally when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but that isn’t stopping us from wanting to make the difference – we’re just starting from a different place.”

Josie shares that Southeastern have set a target to increase hires from underrepresented groups by 10% year on year. But says Southeastern also recognizes that it’s not just about attracting diverse talent. Making sure that their organization is as inclusive as possible after the recruitment stage remains a priority too.

“So that when people join us, they feel supported. Like they can bring their whole selves to work, and they can achieve to their best potential when they’re with us.”

So, will we be seeing Southeastern in the running for our Equitable Workplace awards next year?

We couldn’t let Josie go without sparking her competitive spirit and asking if we will see a back-to-back win for Southeastern Railway in the 2025 Equitable Workplace Awards. We weren’t disappointed with her response.

“The best companies are the ones who know that there is always more that we can do to improve our colleague and passenger experiences.

“We are deeply committed to the well-being of our colleagues, customers, and the communities we serve – which definitely isn’t something that will be changing anytime soon!

“We were thrilled to receive this award for the best workplace in this industry in regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and will definitely be working hard to work towards being in the awards again next year.”

Want to learn more about the benefits of a career at Southeastern Railway?

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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