When a woman in uniform walks through a train, passengers still pass her their rubbish and think she's the cleaner. I'm one of the 4% of train drivers in the UK who are female and one of the 9% at the London Overground. It means you get some stares, some raised eyebrows, maybe even asked to pose for a photo now and again. Why's that still the case?
The first woman to drive trains was Karen Harrison, a Glaswegian who came down to London to find work in 1979. It took a lot of courage in those days to stand up to the sexism and blokeness of it all. At the time, she said it was like being a 'turd in a swimming pool' and went on become an active union member and campaigner for women in the rail industry.
It's become a brilliant job for women. You don't need a degree and yet salaries for driving - not management - go up to over £50,000, along with plenty of days off. On average I work four days a week with a 35 hour week. And then one week in every four we have seven days off so get a long weekend. Before I applied to be a trainee driver I'd been doing the roles that are much more typical for a working mum who also needs to think about the family and when she's going to be around to sort out problems. I'd worked as a primary school teacher and initially worked on the railway as a customer service manager. Driving is an escape from that kind of cycle, when no-one expects you to do anything else but turn up and get on with it, no training, no real rewards for working harder. I spent eight months training with London Overground (LOROL) and qualified to drive trains in mid-2015.
There's nothing about the job that is better suited to men. The days are long gone when the driver was also expected to roll up their sleeves and fix mechanical problems. There are team of technicians for that. Most important is the ability to concentrate and focus for long periods of time, to take responsibility, to be able to communicate with signalling staff and passengers, be able to prioritise your responsibilities and have the calm and resilience to deal with the occasional problem or emergency.
Now it's more a case of women just being aware that these kinds of jobs are a very real option. You don't have to be stuck in short-term jobs or dealing with all the office politics. Okay, you're going to face a lot of competition because of the level of pay and conditions - considering you don't need particular qualifications or experience. They're not letting just anyone take charge of a public transport vehicle either, there's plenty of testing and assessment. But train companies are trying much harder to encourage more women to apply as train drivers - they know that lots of women have the skills they're looking for, and when it comes to dedication, a mum's got plenty.
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