Go-Ahead sets target of 50% gender equality by 2035

Operator announces ambitious target on International Women’s Day

“This campaign is not just about the recruitment part of bringing women in, it’s about how we retain them in the business” – Carolyn Ferguson

Go-Ahead is embarking on a mission to achieve 50% gender equality by 2035.

The operator is making the announcement on International Women’s Day. Also as part of efforts to step away from the typically male-dominated bus and coach sector, it is launching a new initiative to attract and recruit 1,500 new women drivers across its bus operations.

In an interview with B&CB, Carolyn Ferguson, Chief People Officer and Group Company Secretary at Go-Ahead, said the company is ‘recognising the need for greater representation’.

The operator has already made steps to do this, with 11.5% of bus driver roles in its operations filled by women, up on the industry-wide figure 10% according to data from Women in Bus and Coach.

Carolyn said: “We’ve had initiative running quite a while with recruitment, campaigns and adapting how we do things, but this is something quite different. We set up a Go-Ahead women’s network about a year ago to really listen to what our female colleagues were telling us about what they wanted and needed. It was feedback from that network that informed a lot of what we’re doing on this launch.

“So we have done stuff but we knew we hadn’t done enough, we needed to do more. This campaign is not just about the recruitment part of bringing women in, it’s about how we retain them in the business. And that’s from the entire training programme right through to when they’re a qualified bus driver and through their career. We’re running women-only recruitment days and all of our new trainee bus drivers will be assigned a driver mentor who will support them through the entire programme.”

She said the business is investing £8 million in upgrading bus depot facilities, which includes improving women’s toilets and women-only changing facilities. She said: “We will improve canteens, rest rooms and break areas so they’re not quite as male focused.

“Let’s get women in, but let’s keep women and make sure they feel really supported in what is still a male-dominated industry.”

Women’s lens

On why there is a disparity between men and women in the industry, Carolyn said: “When you hop on a bus, it’s predominantly a man driving. Women find it more difficult to relate to being a bus driver. I think the quality of our facilities has something to do with it as well. And I think culture in the workplace doesn’t help, because of the male domination.

“But we have a lot more women now than five years ago and it’s already making a difference. “We have to change how we do things if we are to encourage more women to be part of our sector.

“We are very keen we ensure we understand what our values are in the company and importantly what they are when we’re out serving customers and in the communities we serve. It’s also helping men understand what it’s like to work through a woman’s lens. We are doing a lot of work around male allyship, so men can be true allies to women in the business.

“We’ve instigated a women-only network where we have got drivers, supervisors, engineers, graduates and apprentices. So women have that voice, but we have to make sure we listen to it. Then we feed that back throughout the business, so people are acutely aware of what female colleagues are telling us.

“We have a lot going on around culture and I think that will evolve organically the more women get in the workplace. But we have to do more to look through that women’s lens when we’re doing things.

“A lot of things we do to improve the environment for women will benefit men as well, it will benefit the whole business. There’s so many benefits to gender diversity. One of the key areas is different perspectives: it’s having that diversity of thought and that goes across all elements of diversity, not just gender. We have a wider talent pool, there’s a lot more people.

“We’re focusing on drivers today, but our ambition is to make sure we have more gender diversity through all levels of business, all job roles.”

Carolyn says there is evidence showing gender diversity helps achieve reduced staff turnover. She said: “The more women that are there, the less women that will leave.”

She continued: “And we strongly believe our workforce should represent the community we serve. If get on a bus and a male bus driver is all we see all the time, that’s not the community we serve.

“All of those things are super important, but even more important is that all of those things will drive the bottom line. There is evidence to support that if you have more gender equal workforce, you improve bottom line. That’s just the output, it’s the input that drives that bottom line.”

Towards diversity

On how an operator could also start working towards a more gender diverse workforce, Carolyn said: “You’ve got to create your programmes with women in mind. A lot of feedback from women is they want to feel valued and supported. So, you have to change your policies, your culture and ways of doing things. You need to empower and encourage women in the workplace to speak up; that’s why Go-Ahead’s women network is so important. And as part of that, we have a mentor/mentee scheme, which again encourages women, it gives them the confidence and skills to do that.

“It requires changing behaviours. And educate people in changing those behaviours, we can’t just expect people to know what to do. If they have worked in a business for 40 years in a male-dominated environment, we need to help them and upskill them. We’ve got to help people be open to change, we’ve got to explain why this has value.

“Be open to change and make sure they are embracing and supporting what you’re doing, because it will ultimately be worth it for everyone in the business. It will benefit men and women and the business as a whole.”

Carolyn is ‘incredibly confident’ Go-Ahead will achieve its 50% target. She said: “When we first started thinking about this a year ago, we knew we had to have ambitious targets, because if you don’t have ambitious targets then you’re not inspired to achieve. I absolutely believe we can achieve this and I think we’ll get to a tipping point and we might even exceed it.”

She continued: “I’m passionate about this project; I really believe this is a turning point for Go-Ahead and hopefully the industry. Hopefully others will see what we’re doing and if we can work as an industry as a whole, it’s a lot more powerful than as a company. I’m hoping that what we’re doing now will increase participation of other companies and the industry. I think together we can do more than individually. If we want to build a more sustainable, inclusive future then we’ve got to work together more as an industry.”

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