The Path Left To Travel

Kelly Warburton – Chief Commercial Officer, Global Centre of Rail Excellence

Rail has given me such a lot.

As someone who has worked in the industry for nearly twenty-five years, I’m fortunate to look back on a series of challenging and fulfilling roles; a career in which I’ve relished coming to work every day and opportunities to forge some very special, personal friendships along the way.

From the very first role that I took on with Alstom at the turn of the millennium, right through to my current job as Chief Commercial Officer at the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, I can count myself extremely lucky at the opportunities I’ve had as well as take pride in the hard graft that I’ve put in to making the most of every single one.

And I’ve had cause to reflect on that career journey recently as part of the celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this month.

For me, International Women’s Day is primarily an opportunity to pause and take stock of the utterly brilliant women that I work with in rail and who inspire and support me every single day.

At GCRE I’m lucky to have so many of those allies and strong female role models around me. From our brilliant Chair, Dr Debra Williams, who has worked in some of the biggest companies across the globe and is a constant source of advice, counsel and support, to all the talented women I work with across our business. I have a phalanx of strong, female colleagues at GCRE to work with and alongside.

This month I want to pay tribute to those colleagues and say well done to them all – Deb, Sam Hawkins, Gail Hawthorne, Joanna Evans, Clare Byrne, Tamara Evans and Holly Machin. You make GCRE what it is and this piece is dedicated to celebrating and recognising you and your work.

As I read the stories, the testimony and the ideas of so many superb women working in rail as part of IWD23, I was uplifted. Women in rail have come far in the last two decades. But marking International Women’s Day is also about looking forward. It’s about considering the path left still to travel – and for the industry I love, that requires honesty, as well as praise.

Even though, for me, my career has more positive marks in the ledger that negative ones, I don’t look back with rose tinted spectacles and I don’t look at our industry uncritically.

Like too many females working in rail, I’ve been the subject of behaviour, language and treatment which simply wasn’t acceptable. Behaviour, language and treatment that wasn’t fair and wasn’t just – either now or then – and part of what motivates me today is a determination to ensure that for those women around me in GCRE and beyond, we continue the fight for equality, diversity and equity in rail and across the workforce.

Its well known that rail has its challenges.

Its image is still one of orange jackets and muddy depots; steel and grease. An image of a male dominated world of drivers, engineers and technicians. That culture, of course, has changed, particularly since I entered the sector back in 2001. There are many more female voices, individuals and decisions makers at all levels of the industry – from the platform through to the boardroom – helping change the industry for the better. Figures like Dyan Crowther at HS1, Elaine Clark at Rail Forum, Mary Grant at Porterbrook and Lucy Prior at TTS – these ladies are exactly the kind of positive, female role models we need to celebrate more of as leaders for change in rail.

Perhaps the most obvious way I can contribute to that wider task of making rail look like the world outside is through the work I do now at the Global Centre of Rail Excellence. I joined the team last year and we are in the process of constructing a £400m rail innovation facility in south Wales – something that from 2025 will be a world class home for rail research, testing and certification.

What motivates me is ensuring that GCRE – a new entrant to rail – is not only financially successful, but is grown in a way that represents the very best of what the rail industry can and should be in the future. I want people to say of our business that GCRE looks, feels and acts in a modern and diverse way, that is representative of the modern, diverse nation we are a part of.

And so I was delighted that soon after I joined GCRE was able to work with the Rail Industry Association to sign up to the EDI Charter and become one of now more than 200 organisations that have made that pledge for positive change in their organisations.

For me the starting point to make real those EDI Charter commitments comes through ensuring that the ethos and culture of GCRE is conducive to supporting women in their careers.

That’s particularly important in the GCRE case because our site is located at the top of the Swansea valley, a visually stunning area, but a part of the south Wales coalfield that has gone through enormously challenging economic times over the last forty years. The gender inequality that many women and girls living near to the site face is compounded by the barriers of poverty and income inequality that also impact their lives and life chances.

So if GCRE is to be a positive force in tackling those barriers, then we have to tailor the opportunities we can offer locally to the particular challenges those women and girls face and make available routes to employment in a flexible and accessible way – fit for the circumstances they face in their own lives.

That’s why this year’s International Women’s Day theme of equity is so important and so timely.

It shines a light on how far we have come in the near quarter of a century that I’ve spent in rail, but it also shows how far there is still yet to travel.

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