Our rail women celebrate Women in Engineering day

Our rail women celebrate Women in Engineering day

Women from the Thameslink Programme and its contractors, along with Network Rail’s south east region, gathered at the site of a massive railway construction project to celebrate Women in Engineering Day (Tuesday, June 23).

Set up by the Women’s Engineering Society, the national day is designed to raise the profile of engineering and to encourage more women to join the industry.

The Bermondsey Dive Under, part of the £6.5bn government-sponsored Thameslink Programme, was the site for the photo shoot with 32 railway staff. Network Rail, which is delivering the programme, has set itself a target of increasing the proportion of women in the firm from a current base of 14 per cent.

Network Rail’s director of diversity and inclusion, Loraine Martins, said: ““The railway industry is a great place to work and I encourage all women, and particularly those young women who are choosing their topics to study, to see the railway and engineering  as exciting and rewarding environments.

“Diversity and inclusion is important in our sector particularly if you are serious about improving performance and its safety. We know that where you have a diverse workforce you get greater creativity and innovation, and where you are inclusive you attract the best people.  And we want the best people to join us to help deliver our ambitious plans for the future or our railway.”

Among the initiatives set up by Network Rail to make the business more attractive to women, are a women’s staff network and a flexible working policy, designed to help overcome a significant barrier for women in the workplace. The company is also a key partner in the Women in Rail group, which was set up specifically to provide networking opportunities and support for all women within the UK rail industry.


Sharon Fink
Sharon Fink

Sharon Fink, health and safety manager, Network Rail, has a 3 year old boy, Max.

“I’ve been working in the railway industry for 20 years. I changed my career through that time, as I started in HR where there were more women. Now on the civil engineering side of the business there are more women than the railway side, which is more male dominated. When you come to sites such as London Bridge and Bermondsey Dive Under it tends to be more women.

“Having a young child can be difficult at times but my husband and I have learned how to negotiate our weeks and we start the week with our diaries and plan out who is dropping off and who is picking up. And it works well.

“Network Rail has been very supportive and the company has supported me through and through with all the line managers I’ve had. I think the age profile of the managers I’ve had means they tend to be family orientated and have been through it or going through it themselves.

“Many years ago it used to be seen as a macho industry but that’s not the case any more and actually the men look out for you.  I’ve found that being a woman is an advantage as we can have conversations with men that they cannot with other guys.”

Erin Henderson
Erin Henderson

Erin Henderson, 19, telecommunications apprentice, Siemens Rail Automation

“I took biology, psychology and politics in the sixth form, which was totally random as I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time. It was really my dad who inspired me to join the engineering industry because he works in the railway industry and he really loves his job.

“Engineering has a huge impact on every aspect of our lives and it allows us to use science to our advantage and achieve things we once thought were impossible.

“I thought about going to University but I wanted to start working so I joined the apprenticeship scheme. There are quite a few women in the office but when I’m out on the track there are much fewer; but it’s fine, the guys are very respectful. I enjoy practical work and want to continue that in the future.”

Lettie Todd
Lettie Todd

Lettie Todd, 25, Assistant Design Engineer, Network Rail, Wessex Route, became a mum in 2014

“My dad has been a telecoms engineer for most of his life and I remember the times he would take me to the office when I was younger. I would look at his designs and think that my dad makes a difference’.

“I started off as an electrician on the railway in 2009, and then I progressed to become an electrical engineer. I’ve now become an assistant design engineer, so I’ve gone from fixing systems to designing them.

“I hated electrics at school and it was always men coming to tell us about the railway and men coming to tell us about engineering systems. We need women going in and explaining what you can progress to, especially to 16 year olds.

“I love the fact that when I go to work I create new things that will help people in their daily lives, that’s why I ended up in engineering.

“I would encourage more women to join the railway – people say it’s hard to go on track and fix things but it’s not, if you are willing to put the work in it’s fine.

“I became a parent in 2014 and it’s going brilliantly. I can do flexi-work and it’s fantastic what Network Rail can provide for mums.”

Irma Vermaning
Irma Vermaning

Irma Vermaning, route control manager, Kent route, Network Rail

“I’ve been on the railway for 20 years. I started off as a train manager for Eurostar, before I applied for a job as an incident control manager and moved on from there.

“I didn’t actually know I was the only woman route control manager in the country until someone pointed it out to me.

“My partner used to be a control manager as well so he understands exactly what I’m doing. When I joined the railway I didn’t know what to expect but I came to love it and 20 years later I still do. I still love the job and no two days are the same. You come to work not knowing what you are going to be doing that day, which is great.”

Debbie Bewley
Debbie Bewley

Debbie Bewley, sustainability manager, Carillion, working on the Thameslink Programme

“I was inspired to join the industry by sustainability – I studied it at university and I’ve worked in the business for 20 years and I’ve  seen more women joining since I started, but there is still more that needs to be done to encourage women into the industry and inspire young women.

“I think engineering is an area that women see as being male dominated – which it is – but it’s actually very woman-friendly when you’re here. I feel I’ve been treated as an equal and I’ve progressed to a senior level quite quickly. There’s great opportunities in rail.

Hannah Saxty
Hannah Saxty

Hannah Saxty, project manager for minor civils, Network Rail , working on the Thameslink Programme

“I joined the railway straight from university in 2002 and I’ve been on the Thameslink Programme for nine years. I did a degree in electrical and electronic engineering.  My dad was an engineer and he encouraged me, but it was definitely something I decided for myself.

“There are more women working in the railway now especially on a big project like Thameslink. I would encourage women to work in engineering. It’s hard work at times but it is very rewarding and I love being out on site, it’s the bit of the job I enjoy the most.

“I’ve got a good balance of being in the office and out on site and able to see the planning that goes into things. You can see what you have been working towards being delivered.

“It’s a great feeling.”