Gender diversity on the agenda for Network Rail chief executive at Everyone summit

Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, spoke about gender diversity at our Everyone summit in October.

New research undertaken by Network Rail has found that better performing teams are those that are diverse in their make-up, especially in their gender mix.

Teams that are evenly balanced between men and women perform best while a 20 per cent critical minimum threshold mix delivers notable improvements including:

  • more engaged and motivated teams
  • lower sickness rates
  • more productive
  • more collaborative.

Other initiatives revealed by Mr Carne in the speech include:

  • acting to reduce gender stereotyping of children that limits their options and potential
  • changing the way Network Rail recruits to attract women
  • retaining more female employee by creating a more inclusive work culture
  • making sure Network Rail’s best women are supported to progress within the business.

‘Why gender diversity matters’


Below are some of the highlights from Mark Carne’s speech. Read the speech in full.

On our Speeches web page you’ll find speeches from our executive on topics including innovation, the future of rail and what Control Period 6 (2019-2024) holds for us. Full transcripts and presentations are available for download.

Why 20 per cent?

McKinsey has already done some fantastic work around gender parity and productivity. Their first ‘Women Matter’ study showed that where there are three or more women in a senior management team, those organisations have higher than average scores of organisational excellence.


But I wanted to see if this held true at Network Rail. So we carried out our own smaller research project looking at our own teams.


At Network Rail, teams with 20 per cent or more women were more engaged.


We found out that teams with more than 20 per cent women are more collaborative.


We found out that teams with more than 20 per cent women are safer.


We found out that teams with more than 20 per cent women are more motivated.


And in teams with up to 40 per cent women these scores have got even higher.


The results of our research are clear.


20 per cent is a critical minimum threshold for positive gender impact and the closer teams get to an even gender balance, the better they get.


So we have set ourselves an initial challenge that all our business units need to have clear action plans to help them achieve the 20 per cent threshold.


And for those achieving 20 per cent already, we want them to set ambitious plans to improve further still.

STEM and early engagement

There are simply not enough young women studying STEM subjects – science, technology and maths – after the age of 16. Girls do just as well as boys in STEM subjects at GCSE, yet only 20 per cent of girls go on to do maths and science A Levels. This number is virtually unchanged in 25 years.


At university, only 16 per cent of engineering students are women. Compared to 30 per cent in India.


And only 47 per cent of female engineering and tech students actually pursue a career in the sector after their studies – 20 per cent fewer than their male counterparts.


This means that, by the time we are looking to recruit into technical roles we are already fishing in too small a pool. Just 14 per cent of applicants for graduate engineering roles at Network Rail are female.

Some research we commissioned with child psychologists, Innovation Bubble, told us that female role models working in engineering are a critical influence in changing young women’s attitudes about engineering as a profession.


This is why we are working with an excellent programme run by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) called ‘People Like Me’ – where our women in technical roles go into schools and talk to girls about their work.

On International Women’s Day we had 43 of our female employees visiting schools up and down the country as part of the ‘People Like Me’ initiative. Over the next years we will train a further 100 people as part of this programme, to engage with young people.

Recruitment and leadership training

We need to provide support for our managers to help them understand the positive impact that difference can bring and how to offer the right kind of support for a new member of the team that might feel like they’re in a minority.


That is why out flourishing staff networks are so important. That is why I’m so proud that we have over 400 members of Archway, our LGBT network.


And what about unconscious bias? Harder to tackle but just as damaging. This is why we have introduced anonymous or ‘name-blind’ shortlisting to eliminate any chance of bias affecting which candidates we take forward.


This is why we have rolled out ‘Inclusive Leadership Training’, which includes a focus on unconscious bias.


That’s why I’m making this training mandatory for all hiring managers at Network Rail. From April 2018 you won’t be able to lead recruitment in my business unless you’ve done it.


The other key change I’m making is to put diversity and inclusion into the objectives of my top team and our route managing directors.


This will make them personally responsible for driving improvements in diversity and inclusion within their respective business units.

Unfinished business

I’ll be honest, business productivity is not the only reason that I get up in the morning determined to improve gender diversity at Network Rail.


The truth is that we live in a world where 51 per cent of people are women and our workforce should reflect that.


We provide a public service and we will do a better job if the people who work for us reflect those we serve.


The truth is that the stories of the laddish boys’ club atmosphere in parts of our industry make me angry.


The truth is that as a leader, a manager, a husband and a father what troubles me most is the thought that the talented women in my life might not reach their potential because men like me did not do enough.


Gender equality is definitely unfinished business, but I want the railway to play its part in finishing what it helped start a hundred years ago.

Find out more

Network Rail careers

Diversity and inclusion

Including everyone (our employee networks)