Enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the public transport industry
Zoey Hudson, Head of Talent, Diversity, and Inclusion at Govia Thameslink Railway, talks about the importance of enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the best methods to hiring talent reflecting that goal.
Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)
Today, actively encouraging and taking steps to create a diverse and inclusive environment is a must. There are a multitude of reasons why it is important, for instance, from a business perspective it serves to make workforces stronger – increasing productivity, creativity and improving cultural awareness. Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has openly committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace where all colleagues feel welcomed, valued and free to be their authentic selves each and every day.
GTR is, and has always been, committed to leading and transforming the rail industry. 2023 sees GTR enter the third year of its three-year strategy which aims to create an environment that attracts, develops and retains talent representing the communities it serves.
Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce at GTR is an incredibly important part of my role. There have been undeniable challenges thrown our way over the last few years – from the pandemic to the subsequent ‘great resignation’ many businesses faced. However, it is important not to get distracted by all of the external factors, and instead ensure that we deliver equal and fair opportunities for all.
Shifting the dial on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has to be approached from a number of angles. These range from ensuring our workforce has ethnic minority representation, to having a better ratio of male to female colleagues – something which has certainly increased since the start of my career. We also need more neurologically diverse colleagues, better representation for the LGBTQ+ community, job security during the maternity/paternity period, flexible working and more. It is not solely about reaching targets, it is about building a genuinely diverse and inclusive workforce which will ultimately make us a stronger and better business.
But the crucial question is – how do we achieve this?
Welcoming new talent streams
Ensuring a strong stream of new talent eager to enter the workforce is crucial for any business. At GTR, we are continually expanding recruitment and attraction channels to help us find new talent streams.
Shifting the dial on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has to be approached from a number of angles. These range from ensuring our workforce has ethnic minority representation, to having a better ratio of male to female colleagues.
One avenue is working with specialist partners to understand how we can recruit from underrepresented groups and fulfil GTR’s mission to employ teams that reflect the diverse communities we serve. An example of this is through the Prince’s Trust ‘Get into Railways’ programme, which we have been part of since 2014. This initiative opens up opportunities for the next generation, who predominantly come from challenging and disadvantaged backgrounds. We provide a four-week work placement with a further six months of support for those within the programme, creating opportunities for people to step outside their comfort zone and develop their confidence.
We have seen fantastic results – this programme has proven to be a valuable source of finding those who may not have the opportunity to showcase their talent and work ethic elsewhere. The programme has helped hundreds of 18–25-year-olds gain essentials skills and build their CV, which has led to successful and flourishing careers. Of these young people, the majority have attained full-time permanent jobs within the GTR network.
In September 2020, the UK government launched a Kickstart Scheme aimed at helping young people aged 16-24 across the country develop new skills, build confidence in the workplace and take their first crucial steps on the career ladder. At GTR, we understand the need to increase the talent pool of young people in the rail industry and make sure we are upskilling the next generation. We were eager to take part in this scheme and reach those who may not receive the opportunity to kickstart their career. As of September 2022, GTR saw 22 young people join through the programme, taking up a range of roles including customer service, events and tourism, franchise management, marketing and engineering.
In the same year, GTR launched its first ever Sector-based Work Academy Programme (SWAP) with East Sussex College. It was designed in partnership with Sussex Skills Solutions and Jobcentre Plus, aiming to break down barriers that many people face when seeking employment. The programme targets those who have been unemployed long-term or who aren’t in training or education. It gives candidates the opportunity to develop essential employability skills whilst gaining qualifications and ultimately supports the government’s aim to help communities that would otherwise be left behind.
Encouraging internal development and promotion to retain talent
I joined GTR in 1996 as a stopgap and am now part of GTR’s senior leadership team. I moved from a customer-facing role into HR and training in the early 2000s, before becoming Head of People Development in 2017, and incorporating responsibility for Diversity and Inclusion from February 2020.
I want to ensure colleagues who want to grow and develop their careers, skills, experiences and knowledge within GTR and the rail industry have the opportunities to do so, as I did. We have many internal development schemes which colleagues can take advantage of – and we actively encourage them to do so – including apprenticeships in different areas of the business that can be applied for internally.
We are also rolling out a diversity and inclusion online learning module to all 7,500 employees which will give everyone a baseline around what their rights are as an employee of GTR. We are developing a single resource hub where all D&I information and policies can be found to ensure easy access to additional information.
We are aware that our industry is going through challenges – but our people are crucial, so we want to ensure they stay interested in the sector, and we continue to promote rail as an attractive place to work in order to retain talent.
Apprenticeships and graduate schemes
In the year ahead, GTR is considering how to continue focusing on the positives around the employee proposition and what we can offer. We will continue to upskill and harness our workforce with a varied programme of apprenticeships. Open to current and new employees, the apprenticeships range from train driver to customer service, to engineering, management and leadership skills.
There are always going to be challenges in terms of making rail an attractive place to work. We know potential new hires will be aware of the challenges around industrial action, but we work toward finding a way to combat this challenge and embrace the opportunities.
We recently set a new target for 2023: 220 employees to start the programme, which is a 20% increase on the number of those who started an apprenticeship within the company last year. We are keen to keep our employees feeling celebrated and appreciated for all their hard work.
There are always going to be challenges in terms of making rail an attractive place to work. We know potential new hires will be aware of the challenges around industrial action, but we work toward finding a way to combat this challenge and embrace the opportunities. We always aim to promote working in rail from a positive perspective as it is important to keep people interested in the sector and view it as a great place to work.
We have partnered with our parent company, Go-Ahead Group, to provide a tailored graduate scheme to help individuals gain skills and knowledge that will prepare them for future leadership opportunities. This scheme is open to both external and internal applicants. The 18-month programme provides the individual insights into the ins and outs of station management, driver management and on-board management, providing them with a great experience that sets people up for the next stage of their careers.
Ensuring you have good business benchmarks
You can create what you may believe is the best D&I plan out there – but if you don’t have solid benchmark points to measure against, how can you ever know if it has been successful?
At GTR, we are extremely proud to be the first transport company to achieve the National Equality Standard in 2022. Launched in 2013, the NES was developed by Ernst and Young UK LLP (EY UK) and sets robust equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) criteria against which companies are assessed.
GTR’s diversity and inclusion policies were assessed against 35 competencies contained within the NES framework using reviews of evidence, interviews and consultations. We achieved the number of competencies required to meet the standard and scored highly in categories related to strategy and governance, as well as action planning and implementation. We were recognised for our good practice with policies such as unconscious bias training for all hiring managers, engagement with employee network groups, a robust coaching and mentoring programme and active community social responsibility actions through various employment schemes.
Advice for other HR leaders
See every challenge as an opportunity to create a more diverse workforce. We can’t always predict what the future holds for us, but it’s about being resilient and flexible where we can and where we need to be. When people leave, especially at manager and above levels, take this as a chance to increase diversity in the more senior levels. Continue to invest and develop your existing team to allow for internal promotions into those positions. Finally, always put your people, workforce and customers alike, first.