The boss of Network Rail has announced a radical plan to make the trains run on time – fast-track more women recruits.
Chief executive Mark Carne has declared war on the ‘macho-culture’ of the rail industry and unveiled a blueprint to more than double to one in 3, the proportion of female staff employed by his firm which runs the nations rail tracks.
At the current recruitment rates that would take 65 years. So radical action is needed now, he said.
The culture change was necessary to address the chronic failures and ‘institutional incompetence’ of the recent past, for which he apologised.
He said the vital woman’s touch was needed to rid the railways of a reputation for ‘stale sandwiches, leaves on the line, and the wrong kind of snow’, to show a more caring face to passengers, and to end Network Rail’s own image as ‘the company that people love to hate’.
The former oil industry boss who was once responsible for Shell’s North Sea fields, told rail industry chiefs he had seen first-hand the degree to which more women employees had ‘transformed’ the macho culture there and wanted to repeat the lesson on the railways.
But it prompted one former Transport Secretary to describe Mr Carne’s frank appraisal – following the Christmas chaos at Kings Cross and Paddington – as ‘a systematic hatchet job’ of the current Network Rail culture.
Currently just one in seven of Network Rail’s 35,000 staff – or around 5,000 employees in total – are women. But he want to increase that to around one in three – from trackside engineers to office support staff.
Mr Carne said: ‘Today women make up only 14 per cent of the Network Rail workforce. It is hardly surprising that under such circumstances we still have what many would describe as a macho-culture within the company.’
He added: ‘And to make matters worse, at the current rate that the numbers of women in our business are increasing, it will take another 65 years before we reach 30 per cent – a level which is seen as a tipping point for organisations looking to benefit from gender diversity.’
He was a strong advocate of ‘positive action’ to recruit and promote more women but stressed: ‘This is not the same as positive discrimination, but it does recognise that if you do not take some action to compensate for the inherent biases that must exist, the bad habits that have persisted in the past will carry on in the future.’
He said any woman with the necessary qualifications for a job will in future be automatically offered an interview for it. But only the best candidate – regardless of gender – would be recruited, he insisted.
More women would also help reduce the ‘appalling tragedies’ and 600 serious injuries on the railways each year because female employees were less ‘macho’, he said: ‘When women started becoming a much more visible presence on the oil and gas platforms in the North Sea twenty years ago, the difference they brought was profound.
‘The extreme macho, and frankly unsafe, culture that was a hallmark of the industry in the 1970s and 1980s changed dramatically and forever.’
Mr Carne said: ‘Diversity and inclusion aren’t just nice-to-haves. It’s not political correctness. They are powerful tools to help any organisation improve its performance.’
He said Network Rail had to get back to basics noting: ‘Too often we have allowed the basics to be forgotten as we divert the organisation onto yet another fad or initiative.’
Mr Carne, who has waived a bonus and reduced the amount that directors can earn above their basic salary, attacked the bonus culture and the previous ‘incomprehensible’ company incentive scheme which he said has now been reformed.
He noted: ‘Sometimes we let passengers down. I don’t think that’s acceptable or just a fact of life. And I understand their frustration and their anger.’
‘Reputations are hard won and easily lost. Anecdotes can quickly become a short-cut to characterise more general institutional incompetence.
‘Stale sandwiches, leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow. These have entered the lexicon of public conversations about the railway over the last 30 years.’
The railway’s poor reputation left staff ‘being ridiculed by friends and family.’
He added: ‘If we are to stop being the company that people love to hate, the public needs to see a high performing organisation, but crucially one that demonstrably cares about passengers.’
Former Labour Transport Secretary Lord Adonis who compered the event at the Institute of Engineers in Westminster said Mr Carne’s speech smacked of ‘a systematic hatchet job’ of the current Network Rail culture adding: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard a CEO be so critical of his own company.’
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