Thales is investing in the local workforce to enable rail’s next generation to fill the digital skills gap.
Two leading participants in the Women’s Professional Network (WPN) program are Kamakshi Rambhatla and Sharon Davis. From differing backgrounds, both attested to the value of the program in bringing together employees and creating opportunities for growth.
Rambhatla joined Bombardier Australia in 2011 as an electrical engineer after holding roles as a software engineer at General Electric and before that for a company that made simulators for aircrafts for the Indian Airforce. Taking on the role of Testing and Commissioning Engineer in 2017, Rambhatla has worked on Bombardier’s VLocity trains, the Melbourne LRVs and Adelaide trains.
For Davis, working at Bombardier was an opportunity for her to re-enter the workforce after having children. Starting out in marketing and communications, for the past six years Davis has filled the role of HR business partner. In addition to roles on the Melbourne and Adelaide fleet, Davis also worked on the Rail Systems Alliance project.
Both were involved in the Women’s Professional Network and found the connections enabled them to expand their skills to new areas.
“WPN has given me an opportunity to interact and work with some exceptionally talented people I would have never crossed paths with otherwise,” said Rambhatla. “Such platforms encourages one to explore one’s interests and passions along with broadening one’s network, learning new skills and sharpen existing skills along the way.”
Davis explained that the WPN led her to work outside of her specific area and in her case began working on bids as well as strategies to grow the pipeline of women.
“Diversity and inclusion is often considered the domain of human resources. But for diversity and inclusion to thrive, people managers at all levels of the organisation need to own it and walk the talk, from the very point of job design.
“More recently there has been the opportunity to review the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the flow on to redesigning wellness programs across the business,” said Davis.
With training and development selected by the members of the WPN as the highest priority, both Rambhatla and Davis has been involved in passing on skills and knowledge.
“It was my privilege to host interns in the testing & commissioning department and for the WPN program at BT,” said Rambhatla.
“It was immensely satisfying to mentor interns from under-graduate, post graduate and professional development programs and give them an in-sight into of how things are done in the ‘real world’. It was gratifying to know that the students felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of their internship, knowing well, that their contribution was valued and was being used.”
With these experiences so far, Davis has been able to broaden the impact of the WPN to beyond Bombardier by working with the ARA and St Kilda Gatehouse.“The way we operate as a company and contribute to the communities in which we work are key drivers of the change effort,” she said.
As Rambhatla highlights, the rewards have been both personal and professional.
“If I can through my presence or interaction, inspire students or fellow women to consider a career in rail, I would love to be part of that journey – their journey.”
Bombardier’s efforts in Australia to grow and maintain diversity within its workforce are at the core of what makes a successful rail business today.
In late September, a milestone was reached at Bombardier Transportation Australia. The date marked 12 months since the launch of the Women’s Professional Network (WPN), an internal empowerment group for the women employed at Bombardier’s sites around Australia. To mark the occasion, a photo taken earlier in 2020 was published on the manufacturer’s social media sites showing the Melbourne base WPN members, and a few male staff, standing in front of a newly built VLocity train set at the manufacturer’s Dandenong facility.
Demonstrating the commitment to diversity from the top down, standing at the front of the group were Victoria’s Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, Gabrielle Williams, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie, ARA Chair Danny Broad, CEO of the St Kilda Gatehouse, Stacey Aslangul, and president of Bombardier Transportation Australia and New Zealand Wendy McMillan.
“Diversity has many faces but the WPN is a shining example of grass roots work that is being done in our business to help lift our female colleagues in their work with Bombardier Transportation,” McMillan said to acknowledge the project’s milestone.
The significance of having a leader like McMillan is not lost on Rahul Kumar, head of human resources Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia at Bombardier.
“It starts from the top. Most of the diversity and inclusion initiatives have to be top driven, so the leadership buy in is key for us and we’re very lucky to have Wendy as president.”
Kumar has been part of a core team that has been leading a push on diversity and inclusion at Bombardier in Australia. Avoiding large, complex projects that lose momentum and fail to be implemented, Kumar has focused on grassroots initiatives such as the WPN that can be sustained over a long period.
“If we’re going to be focussing on diversity, let’s bring women together. Most of the work is done outside of HR by testing and commissioning engineer Kamakshi Rambhatla. What started as just an effort of getting women together has now resulted in mentoring programs, we’ve had workshops being run by local speakers and we’ve had our local member for Dandenong and the Minister for Women, Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams come and address them.”
In the 12 months since its launch the WPN has not only improved the careers of those involved and connected women from Bombardier’s sites across Australia but has inspired a movement of sorts with other WPNs being born in Southeast Asia and India. Today, over 20 mentoring groups run under the WPN banner, and an award and recognition program highlights those who have gone above and beyond.
“We now get 20-30 nominations consistently every month,” said Kumar. “At the start, we had to go and ask, ‘Do you want to nominate someone?’ Now it’s changing from a pull to a push system.”
While the program has driven engagement internally, Kumar is aware of the challenges of attracting not only women, but young people, and people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to the rail industry. However, this has not dissuaded Kumar from trying.
“Everyone keeps telling us we don’t have female graduates, we can’t find females in shop floor roles, we can’t find tradeswomen. It’s a reality too, and it’s not easy to find if you advertise, but we said, ‘Are we going to stop at this problem or are we going to find a way?’”
In addition to the traditional pathways into a manufacturing career such as apprenticeships and graduate programs that Bombardier offers, development plans were put in place to provide pathways for those who maybe not have been able to access the same training and education opportunities or who did not come from a traditional rail background.
One of these was TRANSIT. Set up by the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), the initiative highlights potential rail careers to those from other sectors that were in decline, in particular the automotive sector. Also, in collaboration with LXRA, Bombardier partnered on GROW, which seeks to introduce people from marginalised or disadvantaged backgrounds – including asylum seekers, refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – to training and employment opportunities in the transport and construction industries. A third program that Kumar invested in is the Overseas-Qualified Professionals program, run by Melbourne Polytechnic, which provides a pathway for those with international qualifications to have their training recognised in Australia.
“In a conventional world, individuals from these programs would have found it difficult to get through because they either didn’t have the skills, the background, or the education,” said Kumar. “We have broken those barriers; they prove themselves during internship programs and they considered against any open position in Bombardier.
“We focused on these unconventional ways of getting talent in and once they’re in, then we make sure that they have a buddy and a mentor to put them on the journey.” Most of our OQP employees are doing a fantastic job, said Kumar.
These approaches are leading to success at Bombardier, with the female workforce introduced to manufacturing roles working on the Dandenong shop floor, another first in Bombardier’s long history at the site. There are six women working in various roles currently, and recently, two more female electricians have been selected to join the manufacturing workforce. A similar very structured approach is being followed in our services site in West Melbourne, where we now have four female employees in shop floor roles.
“Now we are starting to see cycles building, so all those efforts now are seeing fruition after a two-year journey,” said Kumar.
A now common element of corporate reporting is metrics which measure diversity. Often measured at the board level, these metrics can also be across a company as a whole. For Bombardier, the company globally tracks the number of women in management roles.
Beneath these headline figures, Kumar points out, is a focus on ensuring there is a pipeline of diverse expertise, and not only based on gender. In addition, diversity is not always captured in clear percentage figures.
“What we have done locally is look at how many women we have in succession plans to leadership because we always need to invest and ask if we have that pipeline of talent. Then we also look at diverse nationalities. This is a hard one to track in a place like Australia. For example, I myself came from India and I moved here in 2004. So, when I put my application down now what do I call myself, an Australian with an Indian background? I would not because I have got an Australian passport, I am Australian. We have done informal mapping, and in Dandenong itself we have over 30 different nationalities represented in some shape or form.”
Another focus is ensuring that the diversity is spread throughout the business, and not only in roles that are traditionally associated with a gender or cultural background.
“Sometimes there are good numbers on diversity but that 10 per cent or 20 per cent figure is skewed because a chunk of it is getting picked up by these traditional functions. In Australia, we are focusing on where we struggle, and that is in what we call conventional rail roles, and that’s building trains, maintaining them and also rail signalling,” said Kumar.
The final area that goes beyond a simple statistic is the retention rate. A diverse hiring policy is no use if the staff come and go through a revolving door, so Bombardier is looking closely at the reasons for a person leaving the organisation to see where it can do better.
“Most people will say I’m going to a new company for career progression but why could we not provide those avenues internally? We will track that to gather that information and then try and make some initiatives to bridge those gaps,” said Kumar.
THE VALUE OF A DIVERSE ORGANISATION
While academic research has proven that diverse organisations are more productive and profitable, as Kumar points out, for an organisation like Bombardier the value of inclusion is self-evident. With products and services operating in over 60 countries and approximately 36,000 employees, working across cultural boundaries is essential.
“Having a workforce that’s inclusive is the cornerstone of delivering projects, that’s how we survive.”
For example, the high capacity signalling system for the Metro Tunnel Project in Melbourne that Bombardier is delivering as part of the Rail Systems Alliance, brings together Australia and Thailand based teams along with other sites around the world. Similarly, the locally designed New Generation Rollingstock for the South East Queensland network are a collaboration between Bombardier teams in Australia and India.
“If we are not a diverse and inclusive organisation, we will start to see it in our delivery, in our products in the way they’re made and developed,” said Kumar.
In 2021, Bombardier will be doubling down on these efforts in Australia with the introduction of a hiring process that is blind to gender, sexuality, religion, marital status, and age, to remove any forms of unconscious bias.
“We are almost ready with a standard format,” said Kumar. “When CVs come in, they come in all fancy shapes and forms, some have got a vision statement, some have got objectives, so we’re going to remove that. We’re going to standardise our format. We’re going to say if someone is interested in Bombardier we want you to put your inputs into these broad categories and we don’t want your name, we don’t want your sexual orientation, religious beliefs, whether you’re married or not, your date of birth and also any reference to your gender.”
While such company-wide efforts are making a difference, as Kumar points out, there are stories every day that showcase why it is always important to keep a focus on diversity and inclusion within rail.
“In 2019, one of the graduates from the GROW community was telling me that he was the first in line from his whole family to ever get into a professional job. He had a double degree in engineering but was working part time as a home removalist. There was a graduate position coming up and I got a call from our LXRA contact saying you should have a look at this young engineering graduate. I said, ‘Not a problem, we will put him through the process.’ Now that guy is doing a fantastic job based in our West Melbourne site.”
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 ara.net.au
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.
More women than ever are participating in the rail industry, survey results released today show.
The Australasian Rail Association’s (ARA) 2018-2019 Gender Diversity Survey has recorded a six per cent improvement in the percentage of women in the rail workforce. Women now make up 27 per cent of the rail industry workforce. 22 per cent of management roles are now held by women, a 3 per cent increase.
Announcing the results, ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said that while the figures are positive, there is more that can be done.
“While it is great to see these improvements across the industry, women’s participation in rail remains below the national average and shows there is still more work to do.”
The sector also saw a dramatic jump in the number of organisations that have employer funded paid parental leave, rising from 16 per cent in 2016-2017 to 62 per cent in 2018-2019.
The survey builds upon the ARA’s Women in Rail Strategy, which was launched in 2017. The Strategy focuses on attraction and promotion, improved networks, retention, and national benchmarking to encourage gender diversity in the rail industry.
The survey has highlighted organisations within the rail industry that are making a concerted effort to have a gender diverse workforce. 86 per cent of organisations have formal policies or strategies to support gender diversity, and over half have specific recruitment policies or strategies to improve gender balance. Furthermore, three quarters had policies in support of flexible work arrangements in place.
“We have seen a really strong push to attract more women to the industry and retain those already in the industry since our last survey and expect to see further improvements on these outcomes in the near future,” said Wilkie.
The survey included responses from 42 organisations working in the rail industry, which combined represent over 50,000 employees.
The sector with the highest proportion of women were consultants, with 38 per cent. Consultants also had the highest proportion of respondents with gender diversity policies or strategies, with 100 per cent of respondents reporting a policy or sector.
Women made up a lower proportion of non-manger roles such as clerical and administrative roles, and sales roles in the 2018-2019 survey, however the proportion of women in technicians and trade and labourers roles rose. There were jumps in the proportion of women in key management personnel, other executives/general managers, and senior managers.