The global anti-racism movement has brought attempts to make the British railway industry more representative into the spotlight.
To find out how the industry is thinking about equality, diversity and inclusion, Rachel Groves spoke with the diversity champions of the three biggest employers – Network Rail (43,000), Transport for London (28,000) and Hs2 (only 1,500 direct employees but supporting 10,000 now and around 30,000 during peak construction). They all have a similar approach, are pleased with progress on the ground, but are concerned about the mix at more senior levels.
The impact of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American, on 25 May this year ricocheted around the world, triggering protests in many countries – but its effect was not just confined to the streets. The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted an inequality which is still real in society, and sparked conversations throughout the rail industry.
When diversity was mentioned in the context of engineering and the railway, gender used to be the burning issue of the day, with an underrepresentation of women in all areas of the sector. But as our awareness of the rich diversity of society in the UK has increased, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, faith and caring responsibilities have become equally as important within inclusivity-driven agendas.
However, the Black Lives Matter movement has recently dominated the news and pushed ethnic equality and representation to the fore. HS2, TfL and Network Rail talk about the impact this has had on their organisations.
HS2’s director of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), Mark Lomas, said: “The CEO himself was really quite moved by the number of responses and level of engagement it generated. He has been pushing for equality, diversity and inclusion since he joined, but the response of staff to the Black Lives Matter movement has led to an acceleration of our activity to strip bias out of all our processes and increase diversity across the business.”
The movement contributed to Mark Thurston signing up to the Race at Work charter which built on the work of the 2017 McGregor-Smith review, which found that people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds were still underemployed, underpromoted and under-represented at senior levels.
HS2 has joined Network Rail, a 2017 signatory, in committing to the five principles of the charter which include:
- Appointing an executive sponsor for race;
- Capturing data and publicising progress;
- Ensuring zero tolerance of harassment and bullying;
- Making equality in the workplace the responsibility of all leaders and managers;
- Taking action that supports ethnic minority career progression.
Staynton Brown, director of D&I and talent at TfL, also reported an “utterly incredible” reaction from across the organisation, with an “outpouring of energy, frustration, and a real feel of urgency to really accelerate progress in respect to race inequality.”
“It’s not enough to say that you’re not racist,” he added, “you need to be proactively anti-racist.”
Network Rail’s CEO, Andrew Haines, made a powerful statement to his 42,000 staff, recognising that the impact of George Floyd’s death was not just something that was felt in America. He stated strongly that there is no place for racism in Network Rail, a statement which was well received and led to a series of ‘let’s talk about race’ virtual sessions that over 1,000 people attended in just one week.
Do the numbers add up?
All areas of the rail industry are looking at the composition of their work force and looking at whether this mirrors the diverse make-up of British society.
Speaking to Transport for London, Network Rail and HS2, it is clear that different organisations are at different points on this journey but all share a passion to break down barriers in the sector to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Area BAME %
UK wide 12.1%
Network Rail 9.1%
Transport for London 30.5%
Network Rail launched its first diversity and inclusion strategy ‘Everyone’ in 2013, which was aimed at getting the company to get to grips with the main issues surrounding diversity and inclusion and start a discussion in an industry dominated by white, middle-aged men.
Loraine Martins, Network Rail’s director of diversity and inclusion, said: “We were among the first to implement a strategy and that influenced other organisations to follow suit.”
The more recent strategy, ‘everyone matters’, builds on the past, focusing on race, gender, sexuality, disability, caring responsibilities and faith, and it also calibrates how people with these characteristics are impacted in order to create a more inclusive organisation.
Loraine said: “By the time we launched the second one, people were more receptive. Our first was about learning about diversity and inclusion, setting up employee networks and having diversity champions. Over the next five years, we’ve got targets we want to achieve, especially around leadership development.”
TfL boasts 30.5% BAME employees, but this must be taken in the wider context of the pool from which they are recruiting. London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world with around 35% of the population from BAME backgrounds.
TfL’s Staynton Brown said: “The organisation is in a relatively good place, which has a lot to do with the Mayor and Mike Brown (former Commissioner) who were both really focused on making sure that the organisation better reflected the city it serves.”
The percentage of BAME employees varies drastically across the industry and that has a lot to do with location, the age of the company, and thus its culture, and a willingness to change.
HS2 has a 19% BAME employee rate, which compares favourably to the national average of 12%, but, as a relatively new organisation, it has been able to create a culture from scratch that embraces equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Network Rail, TfL and HS2 all have employee networks and diversity strategies in place, but HS2 has pushed the EDI agenda through all areas of the business since day one and has gone as far as embedding it into each stage of the procurement process.
The supply chain is key
HS2’s tier 1 contractors were pre-screened for their approach to EDI and skills. Mark Lomas explained: “When we first started out, people thought that this was far too radical. But here we are, a couple of years later, with our main work contracts really ramping up and, I think, we are one or two suppliers away from having a UK first – a fully accredited EDI supply chain. It might even be a world first!”
Mark says it is integral to the success of HS2, as it forms an integral part of its legacy for the industry. Anyone who wants to bid for work for HS2 must have EDI as a part of their business.
HS2 piloted something called blind auditioning, which removes CVs and application forms entirely and replaces them with an anonymous skills-based assessment. Following the outcomes of those pilots, HS2’s supply chain has adopted some similar methodology which is proved very successful.
Mark continued: “HS2 wins if the supply chain wins.”
Leadership lags behind
The picture at TfL is encouraging, but, as with other companies in the industry, the need to change the picture at the top needs much more work.
Staynton Brown explained: “We want to be a place for everybody, from all walks of life. But where the picture really needs to change is in the progression of people, so that the senior leadership group looks more like the organisation more broadly, so we really look and feel like the city that we serve.”
He wants to unlock the barriers which stop people moving up within the organisation, and for the approach to be more inclusive than exclusive. TfL is doing a lot more than rolling out unconscious bias training. Focussing more on ensuring accountability and setting out robust clear consequences for inaction, while resourcing efforts on the main issues, will make the biggest difference.
Furthermore, all TfL senior management are performance monitored against progress in diversity and inclusion, to ensure they continue to improve the diversity of their teams. To help this improve, TfL has long standing mentoring and coaching programmes for BAME employees, such as the Stuart Ross programme, which brings more young people from BAME communities into the communications industry.
Diversity and inclusion dashboards have been introduced to give more insight so that diversity and inclusion is owned by the many and not just the few in the D&I team. “It forms part of our scorecard which we, as an organisation are monitored against and ultimately affects performance rewards,” Staynton added.
All three organisations (TfL, HS2 and Network Rail) publish their gender and ethnicity pay gap statistics annually, and all identified a lack of people with diverse characteristics in higher level jobs as a reason for the gaps.
Mark Lomas, HS2, said: “So our focus over the next few years is representation at leadership levels.”
One of their most successful innovations has been a ‘reverse mentoring programme’, which pairs junior staff with senior staff so the senior staff can learn more about how it feels to work and progress within the organisation. This has become a KPI for its whole leadership team.
Mark explains: “The reverse mentoring program is something we’re really, really proud of, for a simple reason. If you rely on evolution and goodwill to expose people to difference, you’d probably be waiting a long time. The reverse mentoring program accelerates that process by making pairs between people from very different backgrounds and origins.”
Over 85% of participants reported that it makes senior leaders much more aware of diverse talent. Over 50% of people who have been through HS2’s reverse mentoring program has had a promotion in the last couple of years.
Staynton, TfL, concluded: “We have brilliantly capable and talented people, so must make sure there aren’t any barriers to progression. But to thrive, we want people to feel that they can be fully and wholly themselves in an inclusive environment.
“We don’t just welcome and celebrate diversity, we actually really need it to be successful, which is why diversity and inclusion is always considered in our processes.”
Progress, but a long road ahead
There is a clear drive to make the railway more equal and representative of British society and an appetite to eradicate conscious and unconscious bias toward race, gender, disability, faith and sexuality.
The death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement has created conversations throughout the industry, and it is through these conversations that awareness increases. This is leading to positive action being taken, which the industry anticipates will lead to the closing of gaps in pay and senior representation.
Progress is being made and there is passion across the industry to accelerate that progress, but there is still plenty of road ahead before we start to have a truly representative railway family.