Engineering, Workforce, Certification & Training

Rail ‘male dominated, but not anti-female’

Katharina Gerstmann

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day this past Sunday, RTSA executive chair and Beca manager for transport, Katharina Gerstmann, spoke about women in the rail industry.

Gerstmann, who wrote in a release by Engineers Australia in February, said that while rail has been historically male dominated, times are changing.

“Women are making an enormous contribution to all areas of rail, with more and more women taking on roles across the industry,” Gerstmann said, “from train drivers to engineers through to management positions.

“Both women and men seem to come to the industry by accident, but stay out of passion.”

Gerstmann explained that getting more women to fulfil lengthy careers in rail was a question of attracting more women at all levels, and retaining them by having a structure in place that enables them to fulfil their potential.

“The industry might be male dominated but that’s not because it is anti-female,” she said. “It is because of the perception we have given women; and one of the biggest challenges in attracting women lies in overcoming this perception.”

Gerstmann outlined three core issues which should be tackled by the industry to help achieve a gender balance.

“The first is the lack of a platform where women can network with like-minded colleagues, make new friends and discuss current issues – something that groups on social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook have now started to address,” she said.

“The second issue is around helping and guiding women in the industry to be able to progress their careers and realise their full potential.

“And finally we need to help ensure that more females join the industry at entry level by raising awareness of the benefits of working in it.”

Gerstmann said good work was being done in rail to help workers advance both their career and their family life, and that this is good business.

“Most organisations in the Australian rail industry can now see the business case, and that women in rail initiatives are not about some sort of feminist crusade, or a fluffy ‘all women together’ thing,” she said.

“They start to understand that there is something in it for them as well, which is the economic benefit of diversity. As soon as you have a diverse workforce you have a productivity increase.

“Women in rail are not here to take over but we want to increase our percentage,” Gerstmann concluded.

“There are a lot of initiatives going on in the industry, especially trying to stimulate youngsters to have a career in rail, and it’s about us all working together rather than in isolation.”