Philippa Creswell APPG Women in Transport Reception 3

“We’re committed to retaining and increasing the number of women at all levels of the business”

Avanti West Coast’s Executive Director of Onboard Customer Experience reflects on the diversity of the railway’s workforce.

26 October 2022 

Avanti West Coast’s Executive Director of Onboard Customer Experience, Philippa Creswell tells of her experience working in rail for 20 years, after the West Coast Partnership sponsored the All-Party Parliament Group (APPG) for Women in Transport Reception.

To be representing women, and to have experienced working in rail for over two decades, I feel proud not only of the journey the industry has come on, but the opportunities and culture it embraces – not just gender but diversity in general.

Rail has really started to champion and embrace diversity – it facilitates conversations in the workplace about people’s gender, disability, race, and ethnicity, and engages with those outside of the industry to make rail an attractive career option for all by showcasing the vast array of roles and opportunities available through workshops, panel discussions, and school visits.  

This shift is evident here at West Coast Partnership. Nearly 50% of Avanti West Coast’s Executive Leadership Team are women, which I’m proud to be a part of. The other strand of our business (West Coast Partnership Development) is headed up by Managing Director, Shamit Gaiger and previously by Caroline Donaldson.

Philippa Creswell APPG Women in Transport Reception 1

When I first joined the railway, I was met with a stereotypical split – with more women in marketing and HR roles, and operations being exclusively white male. This felt an uncomfortable space to go into. However, the train operator’s rapid shift to customer service being a key differentiator and focus for the business meant some of the traditional barriers had to be addressed. The outcome for all was extremely positive.

I then moved on to become a consultant – working across bids for several rail franchises. With female bid directors, engineering directors, and fleet directors, it became increasingly obvious the gender balance was shifting.  

“Change, if managed well, can bring opportunity. I have witnessed that and feel myself and colleagues are witnesses to that now.”

Now I’m back working for a train operator I feel diversity is becoming ever more prominent. At Avanti West Coast we’re committed to retaining and increasing the number of women at all levels of the business, as well as supporting them to take advantage of the wide range of career opportunities we offer. In partnership with our parent company, FirstGroup, we’re delivering women-only development programmes aimed at leadership in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

These are designed to prepare women for their first management or supervisory role or build leadership capabilities as well as confidence for those who have management experience and potential to progress further.  

We’re also using targeted recruitment to increase the number of women in what have typically been considered positions for men. To attract women for train driver positions we set up several recruitment clinics last year to guide individuals through applying for the role. Our focus in this area has seen us reach a higher number of women applying for driver positions (12.6%) compared to the industry average (6.5%). We’re committed to improving this figure.  

Alongside our recruitment campaigns, we’ve designed a toolkit for hiring managers to help them better understand inclusive recruitment processes and employment law.

Our Pride Train, gender, race and ethnicity, (dis)ability, and LGBQT+ networks are some examples of how we’re creating an inclusive workforce. There’s still a way to go to ensure we’re representative of the customers and communities we serve. Our people are crucial to that, which is why having networks to engage them in areas of diversity helps create a safe space for conversations and build a balanced workforce.

Change, if managed well, can bring opportunity. I have witnessed that and feel myself and colleagues are witnesses to that now – we have women holding senior positions in what would have been viewed as typically male roles in the past. We’re also seeing women in the business swap their office desk for the train driver’s cab.

It is possible to drive change yourself. Bringing together women from across the transport sector to network and engage in conversation around gender diversity is a great way to do this.

Philippa Creswell APPG Women in Transport Reception 2

So, it was extremely exciting to speak at the APPG for Women in Transport Reception. The APPG is a forum to tackle under-representation of women in transport and promote best practice in gender diversifying the workforce.

To have an audience of like-minded individuals with shared experiences and a passion to drive change was brilliant. Being a part of these forums makes me proud personally and professionally Sponsoring the event is part of West Coast Partnership’s commitment to making the rail industry more gender diverse.

The world is changing. Rail will continue to evolve, and our people are pivotal to this. By talking and raising awareness of demographic groups that historically have been under-represented, we can continue to stimulate progress.

Images (top to bottom): Philippa Creswell speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Women in Transport Reception; Philippa addresses attendees at the APPG Women in Transport Reception at the House of Commons