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Insights The future's bright for women in rail engineering: Here's why.

Fiona started with us just over two years ago as a Graduate Engineer in the Rail Consulting Practice. Today she's a consultant in the Transportation division's Strategic Rail Markets team at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. In her role, Fiona supports business development opportunities, identifies market trends and looks at how our services can adapt to clients' ever-changing needs. She's currently supporting Great British Railways' transition into the future and working towards her chartership.

image of Fiona collecting an award
How is your chartership going?

I'm enjoying it. My chartership is with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and it will take a minimum of four years. At Atkins, I'm enrolled in the Monitored Professional Development Scheme (MPDS) with a dedicated mentor to guide me and assess my reports. I submit quarterly updates on my work and progress towards the required key competencies. These include technical engineering, commercial management, communication skills and other important considerations, such as social, environmental, and ethics.

What would you like to do after your chartership?

Long term, I see myself leading a team. However, in which specialism, I'm yet to work out! At Atkins, I’m able to experience a wide range of projects, so it’s really helping me understand what I do (and also what I don’t!) enjoy about different roles. In general, I'd like to understand more about how businesses operate, adapt and develop through changing markets. 

How would you like to #BreakTheBias in your industry?

Roughly 85,000 people work in the rail industry, yet out of this number, only 14,000 are female. The distribution is even lower for certain roles, such as engineers or train drivers. Historically, the industry has been painted as "just for boys. " This is far from the truth. We must continue to change this perception by encouraging girls to study STEM subjects and ensuring we have visible role models to look up to. 

Do you have a female role model at the organization?

Jill Sellers, Practice Manager of Permanent Way. I undertook a summer placement with Rail Consulting Practice in 2018. At the time, I was completing my engineering degree and was unsure if engineering was right for me. Luckily Jill took me under her wing, inspiring me into engineering by showing me the wide variety of career paths in the rail industry. I admire Jill's strong ability to work with everyone, delivering to a high standard while maintaining a sense of fun on the job.

What personal goals have you achieved while at Atkins?

I recently took part in "Three Peaks by Rail" in aid of "Railway Children." The challenge is to climb our nation's highest mountains, Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. The total walking distance is 23 miles, and the total ascent is 3,064 metres. Around 200 people took part in the challenge. We scaled the peaks back to back, taking a charter train between them. 

It took our team of four about 36 hours and involved climbing part of Snowdon and Ben Nevis throughout the night. It was incredibly tough – both mentally and physically. But our team raised over £3,500 for the Charity, which supports children who have nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

You're National Vice-Chair of Young Rail Professionals (YRP)—can you tell us more about your role.

With support from Atkins, I volunteer for YRP. The organization provides people around the UK with opportunities for Professional Development and Networking with peers, including technical seminars, presentations, site visits and socials. YRP aims to promote the rail industry as a great place to work, inspire the next generation of railway talent, and develop young people to reach their potential.

According to industry estimates, the rail sector will require up to 120,000 additional people to simply run the railways and deliver new projects over the next five to ten years. The industry needs to do more to raise awareness of the opportunities available and challenge the misconceptions many have of a career in rail. 

YRP's "promote, inspire and develop" objectives do just that. Atkins' Corporate Membership funding is vital in ensuring YRP can continue to deliver its much-needed networking and development events. I'm proud to be a part of the initiative!

Why would you recommend engineering as a career for girls excited about STEM subjects?

I wanted to become an engineer as I enjoy solving complex problems and am very inquisitive about the world around me. I enjoy reflecting on how, what, and why projects are carried out to solve problems or improve inefficient processes. Engineering is an exciting career—no two days will ever be the same, and it's fulfilling to see your projects make a difference in the world.

What are some of the opportunities and achievements you've enjoyed #InsideAtkins?

My proudest moment was receiving the 'Future Leader' Award at the Rail Industry Association RISE Awards 2021. All my efforts within Atkins and Young Rail Professionals culminated to winning this award.

My most exciting project has been working with Transport for London to overhaul the Rolling Stock that runs along the Metropolitan Line. Growing up in London, it was fulfilling to contribute to a transport network familiar to me. 

A great opportunity was travelling to Sweden for another client, Bombardier Transportation. I worked with colleagues in Stockholm, visited their test facilities, and the client team showed me around their beautiful city!

How do you feel about the future of engineering?

This is the best time in history to get into an engineering career. Be it tackling healthcare in an ageing population or implementing "green" solutions because of the need for sustainability and environmental protection. Engineers will be required to do so much more in the future.