‘How I’m pressing for progress on International Women’s Day and beyond’
Network Rail supports International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018.
At last year’s International Women’s Day event hosted by Women in Rail West Midlands, on the theme of ‘Be Bold for Change’, Rajinder Pryor, engagement lead for the Digital Railway programme and career development lead for Network Rail’s Inspire gender equality network, told her story in her own words for the first time.
It was a courageous moment for the Network Rail employee and a personal turning point in her own press for progress.
The events of the following year have taken Rajinder by surprise but have begun a new chapter in her life, as she uses her voice and her skills to support and inspire others.
As part of the Inspire leadership team she is passionate about the group’s focus on creating a fair and supportive environment for all gender identities working in Network Rail and building an organisation which is seen externally as an employer of choice. Through promoting greater gender balance, Inspire aims to build a culture of inclusivity and equal opportunity across Network Rail.
Rajinder is also a proactive advocate in inspiring girls about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) career opportunities, delivering the ‘People Like Me’ approach developed in conjunction with the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign.
“I shared a deeply personal and still very painful story for the first time, after over 30 years, at an event hosted by Women in Rail West Midlands to mark International Women’s Day 2017.
“I disclosed details of ‘honour-based’ violence and domestic abuse at the hands of those that I loved and trusted – initially by my own family and later at the hands of the partner for whom I sacrificed everything, leading to me being estranged from my family since my early teens.
“My journey of self-empowerment – where I took control and seized power to ultimately change the course of my own life – is a story with lessons for us all to draw from, especially women who may have similar experiences.
“2017 was an extraordinary year in my life, and becoming an active member of the Network Rail Inspire gender equality network was a turning point.
“I am indebted to colleagues across all levels in our organisation and in the industry who have supported in transforming and rebuilding me to become the strong, courageous woman I am today – a journey that has taken many years.
“I have drawn on all the skills I have acquired through my career and now use my voice to inspire men and women regardless of how challenging I find it to speak about some of my experiences. I tell of my story to inspire others to speak out whenever they came across violence in any form.
“This includes talking about issues such as gender equality and violence, delivering a speech at the Annual Women in Rail Conference, ‘Why gender inequality hurts us all’. Earlier, in November 2017, I gave a speech at an event in support of the White Ribbon Campaign, which was live streamed to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
“Next week I will be speaking about Diversity and Inclusion at an event hosted by one of our delivery partners working for the Digital Railway Programme.
“The confidence and public speaking skills I have gained through coaching have been invaluable. Skills such as these are so important in business and beyond, which is why as career development lead I supported in the delivery of the Inspire career development day last year. I worked with two highly experienced and talented public speakers who volunteered their time – Jill Segal and Lyn Roseaman, my former coach – to deliver public speaking workshops at the day.
“My experience with being part of the Inspire leadership team has also helped me to get the most from Network Rail’s senior leadership programme. I completed this last year and it has allowed me to reflect on the kind of leader I want to be. I realised that my strength is to inspire others through my speaking, so I have focused on this as I know it can make a difference.
“More importantly for me, my public speaking has helped me find a way to vocalise what I had experienced so I could explain to my daughters, who were growing up and asking me difficult questions. It was no longer about me, but about them and the future generation.
“Where my mother was uneducated and unempowered, I fought to have a voice and to make my own choices. Now my eldest daughter is in the enviable position where she has the freedom and the support to be whatever she chooses.
“I have taken home the training I have had through the WISE People Like Me campaign, which Inspire supports, and used it to encourage my daughter, who has now chosen to study STEM subjects and as an RAF cadet is looking to enter the field of engineering.
Above: Network Rail employees go into schools as part of the People Like Me programme
“Now, I feel more committed than ever to push for progress and drive change. I am currently working with Working Chance, a charity to support women ex-offenders into the workplace, by facilitating workshops on speaking with confidence to assist them in finding work. I know full well how some less thought out decisions can be life-changing and how the formative years of our lives are crucial.
“Since speaking at several events I have had a number of women share their stories with me, and I would urge others to seek support if they haven’t. It has taken me a long time to realise that speaking up is not a weakness – it shows great courage.
“Finally, each and every one of us should reflect on how our behaviours can impact our colleagues.
“No one knows the full story behind the person sitting next to us at work. None of us brings half of ourselves to work. We bring our personal and professional selves to work and we should respect each other.
“This is my story of how I have fought to press for progress.”
The WISE campaign’s People Like Me initiative is a revolutionary approach that uses girls’ natural tendency to create and articulate their self-identity with adjectives to help them see themselves working happily and successfully in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM).
It aims to equip teachers and STEM Ambassadors with materials that can show girls aged 11-14 from a diverse range of backgrounds that, if they continue with at least one STEM subject post-16, they are likely to have better career prospects and more career choice. It aims to show girls where people like them are happy and successful in their work.