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Where are all the women in the loos?!

Wednesday 20th March 2019

Lucy Hudson, Transport for the North’s Lead Officer for freight and logistics, looks back at her career to date and charts the progress in achieving gender equality.

Where are all the women in the loos?!

Good question. Years ago, my first meeting as a transport officer at a rail meeting, quick strategic loo visit before the meeting starts – there’s always a queue! Never miss a quick loo visit opportunity, working in housing taught me that much. Any meeting break always meant a choice between queuing or having a coffee (generally solved by bringing a flask).

I open the door to the ladies’ loo. Tumble weed and a freshly cleaned toilet waft. OK. All doors open. Really? I get to choose my loo? Cool.

Once signed into the meeting it becomes clear. Sixty or so people in the room and very few women. Attendance list scan reveals the likely population of six of us. Not a good balance. Lots of men though. Plenty of them. Yes, I can see five women at the break. Hold on, I get a fresh cup of coffee and a loo visit? I’m definitely into this rail industry thing – bring it on!!!

Flash forward and I soon found out, as well as learning lots and lots of new words for ‘connect these 2 places better please’, the rail industry is super fun to work in and with. The way decisions are taken and how change manifests itself is fascinating. I’ve been on sites for road and rail projects which are truly spectacular in their own ways.

My most inspirational projects? Two spring to mind. One bridge getting new bearings (squashy rubber bits that allow cars and big trucks to rumble on the bridge safely), blasting the concrete out between the columns and road deck was super cool AND I got given a bearing as a souvenir because I was so enthusiastic! The second was replacing railway track and signals, being on site at 3am in the morning over Christmas. Hardcore but really, really awesome.

And what made them memorable was that both projects were led by women site managers – each blazing a trail in working on sites that were male-dominated. Being on site with them was truly inspirational. There was respect, banter, laughter and an openness. I learnt so much and was inspired by the environment. I spoke with the workers who were doing heavy, dangerous, loud, forceful work and they were as passionate about the work as ever.

Now, as a self-confessed rail enthusiast, I was SO excited to be offered the chance to ride in the cab of a freight train going from Liverpool to Drax. It was an offer I couldn’t turn down. I wanted to see just how the infrastructure and route meant the journey took almost 8 hours.

Quick check – facilities on board? Well, drivers were expected to drive for 6 hours then have a break. Therefore, no toilet in the cab was needed as they had to be in the driving seat for that time. Whilst I got the gist that alfresco services were available, I ended up having to politely decline.

It’s, clearly, not just about loos. The debate is about ensuring that there are solid pathways for women to sustain and excel in employment. This debate goes beyond whether we choose to have children or not. Having children shouldn’t mean that you vicariously forfeit an opportunity for career progression, whether that’s in a profession traditionally dominated by men or women.

I’ll always remember my first taste of work, in a phone manufacturing factory in Scunthorpe at the age of 16. The lady who I reported to ignored me and left me in reception for two hours, followed by four hours of silence in the office while I watched her important work. In the end she asked why I was there. My Granddad had set up the factory, I wanted to see his legacy, I wanted to meet the brilliant people who worked there. Her face fell, and I was quickly given a proper tour. It turned out that a long time ago he had given her an opportunity in his team. He had seen the value of having a gender balanced workplace.

Things have thankfully changed, and as we change working conditions, we stop people from pretending to be who they aren’t. Lots of pioneering women leaders had to adopt a more ‘masculine style’ to get ahead – Margaret Thatcher had lessons on how to lower her voice for goodness sake! But there is room and enormous value to being open and accepting of who we all are, of our strengths and weaknesses and the rich experience we bring to our roles.

Humane leadership, where I am trusted and given room to fail and try again is where I feel most comfortable and able to push boundaries and achieve new things. And guess what? I do more and I fail less! The team I am in at Transport for the North now works exactly like that, I’m extremely lucky to be surrounded by a talented and inspiring team who are passionate about our joint mission.

On Monday I was inspired by women from a wide range of industries at the Northern Power Women awards. As the series of inspiring, pioneering women winners were announced, we cheered and whooped. Towards the end of the night, someone noted that as each winner received their trophy, all of them had said ‘I don’t deserve this’. I knew watching that these women ALL deserved to be recognised, and it was a lesson that we need to start celebrating our achievements. If we have the opportunity, we must own our greatness and encourage and inspire others. It’s our responsibility.

The transport industry isn’t perfect, there’s still room to grow. But have I enjoyed my career in transport so far? Not half!

Less time queuing and more time doing!