By Harriet Berwick, Director of Retail Products at SilverRail

Improving gender diversity in the workplace has always been a long game. In fact, in the technology sector, females only represent 24% of the workforce.

This figure becomes even more evident against the backdrop of the rail industry – in Network Rail the last available figures (2021) showed that women make up just 12.9% of its workforce.

But that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing a career in the rail industry. If anything, it’s made me even more determined to shine a light on the steps we need to take to build greater diversity, and welcome more women into our fast-paced industry.

From geography to technology

However, I didn’t start working in rail or in technology overnight. Nearly 15 years ago, once I had filled my thirst for travelling, my career trajectory took an unexpected, but exciting turn. If I reflect on my career path, with a degree in Physical Geography and a passion for environmental issues, the synergy with rail technology was always there.

Starting with an entry position at a technology start-up that concentrated on the UK rail market, I ended up building up my marketing and account management skill set, and over time, growing into a role as Head of Product. Although my educational roots weren’t clearly aligned, the shift provided me with all the foundational skills and knowledge I needed to commit to a career in technology.

However, when I did start out, it was no surprise that I began to realise that I was the youngest and the only woman in the room. Although the gender gap speaks for itself, and I was working within a male-dominated sector, I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never had anyone treat me any differently for being a woman. That’s not to say that I haven’t struggled, at times, with striking the right balance between assertiveness and authenticity. It’s been a journey to find myself in a place where I feel I am able to confidently share my insights and opinions.

But, as I hope many people come to realise at a pivotal stage in their career, the most important thing is to remain true to yourself. Over time, this became my strength. I allowed myself to lead, and combine logic and empathy in such a way that it held true to who I am as a person.

The point around empathy is an important one. I believe that emotion, empathy and a high regard for emotional intelligence (EQ) are qualities that should be celebrated, and can be a very strong benefit in the workplace.

The diversity switch

Today, I am primarily focused on our white-label booking website and mobile apps at SilverRail. The UK Rail industry is complex and fragmented, something which we’re determined to help fix here at SilverRail, by building a digital infrastructure that makes rail easy for all: travellers, carriers and travel agencies.

It was at SilverRail when I realised the impact that diversity could have on workplace satisfaction; not to mention how it can transform the way you approach projects and undertake decision-making, or simply how it can bolster different skill sets within the organisation.

Approximately a third of our team are women, including two of our C-Suite level roles, and we’re determined to keep making progress here. We truly believe that with the right processes and approach, we can foster an environment where women can thrive and lead. And, hopefully, we can show women that they do have a place in the rail industry. By building a workplace that prioritises healthy attitudes to work, openness and transparency, we can encourage more women to consider careers in rail and technology. Ultimately, the door can and should be open.

I’m incredibly proud to work for a business that empowers flexible working arrangements, specifically the unique needs of people from all walks of life. For instance, we have a close working partnership with Hertility Health, a hormone and fertility support platform, which places us all supporting reproductive responsibility – just one off the list.

But this is, of course, a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to finding your ‘dream role’.

My key advice to young women considering a career in tech or rail is to think carefully about the people who inspire you. Find yourself a mentor who can help you navigate an organisation and your career – all it takes is one person to believe in you and help you develop your skills. I’ve always had the privilege of working with good people: knowledgeable people and people who gave me a chance when I didn’t have the full experience. But having that one key person to take you under their wing, believe in you and help you develop your skills, can make all the difference.

The next stop

Looking ahead, I’m excited about the potential for a future where gender inclusivity is the norm in the rail and tech sectors. Engaging with educational institutions, promoting flexible work cultures, and celebrating the unique qualities women bring to the table are crucial steps for bridging the gender gap.

It can even come down to day-to-day project and product milestones. For me, enabling users to gain real value out of something I have helped to build is the most rewarding aspect of my job. As a regular commuter into London myself, I tend to use my own experiences as a passenger to shape what I work on and prioritise, so I do see huge amounts of value in what we are producing.

The future demands a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion, not as a box-ticking exercise but as a strategic one. It’s about creating mentorship opportunities, fostering supportive networks, and ensuring that women have a seat at the table where decisions are made.

It’s not just about creating pathways for women to follow but about ensuring those pathways lead to a landscape where equality is the norm, and the contributions of all are valued and trusted.

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