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Insights How are women making an impact on Australia's railways?

The engineering sector, particularly the rail industry, relies on problem solvers. Problem solvers will use their training, ingenuity, creative thinking, past experiences, and background to develop the most effective approaches. This is why diversity in the sector is so vital. It needs a diverse team that brings its unique skillsets together to move the industry forward.

Australia has a big focus on increasing diversity in the rail industry, especially on bringing more women into the sector. As of last year, women account for 24% of the railway workforce, with women representing 27% of governing body chairs.

While these figures show a steady increase, the industry and governing bodies know that more needs to be done to help more women make an impact in the sector. The CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, Caroline Wilkie, explains:

"As the rail industry grows, we will need the best and brightest to propel the industry forward, and we can only achieve that if we are a truly diverse industry. Put simply, if we don't have a diverse workforce, we are missing out on talent".

The impact women make in the industry

Finances and revenue

There is a clear business case for improving diversity across all industries. A McKinsey study has shown that it is possible to increase GDP by 26% through equally diversifying the workforce. Another study has found that companies that employ an equal number of men and women achieve 41% higher revenue.

In Australia, the rail industry currently contributes over $29.8 billion to the economy. However, with significant investment planned in the industry over the next 15 years, this could add significantly more, especially when diversity is increased.

Sustainable innovation

In an ever-advancing rail industry, innovation is paramount. In the next decade, the rail industry will focus on increasing its sustainability to become a green way to travel while also playing a vital role in supporting the infrastructure of smart cities.

Australia is ready to support this with a $155 billion investment in the rail industry. This investment in innovation could deliver greater returns with a focus on diversity. Especially as studies show that diverse teams are 1.7x more innovative than their non-diverse counterparts and are 87% more effective at decision making.

Engagement and support

Another significant benefit of increasing gender diversity in the rail industry is how employee engagement increases. Research suggests employees are 83% more likely to be engaged when working for inclusive companies. As a result, it's no surprise that more than two-thirds of jobseekers prioritise companies that have a diverse workforce.

In Australia's rail industry, support is seen as a huge driver in improving diversity. For example, the Women In Industry awards work to celebrate the contributions of women in engineering, raising the profiles and evidencing how diverse teams deliver innovation and excellence.

Aishwarya told us about her experience working on Australia’s railways

“I’m Aishwarya and I graduated from University of New South Wales with a Master’s Degree in electrical engineering. As part of my final year project, I was working on sustainable redox batteries with the goal of decarbonizing the industry. The energy and transportation sectors, which are the world's two largest carbon-emitting industries, sparked my interest. When I was exploring SNC–Lavalin, I found that their commitment to zero emissions and company value to innovation aligned with my goals.

Before attaining a graduate role at SNC–Lavalin, I worked as an intern for six months and absolutely loved the dynamic and supportive work environment. I was a part of the Transport Advisory team, but I was not restricted to working in just one team. I worked across many teams and learned quite a bit, which was an essential attribute for me in a graduate program.

The ability to work on a variety of projects, as well as being part of a supportive team, gets me excited about my job. I'm not locked into doing the same thing day after day; there's always something else to do, such as multi-disciplinary projects, training courses, bidding activities, or supporting business development. There are countless opportunities for learning, and you are always encouraged to take advantage of them.

Yarra Trams Z & A Class Life Extension Program was my first rolling stock project, where I helped develop sub-system specifications for upgrading the door control unit and the traction package (traction motor and controller) for market engagement. It was an incredible experience to work on one of the world's oldest and longest tram networks, to reverse engineer 70-year-old manuals, and discover how the sub-system interacts.

I'm passionate about decarbonizing the transportation industry and enjoy learning about new technology. I've worked on a depot electrification bid for the introduction of 34 electric buses in Canberra, as well as a hydrogen fuel cell-based proof of concept design to establish a business case for retrofitting a diesel freight locomotive. I loved the creative aspect of creating a reference hydrogen train to calculate its consumption.

Working at SNC–Lavalin has taught me to have an open mind while tackling any task. For example, I was requested to assist as a project management resource on the MetroNet Independent Certifier. My initial impression was that it may not align with my objective of working on technical projects, but by assisting as PM support, I learned more about the systems our SMEs are working on, which helped me narrow my focus area. Following that, I asked a colleague whether I could be assigned to review documents on minor electrical systems, and I've been involved in technical reviews since then.

The best part of my job is the support I get from my team to work on new and innovative technologies. I expressed a great interest in working on decarbonisation initiatives such as electric and hydrogen-powered transportation, and SNC–Lavalin provided me with a global platform to learn from specialists. In 2022, I want to continue learning and developing in different sectors."

Make your impact with AtkinsRéalis

With innovative technologies and significant investment in the booming Australian railway sector, there has never been a better time to advance your engineering career.

With diversity at the forefront, we welcome different perspectives, ideas and innovations that can deliver high-performing projects that offer wide-reaching improvements to the industry and region as a whole.

If you're excited to be part of a high-performing, diverse and supportive team working on exciting, innovative engineering projects in the rail industry, check out the latest career opportunities available in Australia. You can also stay updated with job openings by signing up to receive engineering job alerts.