Network Rail’s leaders vow to increase disabled workforce

Network Rail’s leaders have pledged to increase the number of disabled people they employ after figures showed that less than 3% of their 44,000-strong workforce has declared a disability or long-term health condition.

Chair Sir Peter Hendy CBE, board member Dr Stephen Duckworth, and chief executive Andrew Haines vowed to tackle the issue during open conversations with Lucy Cashin, chair of the company’s disabled employee network.

The conversations took place as part of #PurpleLightUp, an annual global movement to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled people, held on the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December). The conversations will be shared on social media accounts.

Andrew Haines said: “Around 20% of the population is disabled, and yet less than 3% of our workforce has shared a disability. That’s not representative and it’s something I am determined to change.

“It’s caused by a combination of low recruitment of disabled people, and under-reporting of disability status by existing staff, both of which are things we can do something about.

“I want there to be more understanding of the huge range of railway jobs that can be done by people with most types of disability, and for us to do better at making everyone welcome. We must remove barriers, offer seamless support, and help people feel comfortable discussing and sharing their disability status.”

The company is on a drive to encourage staff to talk more about disability, and to raise awareness of non-visible disabilities such as mental health issues, neurodivergence, and long-term health conditions such as diabetes. It is hoped that by supporting staff to share disability status, more accurate data can be compiled to produce a disability pay gap report and help improve policies and processes.  

Chair Sir Peter Hendy CBE, said: “It needs that personal commitment from the top level, the tone set right from the top of the organisation, to create an inclusive culture where people are able to say how they feel, describe how they are and what they need, and know that won’t hold them back.

“We’re on that journey now. We’ve still got a way to go but I’m committed to making it happen.”

Board member Stephen Duckworth also spoke about the importance of celebrating success and promoting disabled people in the organisation. He said: “In my position as a leader in the business I can set an example to other disabled people.

“We often get recruited in and then stuck on a sticky floor. We need disabled people to move up the hierarchy, escape the sticky floor and move into management roles, because it’s only when that management visibility is available to disabled people that they’ll have the same aspirations to push themselves forward.”

The conversations discussed the importance and benefits of having disabled staff, as well as what the future of the railway looks like for disability diversity with the transition to Great British Railways. Sir Peter Hendy and Stephen Duckworth were also joined in their conversations by contributors from Jacobs, as the talk turned to inclusive design and practices across the whole industry.

Lucy Cashin, chair of Network Rail’s CanDo employee network said: “This was a fantastic opportunity to talk to the people right at the top of our organisation, and to hear their pledges of support.

“This was about saying it’s okay to be disabled, and it’s okay to talk about being disabled. Getting accurate data on disability won’t be used in a negative way, quite the opposite. It’s the only way we can make the widespread cultural change we need.”

The recorded leader-to-leader conversations will be released as part of #PurpleLightUp, held on Friday 3 December, the UN’s annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Network Rail is also running a series of awareness activities and workshops for employees, as well as lighting up its stations and building purple in support.

Photo credit: Network Rail

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