Workforce, Certification & Training

ARA receives latest industry gender diversity figures

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie talks about how far gender diversity has come in the rail industry.

The ARA has just received the results of the 2018-19 Gender Diversity survey of the rail industry. The results are encouraging in that they show an improvement in gender diversity since the last survey, but that there is still more to do to meet national workforce averages.

The ARA last conducted this survey two years ago for the 2016-17 year. Survey data was collected at the organisational level to report on employees throughout rail and its supply chains. All information was de- identified with only high-level aggregated data made available.

The results show:

  • Women make up 27 per cent of the rail workforce, a 6 per cent improvement from 21 per cent reported in 2016-17;
  • Women hold 22 percent of managerial positions, up from 19 per cent in 2016-17 but substantially lower than the national workforce average of 39 per cent;
  • Women make up 21 percent of the full-time workforce – up from 18 per cent in 2016-17, but well below the national full-time workforce average of 38 per cent;
  • Women make up 60 per cent of the part- time workforce – up from 56 per cent in 2016-17 and substantially higher than the national average of 25 per cent;
  • Women make up 25 per cent of the casual workforce – well below the national average of 56 per cent;
  • Women made up 31 per cent of new appointments around the same level as in 2016-17; 28 per cent of all promotions, up from 20 per cent in 2016-17; and 25 per cent of resignations, down from 29 per cent in 2016-17.

From these figures we can conclude that improvements have been made in women’s level of participation in rail overall, in management and full-time work since the last survey, but still lags well below national averages on women’s employment in these categories.

The survey also asked about women’s representation on governing bodies.
Women made up on average 16 per cent respondents of governing bodies. Ten per cent of respondents indicated that they have set targets to increase women’s representation on their governing bodies.

A key issue then is what has caused these improvements.

Eight-six per cent of respondents have formal policies or strategies in place that specifically support gender diversity. Over half of all respondents have specific recruitment policies or strategies to improve the gender balance in their organisation.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents have formal policies for flexible working arrangements, and the availability of flexible workplace arrangements increased considerably for respondents in rail from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Improving gender diversity in the rail workforce has been an increasing focus of rail companies in recent years. The reasons are varied. For some it is about recognising that it is the right thing to do, and that a workforce should represent the society in engages with, whilst to others is about improving organisational performance.

For many rail operators it is necessary to address the impacts of an ageing and male-dominated workforce in an era of skills shortages and for others it is about being perceived as an “employer of choice”, recruiting and retaining talented employees.

The significant growth that the Australian rail industry is now undergoing provides the perfect opportunity to advance this change, and companies are taking advantage.

In 2017, the ARA developed a Women in Rail Strategy in collaboration with member companies to support gender diversity in the industry. The strategy has four focus areas.

The first is related to the attraction and promotion of women in rail. Under the premise that “You can’t be what you can’t see,” during 2019 ARA gathered and publicised on our social media channels a number of empowering stories of how women and men working in our industry promote gender diversity in their spheres of influence.

The second is improved networks. The ARA has been hosting a number of Women in Rail lunches to member companies and their employees, offering opportunities to hear from experts and industry leaders while offering networking opportunities. These have been well attended and offered women new networks.

The third focus area is retention. The link between the mentoring programs and staff retention has been well established. In 2019, ARA piloted a Women in Rail Mentoring Program, offering mentoring and leadership support to over 40 women working throughout the industry and around the country. The program review received extremely positive feedback, and the program is being held again this year.

The final area was National Benchmarking. The ARA conducted a gender diversity survey in 2016-17 to collate diversity data to provide a greater understanding of the nature of gender diversity in rail.

A full report and summary Report Card is available at

Many rail organisations are at different stages along the diversity and inclusion journey, and while much of the responsibility and initiatives are at an employer level, the ARA is seeking to support its members where it can provide value at a whole of industry level.

The ARA will take the results of the survey and engage with member companies to inform the next iteration of its strategy.

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