Why Govia Thameslink Railway is diversifying its talent pool

The train operator is working hard to attract more female and ethnic minority drivers

The problem

The rail industry has traditionally been, and still is, a male-dominated sector. But train operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) – one of UK’s largest train companies and operator of the Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express services – has been on a mission to change this. 

“We wanted to challenge the status quo and be more representative of the communities we serve by attracting more diverse talent,” says Zoey Hudson, head of talent, diversity and inclusion at GTR. “Three years ago, GTR didn’t have a great reputation, so we have also had the challenge of changing people’s perception of us as a business and as a place they want to work.”

So Hudson and her team set out to address this challenge and not only improve the number of female applicants for train driver roles, but also the number of people with ethnic minority backgrounds.

The solution

As part of its wider diversity and inclusion strategy, GTR ran two recruitment campaigns – one in January 2020 and the second in December 2020 – to encourage more female applicants. It invested in a new recruitment website and has partnered with several platforms that focus on promoting female careers, including Work180, The Female Lead, Young Rail Professionals and Women in Rail, in a bid to diversify the talent pool.

The focus, however, was not just on external recruitment, Hudson explains, but also on developing talent internally. “We’re great advocates of internal career and personal development, and I’m a good example of someone who has worked their way up from the frontline to senior management. It’s about showing people there are opportunities for them to build a career path,” she says. 

The outcome

In the latest campaign to recruit trainee drivers, 17 per cent of applicants were female and 34 per cent had ethnic minority backgrounds. Hudson acknowledges that while this number of female applicants is still low in comparison to the number of male applicants, it is much higher than the previous recruitment round, which stood at 11 per cent.

Of GTR’s current drivers, only 8 per cent are female – the industry average is 5 per cent – which Hudson says “demonstrates the importance of putting a focus on female recruitment in this area”. “We haven’t cracked it by any means yet, but we are making progress,” she explains. “We’re working hard with these campaigns to help change the culture and attract more diverse talent across the whole organisation.”

Currently, only a fifth (20 per cent) of GTR staff are female, and its target this year is to get that figure close to 50 per cent.