Claire Mahoney, Head of Colleague Experience at The Go-Ahead Group, explains why it is important to shift from a ‘diversity only’ lens in order to truly create an inclusive workplace where employees feel safe and accepted, and discusses the various initiatives that the company has launched as part of its Equity, Diversity & Inclusion strategy.
Credit: The Go-Ahead Group
There are far too few women working in transport. It’s an industry that lacks gender diversity, and its high time that changed. Despite some positive gains in the recruitment of female bus and train drivers in our operating companies, we know that, with the overall female representation being 15.3 per cent (measured across all Go-Ahead operating companies), that there is still lots of work for us to do.
Our vision is to create an environment where our colleagues can be their authentic selves and therefore feel, and give, their best at work”
So, what is the answer to creating workforces that better reflect the communities that we serve? Whether that be in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, neurodiversity or different abilities? For me, the answer lies in a move away purely from targets of representation and towards an all-round change in the culture of the industry.
At The Go-Ahead Group, we are embarking on an exciting time of change – we have ambitious plans through our ‘Next Billion Journeys’ strategy, which sees the engagement of, and collaboration with, our people as critical to success. We have also recently had a change of ownership, now with the backing of global investors, which brings much opportunity. The stage is set for innovation and growth – and, for us to deliver, our people need to have trust in a culture that they feel that they are a part of.
Our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) strategy is called ‘A Place to Belong’ for this very reason. Our vision is to create an environment where our colleagues can be their authentic selves and therefore feel, and give, their best at work. Due to this we are, in turn, attractive to a diverse range of people. We recognise the advantage that diversity brings to the decisions that we make and to the customers that we serve.
This shift from a ‘diversity only’ lens is crucial… Simply ensuring ‘differences’ within the workforce will not sufficiently move the dial towards creating a place to belong”
This shift from a ‘diversity only’ lens is crucial. Diversity is a noun; it is not, in itself, active – with the definition being “the state of being diverse; variety”. Simply ensuring ‘differences’ within the workforce will not sufficiently move the dial towards creating a place to belong. So, what are the other ingredients in the recipe for belonging? Inclusion and equity. Both are much more active in their nature. Building inclusion happens through behaviour – the behaviour of all of us as individuals and the collective impact that we can have. Equity is about really understanding what our people, as individuals, need in order to thrive and be successful – and being comfortable with the fact that this might look different for different people
The ‘Place to Belong’ strategy was launched by our CEO, Christian Schreyer, during National Inclusion Week 2022. The week saw us celebrate inclusion by bringing colleagues together and thinking about what inclusion means for us at Go-Ahead. There are four core pillars to this strategy: Leadership, Process, Culture and Data. Each one of these encompass different but mutually supportive activities – recognising that change is holistic and cannot come from one place alone. Some tangible examples that sit under the four pillars include developing inclusive leaders, unblocking barriers and inequities through our processes, creating communities for inclusion and getting better with data.
Our operating companies are already doing some fantastic work in their journey to foster more inclusion.
Govia Thameslink Railway
GTR is the first company in the whole UK transport sector to achieve the challenging and robust National Equality Standard”
Our UK rail company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is the first company in the whole UK transport sector to achieve the challenging and robust National Equality Standard. GTR’s D&I policies were assessed against 35 competencies in the standards – with good practice identified in unconscious bias training for all hiring managers, engagement with employee network groups, a robust coaching and mentoring programme and active community social responsibility actions through various employment schemes.
Zoey Hudson, Head of Talent, Diversity & Inclusion at GTR, said of the achievement: “We’re really proud to be the first transport company to be honoured with this accolade. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to make our workplace as fair as possible, and we welcome people from all backgrounds with open arms. Of course, there is always more to do, but this accreditation demonstrates our commitment to equality and building an inclusive culture for our people, which is a huge priority for us.”
In addition, Go Southwest (GSW), based in Plymouth, has developed a pioneering new dyslexia toolkit, by working with colleagues to understand specifically what they need to thrive in their roles.
Carolyn Giles, Head of People and Operations at GSW, said: “A specific example for me is a training day held with our mentors. One of them explained that he has significant needs due to his dyslexia. We have offered to ensure that he has a phone that will read his emails to him and enable him to voice his emails. He gets support from a supervisor to fill out reports and we are assigning him a digital champion to help him to use his phone more effectively for him. We also encourage the use of voice notes and can often attach them to an email if it is easier for someone, instead of typing (e.g., a supervisor meets with a driver and has a conversation but struggles with a file note).”
In an industry not traditionally known for its diversity, we need a workforce that reflects the communities that we operate in – in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background”
The Go-Ahead Group has recently been named as Britain’s top provider of transport apprenticeships in a ranking developed by the Department for Education. Go-Ahead now ranks 13th overall in the ‘Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers’ list.
Go-Ahead decided to become the UK transport sector’s largest provider of apprenticeships because our industry is at the cusp of transformation. Furthermore, in an industry not traditionally known for its diversity, we need a workforce that reflects the communities that we operate in – in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background.
Go-Ahead’s apprenticeship programme is highly diverse:
- A total of 74 per cent of Go-Ahead London’s apprentices are from ethnic minority backgrounds. This has increased from 56 per cent, prior to the programme. In 2021, this figure was 68 per cent, proving that it is steadily climbing each year
- In rail, 29 per cent are from ethnic minority background
- Nearly a third of recruits are over 50 years old
- Women account for 37 per cent of rail apprentices and 17 per cent of bus apprentices (prior to the programme, this was only six per cent) – a significantly higher proportion than can be found across the transport industry as a whole.
According to the figures published by the Office for National Statistics (for 2019), Go-Ahead is more diverse than London, with the region scoring as 56.6 per cent ethnically diverse.
How will we know when we have created ‘A Place to Belong’?
Our vision of creating a place to belong is not something that will happen overnight. The changes required to create a sustainable and measurable impact to culture are vast and it’s a journey that we need to take our colleagues on over several years. Some of the tangible indicators of us creating a place to belong will be seen in:
- Increased female representation across all our roles, especially bus and train drivers
- Increased representation of senior leaders who are ethnically diverse
- Increased representation of senior leaders who are female
- Increased colleague engagement
- Perception of our values being represented in our day-to-day work (as measured by engagement survey)
- Increased diversity in our graduate and apprenticeship cohorts
- Reduction in our Gender Pay Gap.
At Go-Ahead, we don’t underestimate the commitment needed to really create ‘A Place to Belong’ – but we are committed to see and be the change that we need in the transport industry.
Claire Mahoney is the Group Head of Colleague Experience at The Go-Ahead Group, with a remit spanning colleague engagement and equity, diversity & inclusion across bus and rail companies on three continents. She has worked within The Go-Ahead Group for 15 years, having spent time in various HR roles at the company’s Southeastern Railway subsidiary, before taking her current role within the group team. She works across diverse strategic areas from understanding and leveraging colleague engagement, developing tools and systems to better inform the colleague experience, and supporting Go-Ahead on its journey to create an environment of belonging for all its colleagues.