ARA Women in Rail Lunch 2019

Strategic Connections Group attended the Australasian Railway Association (‘ARA’) Women in Rail Lunch for the second year in a row. Since last year, SCG has implemented changes to our flexible working policies, parental leave policies, and brought five new women onto the team. As champions of inclusiveness and fairness, we’re always looking at ways to make our workplace a place that can not only attract a diverse range of people, but retain them.

Retention of women in the workplace was frequently touched on by the speakers at this year’s lunch. Particularly looking at how the rail industry can become an industry of choice, rather than individual companies striving to become an employer of choice. The ARA is aware of an impending skills shortage in the industry. This is in part due to a lack of distinct pathways into the rail industry, and in part due to not being an industry of choice.

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The Keynote Address was given by Professor Rae Cooper who is a professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney. She noted that Australia has the most highly segregated workforce in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (‘OECD’). She referred to this as ‘glass walls’, as opposed to glass ceilings. The rail industry is a masculine industry with women making up only 20% of the workforce.  

Professor Cooper had conducted a study asking women of working age what their top two concerns were in their future work. More than 80% of respondents highlighted having a secure job and having a job in which they were treated with respect as their top concerns. If the rail industry wants to retain the women it hires and become an industry of choice, it should prioritise these two aspects. Professor Cooper noted that having a secure job didn’t necessarily mean having a long-term contract, but rather whether the employer seemed to be factoring them in for the long term. The rail industry needs to show career progression pathways for women starting out in the industry, and that they are factoring in up-skilling, promotions and training for them.

It wasn’t all dire news. Firstly, Australia came out on top for having the most educated female workforce in the OECD. Secondly, Metro, the Gold Sponsor for the event, announced that of its new trainees, more than half are female. Finally, Danny Broad, the CEO of the ARA announced the launch of the ARA Women in Rail Mentoring Program which will run from June to November of this year, pairing up female employees of ARA member organisations who have less than two years’ experience in the industry with a mentor who has over fifteen years of career experience.

This mentoring program aligns itself neatly with SCG’s current business model, which is centred around a knowledge transfer from experienced, industry experts to graduates, and those new to the industry. SCG plans to assist the ARA in addressing both their skills shortage crisis, and their push to increase and retain diversity in the workplace, through the creation of a digital repository of knowledge that captures and centralises the lessons learned by those at the end of their careers. This digital repository can be used to efficiently disseminate information to the next generation of rail industry experts, reducing training time and lifting the standards of the industry as a whole.

Applications for the mentoring program open late April. You can apply and find out more information by going to ara.net.au/key-issues/women-rail.