Network Rail has set a target of increasing its female workforce to 20% by 2020.
It said that as one of Britain’s biggest employers, it recognises the role it has to play in inspiring future generations of women about careers in engineering.
The rail body said that the there was a shortage of female talent entering the sector. Women in Science and Engineering (Wise) says this is because 50,000 girls were turning away from an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects every year.
Network Rail director of diversity and inclusion Loraine Martins said: “There is still a wide perception that engineering jobs are for ‘boys only’. Many of the outdated stereotypes about what makes certain career choices male or female continue to be ingrained within some children from a really young age, often passed down through parents, families and teachers.”
She said that its own research had shown that girls as young as seven believed that engineering was not an option for them.
“This is why we need to do everything we can to educate children, parents and teachers about the vast array of jobs within the sector,” said Martins. “Attracting and retaining a diverse mix of talent is essential not only for our business, but also for the UK economy as a whole.”
Network Rail engineering director Helen Samuels’ role is to lead the 2,000 engineers working in the projects team to deliver a five year, £25bn investment in new infrastructure.
“Engineering is basically problem-solving,” said Samuels. ”Sometimes it’s maths, but sometimes it’s helping people to understand what you are doing and why, or figuring out how to build something for less money. Diverse teams are important for this, and having a mixture of skills sets in these problem-solving situations is key.
“One of the most common myths is that engineering is a ‘dirty’ profession. Many engineering roles are based either part-time or full-time in an office environment, although I really enjoy the cut and thrust of site work”.
Network Rail said that as well as going into schools to promote engineering, it was also looking to recruit apprentices to help deliver its railway upgrade.
Network Rail apprentice Emma Taylor is now a national aerial survey specialist and is responsible for operating the specialist camera equipment mounted on the Network Rail surveillance helicopter.
Taylor added: “I work all over the country so no day is ever the same. The aircraft surveys the whole of the rail network from above and looks for any potential faults with the equipment along the infrastructure. My job is to spot flaws before a failure occurs as this helps to keep the network running safely and smoothly.”
“The best part of my job is the travel. I’ve travelled across the entire country now and have seen it all from above, sometimes I have to pinch myself because it is so breath-taking. I also get to meet lots of different people which is so interesting, including many of our engineers who come up in the helicopter with us.”