Promoting a more diverse railway

30 July 2018

As featured in the ASLEF Journal, Lee James, ASLEF’s equalities adviser, reported on efforts to make the rail industry in this country more diverse:


ASLEF has 19,784 active members (plus 2,359 retired members) and 96% of the train drivers in England, Scotland and Wales choose to belong to this union. But fewer than one is ten is young (defined as 35 and under), black, or female. But we can only recruit, as members, people who have been employed by the train and freight operating companies in Britain. 


For many years ASLEF has actively pushed, both industrially and politically, for the diversifying of the driving grade which, even in 2018, is still predominantly made up of heterosexual white men aged over 35. The ASLEF charter states that the union endorses the ‘pro-active recruitment of persons of those groups, eg women and ethnic minorities who are currently under-represented among our member grades in the industry’.


Indeed, the union’s commitment to this was further cemented in 2012 with the publication of our On Track with Diversity report which explored the reasons behind the lack of diversity in the grade and gave recommendations for change.


Since publication of the report the union has engaged with the train operating companies over their recruitment practices. Focused efforts, from some companies, has seen some change in the make-up of the driving grades, albeit at a very slow rate. Given ASLEF’s high membership density our figures are an accurate reflection of the rail industry and, as can be seen, there is a stark comparison between TOCs and FOCs, with diversity amongst freight drivers woefully low:












(35 and under)



(LGBT+ membership numbers not recorded)



There is hope – as well as room – for improvement at the FOCs as the union has just begun to work in partnership with DB Cargo and Freightliner with a view to achieving a more diverse workforce.


Discussions with DBC have centred on their current recruitment campaign for junior drivers; they are focusing on attracting more women to apply for these roles. These drivers will be based at depots, making many of the traditional excuses – such as a lack of toilet facilities – for not employing women invalid.


Amy Pressland, professional development and change manager at DB Cargo, says: ‘The rail freight industry has historically been male dominated. Nonetheless, at DB Cargo UK, we believe that anyone can work and thrive in our business. Partly due to the industry’s legacy, the number of women and other minorities who work for us – particularly in operational grades – is low. Despite this, we are an inclusive employer and committed to increasing our diversity. This is a topic high on the HR agenda in 2018 and as part of our recruitment of junior drivers we are adapting our recruiting practices in order to attract a wider demographic – this has resulted in successfully recruiting two female main line qualified drivers and one female junior driver (currently in training). We have representation at the Women in Rail national committee and we are proactively working with ASLEF to improve conditions for current and future employees (male and female). We have a lot of work to do but we are committed to change and welcome anyone, from any background, to consider working for us.’


Work with Freightliner is still in the initial stages and the company is looking at a wide change, aiming to increase the numbers of female, black and minority ethnic, and LGBT+ drivers they employ. To begin this process, they will be contacting current employees from these groups to ask for their suggestions and views on being a driver in a freight operating company.


A spokesperson said: ‘Freightliner fully supports and is committed to the key principles of rail, which is that teamwork and diversity is not only beneficial but also essential to the productivity and success of a business. We want the rail industry to reflect the society it serves, a society comprised of men and women, regardless of ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or any other ideologies, performing essential jobs within their everyday lives. To not support inclusion, of whatever kind, would significantly limit our talent pool, thereby inhibiting opportunities for future growth and innovation in our industry. We will wholeheartedly support ASLEF and other such bodies in their attempts to bring more diversity to the rail industry.’


ASLEF is pleased that working alongside FOCs has, in a short time, already proven to be successful, with DB Cargo increasing its number of female drivers. Whilst we can celebrate this success as a union we need to continue to push as there are still freight companies which have yet to employ any female, BAME or young drivers. In 21st century Britain we should demand more.




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