The importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace extends far beyond fairness and equal rights, and is key to enhancing the future of Australia’s rail sector, according to Matthew Clifford-Jones of Aurizon.
“Creating a culture where everybody feels safe and included to come to work should be a priority for every organisation, but also, who is coming to work for you? If your employees are not representative of the communities where you operate, you are missing out,” says Matthew, ahead of ARA Heavy Haul Rail 2019.
Studies show that companies which invest in creating diverse and inclusive work environments are more profitable, more agile, more productive, and drive improved employee engagement.
“Organisations in our industry should reflect on how they make inclusion visible for women, indigenous Australians, people with disability, people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and the LGBTIQ+ community. If your workforce does not represent these communities than you need to make this a priority,” says Matthew.
But broadening the diversity of your workforce isn’t all that easy, and there are a number of obstacles to overcome, he explains.
The legacy of a male dominated workforce
Whilst improvements are being made, the rail sector continues to be male dominated, with a 2018 ARA report highlighting that just 14 percent of the rail freight operations workforce is female.
The long history of being a male-dominated industry has meant that women simply aren’t knocking on the door of opportunity within rail as much as men, says Matthew.
“After all, people want to feel as though they belong and are welcome in their place of work.
“I don’t see it as any more than that, and certainly not that women aren’t interested in the profession,” he continues.
“Females are outperforming males in technical and STEM subjects at school and beyond – so the skill, talent and interest appears to be there.
“I’d say it’s more of a perceived “cultural” mismatch. And that is something the rail industry needs to take active steps to change.”
An additional barrier is finding a diverse range of people with the skills, experience and qualifications for roles, throughout the organisation. However, Matthew believes that taking on people with indirect but transferable skills and experience can be just as good, if not better.
“Bringing someone in with transferrable skills and experience from another industry can be a great move. And actually, it often pays to introduce new ways of thinking and cultural approaches to rail that have worked well in other sectors,” he says.
“At Aurizon, we have been thinking differently and transitioning external hires from Defence, finance, legal and medical backgrounds into frontline and leadership roles and found them to be a huge success.”
“They come in, shake things up in a good way and bring fresh ideas and experience – and most importantly, diversity of thought. That’s invaluable to us.
“To this end, we have done a lot of work in the candidate engagement space, demonstrating that we are an inclusive employer and that we recognise the value diversity of thought can bring to our organisation.
“We’ve seen an increase in the female participation of our workforce from 12.4 percent in 2012 to 21 percent this year. It’s good progress, but we know we have more to do to make our workplace more balanced.”
In support of this new approach, Aurizon recently launched a Careers in Action program, which will bring in candidates with demonstrated leadership experience from other industries and put them on an educational program that teaches them “how to rail”. The program will enable them to transition into frontline and operational leadership roles.
“So far the interest has been really positive and we are looking forward to onboarding our first cohort,” he says.
Matthew Clifford Jones is the Talent Acquisition Manager at Aurizon and will be sharing further insights into the company’s diversity and inclusion program at ARA Heavy Haul Rail 2019.
Learn more and register here.