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Press release -

​The Women of Govia Thameslink Railway - case studies

Rosie-Jayne Wiles, 20, is an Apprentice Electrical Engineer from Sandy, Bedfordshire, based at the operator’s Hornsey train servicing depot. She began her apprenticeship on the railway when she was 17 and had a three-month-old baby. Rosie had planned to become an English teacher and go to university, but she was drawn to the apprenticeship because it allowed her to learn and earn at the same time; she had also seen her mother, brother and cousin take on roles in the railway and believes that helped to draw her to the industry. Three years on and Rosie has been able to buy her first home and she will also be starting her Higher National Certificate (HNC) in electrical and electronic engineering in September. She said: “This is the type of independence the apprenticeship has given me. Everything I wanted to achieve at the end of my apprenticeship is on track to be a reality. I feel secure in the knowledge that I could quite easily have a job for life and am really proud to inspire other young women into the railway and particularly engineering. This is where I am supposed to be right now.”

Paula Hilliard, 48, is a Partnership Manager from Peterborough, based at Go-Ahead House in Croydon. She joined the railway in 1993 as a stewardess. Six months into the job, Paula was shocked when she fell pregnant; with no entitlement to maternity pay at the time, she returned to work just four weeks after her daughter was born. When her daughter was four years old and about to start school, Paula was thrilled to be made a Station Manager. She also became a deputy for the Area Manager. Paula later left GNER and worked for Network Rail and First Capital Connect as a Business Change Manager. She currently works for Govia Thameslink Railway in partnership with the Prince’s Trust to encourage young people into work on the railway. Paula said: “One thing I am proud of is to have had two children whilst working in the railway. My aim now is to ensure that I highlight the benefits of working on the railway as a woman. It has given me a good life and ultimately a nice life for my children and husband.”

Danielle Burton, 28, is a Senior Station Control Manager based at the Three Bridges Operating Centre. Danielle had gained a Masters in history, but was at a loss as to what to do following her studies. She initially worked as an intern social media manager for a celebrity boxer, but the hours were long and unsociable. Deciding she needed a change, Danielle kept an eye out for a new job. She hadn’t considered working on the railway before, but when she saw a role advertised for a Social Media Advisor at Three Bridges, she went for it.Danielle got the job and thrived in the position, which provided the foundation for her next role as Station Control Manager. As manager, Danielle brought in ground-breaking new industry software and took over line management responsibilities. She also leads a School Outreach Project for GTR to encourage more young people into the railway. Danielle said: “If you work hard and push yourself, you can achieve whatever you set your heart to. I am so passionate about exposing our business to the millions of young people who would never even consider the railway as a career path. There are so many opportunities for progression and self-development.”

Harriet Dee, 23, is an Apprentice Team Administrator for the People Development Team based at Go-Ahead House in Croydon. She started her apprenticeship at GTR eight months ago, having previously had summer jobs while at university. Throughout her education, no-one had suggested a career on the railway. It was using trains and her father’s enthusiasm for trains which led her to check on the GTR careers website. Harriet said: “Applying for an apprenticeship seemed like the perfect step for me in my journey into the world of work. Joining the Women’s Network Group at the beginning of my GTR career has allowed me to speak to others and hear their experiences. I am proud to be part of a network who are actively recognising and supporting women in GTR.”

Najla Almutairi, 27, is a Station Assistant based at London Victoria. Najla arrived in the UK from Saudi Arabia aged 16 with her mum, who had been offered a scholarship to study for a PhD. Najla went to school and college before gaining a degree in architecture, but it was during her studies that her mother fell seriously ill. After graduating, Najla spent a year and a half doing all sorts of part-time jobs while caring for her mum and looking after her younger siblings. However, she then began to seek a career to be in a better position to support her family. It was a daunting time as Najla didn’t know where to start and didn’t have a CV. Eventually she found the Prince’s Trust, who gave careers guidance and put her on the ‘Get Into Railways’ programme in partnership with Govia Thameslink Railway. Following a work placement, she landed a job as a Station Assistant and was given a supportive mentor. Najla, who is now giving back by acting as a Young Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, said: “I enjoy every day working on the railway. I love being part of our team and assisting passengers. My ambition is to progress into a management role and to develop leadership qualities to enable me to inspire and support more young people.”

Laura McDonald, 36, originally from Perth in Scotland and now living in South London is a Train Driver based at the Selhurst depot near Croydon. Prior to becoming a Train Driver, Laura had been working as an Accident and Emergency Nurse and had been a Staff Nurse for six years. Although she loved working as a nurse, it was an extremely stressful role. When a friend suggested becoming a driver, Laura went for it. Since qualifying, she has featured in stories across various media platforms to promote train driving to women. As a result, she was nominated for Train Driver of the Year in the 2018 RailStaff Awards. Laura said: “I genuinely had never thought about any jobs in the railway, especially not being driver. I think the roles I had as a nurse have helped me in my train driving role in terms of being used to the strict rules and regulation and maintaining 100 per cent concentration when driving. I have had so many amazing experiences as a Train Driver and have been honoured by so much media interest. At GTR, I feel like I have joined a big family. I have made so many friends. Being part of the Women’s Network and LGBTQ+ Network is amazing.”

Ramla Abshir-Slevin, 32, is an Apprentice Station Manager based at East Croydon. Former Dental Nurse Ramla came to London in 2008 from Switzerland and at the time didn’t speak much English. She started off by cleaning trains at Victoria before joining Southern. Ramla worked in a variety of roles from being on the gate-line in South Croydon to platform staff at Balham. In 2013, she had her daughter and in 2014 she took a full-time role in the ticket office at Victoria. Ambitious Ramla was keen to learn and was trained to submit the accounts. She then requested to shadow the Team Leader and soon became a back-up Team Leader, a role she loved. In 2016, while pregnant with her second child, she covered the Team Leader position up until two weeks before her due date. Following maternity leave, Ramla was determined to become a leader and was eventually successful. She said: “In January this year, a position for an Apprentice Station Manager came up and I instantly knew I wanted the job. I applied and fortunately got it. For me, my greatest achievement in the railway has been to get where I am now. Not only do I get to do what I love, but I will be rewarded with a qualification at the end of this.”

Marcia Watson, who is in her early 50's works as a Senior Franchise Compliance Manager based at GTR’s London head office near Monument and lives in Croydon. Before joining GTR, Marcia spent more than 25 years working within the Audit profession initially commencing her career as an Auditor for London Borough of Croydon and then joining Deloitte UK where she managed client contracts across the charities, Local Government and private sector.After having children, Marcia decided she wanted a better work/life balance as she had been travelling frequently and working very long hours. Marcia secured a job as an Audit Manager with Southern in 2008 and continued in this role for 2 years during which she qualified as a Leadership Coach before securing an opportunity to programme manage Southern Railways contribution to the railway planning for the 2012 Olympics.Marcia recalls this being a fantastic opportunity where she was able to showcase the extent of her transferable skills. Marcia obtained a secondment in 2013 with Go Ahead Group as Bid Manager and Mobilisation Programme Manager for the current Franchise and continued as a Bid Manager for a further 2 years beforebecoming a Senior Franchise Compliance Manager. Marcia said: “Believing in what you can do, and what you do well is a superb starting point in working towards being who you want to be.”

Kai-Nneka Townsend is a Diversity and Inclusion Partner based at Go-Ahead House in Croydon. Kai-Nneka, who lives in Kettering, started her career in the hospitality sector after having completed her first degree in that field. Building on her customer service experience, she joined the railway in a frontline role and rose through the ranks from Station Manager to Area Manager. Looking to branch out, Kai-Nneka was keen to gain some operational experience and worked in train resource management. She eventually moved on to Corporate Social Responsibility and Stakeholder Management, where there was a focus on strategic and project planning. Kai-Nneka was eager to build on this skillset and left the railway for two years to do so. Following her return to GTR, she continues to use her project management skills. Kai-Nneka said: “I’m grateful to have stumbled into a career in rail and think a career in rail is unfortunately one of the best kept secrets, at least from women. We need to raise awareness at schools and change the image of rail so that children and young generations do not see careers in rail as for boys or men only, but can see through the experience of other women that they too can have a successful and rewarding career in the rail industry.”

Lily Scott, 28, is a Franchise Contract Manager from Witham in Essex, working in GTR’s head office in London. Lily “absolutely loved” studying and has a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Evolutionary Psychology. She was considering a PhD, but was conscious of mounting debt so decided to look for work. Lily heard about a job on the railway through a family member and was appointed Support Coordinator for the Customer Services Roster and Support Team five and a half years ago. Through this job, Lily realised the wealth of opportunities the railway offered. She secured a role as Bid Coordinator with the Go-Ahead Bid team, learning the ropes to then become Bid Manager. An opportunity then arose for a Franchise Contract Manager for GTR, which was perfect, following her experience in liaising with the Department for Transport and her understanding of the franchising process. Lily said: “My greatest achievement during this time has been receiving an Excellence Award in September 2018 for my professionalism and how I work with people. However, the experience I have enjoyed the most is becoming part of the mentoring community at GTR and seeing how sharing my experiences can help others.”

Polly McGillivray, 41, is a Competence Development Manager based in Brighton. Polly’s rail career began on the London Overground in 2008 when she made it through a series of rigorous assessments. She screamed when she was told she had been successful in getting a job as a Train Driver. She was trained up and remembers the “immense pride” in doing the job. Further down the line, Polly moved to Australia, where she worked on freight trains which were up to 2 kilometres long; it was her job to fix, maintain and drive the locomotives. After three years in Australia, the company she worked for went into liquidation and so Polly returned to the UK. She secured the opportunity to be a Driver Trainer for Southern and over the years she also gained many other qualifications, including certificates in coaching, mental health and first aid. Five and a half years later, Polly became a Competence Development Manager and looks after drivers. She said: “From day one with Southern, I have absolutely loved it and am so grateful for the opportunities the company has given me. Moving forward, I am invested in encouraging more women into the railway. I feel it is still one of the best kept secrets from women and I want them to realise what they are missing out on.”

Norma Hewitt, 48, from Stevenage is a Local Development Manager for Operations North based at King’s Cross. Commuting to King’s Cross on a daily basis is what gave Norma the idea of finding work on the railway. She started her railway career in 1990 at Battersea ticket office and occupied a variety of positions over the years, including many Station Manager roles. Norma then gained experience in Operations and over the years has managed the Control at King’s Cross, West Hampstead and Croydon. In 2014, Norma became Performance Manager for Great Northern and in 2017, she was appointed Local Development Manager for Operations North. Speaking of her time as Control Centre Manager, Norma said: “I had to be 100 per cent committed to the railway and be available to spend long hours and to be prepared to stay at work if there was disruption. I even have driven my car in the middle of the night to help my staff within control when they have been under so much pressure.”

Charlotte Crawley, 32, is a Station Manager at Brighton. Charlotte spent 11 years in banking before embarking on a career on the railway. She feels her greatest achievement so far has been her involvement with Pride and seeing the “incredible” staff engagement with the public. Another aspect of her job is looking out for vulnerable people. On one occasion, Charlotte spoke to a suicidal young woman who afterwards said, “thank you for saving me.” Charlotte said: “I am passionate about the service that I provide to customers but never thought I would have heard those words said to me on my shift. I can’t quite describe how it made me feel to know that I had made that much difference to somebody.”

Michelle Clark, 41, is Head of Employee Experience based between GTR’s Croydon and Monument offices. Michelle was inspired to work on the railway by her dad and the earlier generations of her family who had forged careers in the industry. Michelle’s railway career began as a Station Clerk in 2003, followed by a move into Human Resources. By 2008, she had become an HR Business Partner. Michelle then took time out from work to travel the world before returning in an HR Business Partner role at Southern. She then worked as an HR Business Partner at Network Rail before coming back to Southern once again, this time as a People Change Manager. A year later and Michelle was once again appointed HR Business Partner. This time she partnered the commercial function for Southern and Gatwick Express. By 2014, GTR was on the horizon and Michelle became People Change Lead, mobilising 1,000 management and admin staff from two different companies to become GTR. In 2016, circumstances led Michelle to cover the Head of Organisation Development role. A year later and she was Head of Employee Engagement for GTR, a role which has now evolved into Head of Employee Experience. Michelle said: “I will proudly state I am a ‘railway child.’ My dad worked on the railway and I have always been proud of this. It is an important part of my identity. I think I’d avoided the railway as a career choice in the early days because I felt like I should be finding my own way, but the moment I joined the railway I immediately felt like I belonged and I had come home. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the railway. I am a confident, independent woman who continues to be ambitious and continues to want to make changes in work life that get the best out of people.” 




Govia Thameslink Railway

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express services as follows:

  • Thameslink – cross-London services between Bedford/Peterborough/Cambridge and Brighton/Horsham/Littlehampton/East Grinstead, and between Luton/St Albans and Sutton/Wimbledon/Rainham; plus services between London and Sevenoaks
  • Great Northern – services between London and Welwyn, Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn
  • Southern – services between London and the Sussex coast (Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bognor Regis, Hastings) and parts of Surrey, Kent and Hampshire (Ashford International, Southampton, Portsmouth)
  • Gatwick Express – fast, non-stop direct services between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria

GTR is currently the most punctual of the large and complex operators in UK rail according to 'On Time' statistics released by the Office of Rail and Road for May, June and July 2019, and fourth of all train operators in the UK

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