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Insights How does Rail Signalling keep our world moving forward?

Meet Alex Parsons, another of our leaders, passionate about creating spaces and places that matter. She has worked in Rail for over 20 years, across Signalling, operations and fleet, in consultancy and tech businesses. As Advanced Signalling Development and Delivery Director, she ensures our services meet the industry's evolving needs, helping shape the future of Signalling in the UK.

Alex's teams in Rail create the complex systems that keep trains running safely and efficiently. She and her team's deep industry knowledge encompasses innovation, integration and transformation. They're taking rail into the digital future, expanding our clients' flexibility, reliability and cost-efficiency while keeping commuters safe, comfortable and happy.

What are some of your interests in and out of work?

I love to travel and explore different cultures, architectures and environments. We all spend a lot of time at work, so I'm passionate about creating environments where we can all enjoy our roles and play to our collective strengths.

One of my interests at work is the 5th Industrial Revolution (5IR). The pandemic has accelerated the rise of robotics and digitalization. But, 5IR embodies systems such as AI, Big Data and the Internet of Things while placing greater importance on human intelligence than ever before. This people-centred digital transformation also improves sustainability and integrity throughout our value and supply chains.

Tell us a bit about your Signalling role.

I joined the business last year and am working with the Signalling and Rail businesses to develop our future Signalling strategy.

We're helping our clients grow fit for the future through decarbonization, sustainable solutions, and our global reach and regional operations. Our people and ideas are central to our strategy, and we've co-created a fantastic inclusive, diverse and energized environment.

I head up the NetZero task force. We're a great team of people from across our Infrastructure portfolio focused on developing Whole Life Carbon Management in Signalling.

I also co-lead the highly engaging Future of Transport catalyst initiative, with the remit being to inform decisions now in the Transportation Business to ensure we lead the market of the future. Focus areas range from how we will deliver work in the future to our investment strategy.

On top of that, I'm also working with Scott Kelley, Managing Director of Signalling, in his Global Rail Market Director role on the Global Rail Growth Strategy. Here we're looking to enhance our regional strategies with the power of our Global capability and influence. The strategy focuses on the geographic growth of core services.

What are some of the highlights of your time in Signalling?

• Meeting great people!
• Understanding the amazing capability and talent within the business.
• Seeing the opportunity for us in the Signalling market to be bold!
• The initiatives around inclusivity and diversity and being part of the ED&I Inclusive Workplace and Behaviours focus groups led by Stuart Court and Anne Attipoe.

What has it been like to be a woman in the Rail industry?

I've been proud to work with many open-minded leaders throughout my Rail journey.

Rail has traditionally been referred to as a 'male-oriented' career path. And I recognize that in my early career, I emulated the approaches of those around me, hoping to have the same experiences and opportunities. While this may have led to success at the time in my career, it wasn't without personal consequences leading me close to burnout for a long time.

Through pulling back from burnout, I've recognized the value of truly authentic leadership and diversity in leadership role models. I can't emphasize enough the importance of understanding your own strengths and unique contribution to a team, both to yourself and those around you. And it's OK if these are different from the people around you. Bringing your own authentic style brings diversity, and diversity brings inclusivity, innovation and a proven increase in Return On Investment.

Alex alongside her partner and dog smiling towards the camera

Have you or your colleagues experienced bias?

Interestingly, when I have been part of Leadership Teams—not in Atkins—that haven't had diversity of thought, I've experienced noticeable bias. Unconscious bias can be so deeply embedded in the way we accept and promote certain characteristics in one gender yet resist and prevent the same attributes in others. And I think this is true across the gender board—and indeed for gender identity, race and sexual orientation.

How have you overcome bias?

I found that a natural consequence of this bias was that compassion, empathy and vulnerability were also treated as weaknesses. Acknowledging this and increasing awareness of our unconscious beliefs and preferences alone can be a good first step.

I highly recommend seeking out Brené Brown's insightful TED Talk on 'The Power of Vulnerability.' She speaks about how true vulnerability is really quite the opposite of weakness and is a sign of great courage. Empathy in the workplace has been shown to increase the strength of client relationships, creativity and financial performance.

Challenging bias can feel difficult for many reasons, so it's important to seek allies and support throughout the process. It's imperative everyone finds a way, however small, to promote fairness and inclusivity in the workplace.

Do you think there's anything more Atkins could or should do to help to ‘Break the Bias’ in the industry?

I've learnt that we all have unconscious biases and that this is a growth journey. In the Signalling ED&I focus groups, we want to create safe spaces where we can share our thoughts, develop understanding and hopefully become effective allies. Creating this type of platform and sharing our great work with the rest of the industry and our supply chain will help us break the bias together.

Discover more about opportunities with our talented infrastructure team and search our live job vacancies.