Over the past decade, the rail industry’s approach to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) has undergone a remarkable transformation and evolved from mere buzzwords to a powerful driver of change. What was once a peripheral concern has taken centre stage, driven by relentless efforts from organisations like Women in Rail, heightened awareness among industry stakeholders, and support from senior leaders and government initiatives. The launch of the EDI Charter in 2021 by Women in Rail and the Railway Industry Association played a pivotal role in accelerating these changes, even if at a gradual pace.
In this evolving landscape, Adeline Ginn MBE, Legal Director for Egis UK and founder of Women in Rail, emphasises the shift within rail businesses from acknowledging diversity to cultivating a genuinely inclusive culture. A prime example is the growing number of award categories celebrating those advancing diversity in the industry. However, as she rightly points out, achieving true diversity is just the beginning; the real challenge lies in sustaining and harnessing the potential of diversity, extending its impact beyond the rail sector.
The power of diverse perspectives
Have you ever been in a room with ten people, each tasked with generating ideas? If those ten individuals share similar backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, the outcome may be just a handful of ideas. However, if those ten individuals encompass a spectrum of diversity, including race, religion, gender, marital status, and nationality, the potential for innovative ideas increases exponentially. This exemplifies the core principle of ED&I: diverse perspectives stimulate creativity and enhance problem-solving, as illustrated by Matthew Syed in his book “Rebel Ideas”.
Moreover, research consistently shows that diverse boards and teams outperform their homogeneous counterparts. Gender-balanced boards, for instance, tend to deliver better results. This empirical evidence underscores the business case for ED&I and its potential to drive growth and success in the rail industry. In an industry historically male-dominated, the commitment to transformation has borne fruit, with female representation climbing to 24% in 2023, a significant leap from the 16% recorded a decade ago, according to recent statistics from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). Hand in hand with gender diversity, the rail sector has also intensified efforts to embrace ethnic diversity, with Network Rail’s 2022 report revealing a steady increase in ethnic minority employees, now comprising 18.5%, compared to 10.4% in 2014.
Bridging the gap – challenging bias in the industry
Beyond the corporate sphere, fostering ED&I carries profound societal implications. Marwah Aziz, Senior Urban Designer and ED&I lead at Egis UK Rail, believes that ED&I ensures equal opportunities for all. She highlights the recently launched “Everyone Egis” initiative, which collaborates with social enterprises like Renaisi to provide career advice and potential positions to underrepresented groups, including refugees. This initiative not only empowers the talented individuals involved but also helps break inclusivity barriers and shift perspectives within the company.
As the UK rail industry continues on the tracks of diversity and inclusion, its next destination is clear – a future where every traveller, employee, and community member feels a sense of belonging and equal opportunity.