09 Feb 2023
We’re proud to take part in Race Equality Week – an annual nationwide event that unites thousands of individuals and businesses alike to address the issues concerning race equality in the workplace.
This year’s theme is #ItsEveryonesBusiness, because tackling race inequality is everyone’s business.
Sue Bennett, Transport Contracts Manager, shares her story of working within the transport industry and the opportunities of progression.
Working in the transport sector had never been an aspiration of mine, 21-year-old me saw it as a male-dominated, hierarchical industry without role models I could relate to. I gave myself a year to save some money, get some experience and move on. Fast forward 11 years and I’m still here and thriving.
It’s been instilled in me to achieve and aim high. My dad was a doctor, unfortunately, he died in a car accident when I was a child and my mother runs her own business, so I’ve always been pushed to achieve. Society taught me early on that I would always have to do better and aim higher to be a success and watching my mother bring up 4 children on her own was always inspiring and she certainly stoked my fire to constantly work towards bettering myself.
Early Career Years
I can still remember my first few months when I joined the business (it was Arriva Trains Wales in those days). I’d graduated from university a couple of months before and although I’d had a job in some form or another since I was 14, I was still adjusting to full-time employment. I look back now and see a shy, introverted young woman who was trying to get to grips with an industry that for all intent and purpose was alien to me.
The turning point for me occurred about 6 months into my role in the Customer Relations department when a vulnerable passenger who needed support was stranded in the middle of nowhere with only me on the other end of the phone to help. I can still remember frantically calling through to our Control Centre and Station Management to formulate a solution. After the passenger was safely on her way to her destination, a fire was started in me from the teams pulling together to make the customer the centre of our focus. Those fundamental embers remained that way for the remainder of my time in Customer Relations, my move to the Health and Safety team and remain with me in my new role within the Commercial team.
Working for TfW
I recently had a great conversation with a colleague who asked what my experience of further development and succession planning was. I knew what my knee-jerk answer was which is good. I have taken part in Leadership programmes through the business, and continue to work my way through my ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management), I have a network of strong and inspirational peers within the industry and 3 great senior female mentors. And it got me thinking about my response. How much of that was as a result of my drive to want to succeed and how much of that was as a result of the business investing in me? It is my belief that one didn’t exist without the other. Without opportunities, I would have struggled to get where I am today, however, opportunities are squandered if talent is not recognised and nurtured.
When I was off on my maternity leave a role I believed was perfect for me came up, unfortunately at the time I didn’t have the confidence to go for it fearing I was not a viable candidate because I wasn’t due back to the business for a couple more months. In other industries it may have been the case that I had missed my chance and would have to wait a few more years until something equally as suitable came across, resulting in my career being held back by motherhood. However, due to the constant change and massive growth the business has gone through over the years, it wasn’t long after my return to work that an exciting but challenging role came up that led me to where I am today.
The business in all its guises over the last 11 years has taken many positive steps for the better in my experience. In my first few years in the industry the number of times a sexist or misogynistic comment was followed by ‘You know I’m only joking right?’ is more than would be accepted these days. From the work that has been done and the steps the business has taken, I am happy that women new, or returning to the business would have a very different experience from being empowered to call out and report unacceptable behaviour, to having new and varied opportunities which aren’t adversely affected by life outside of work.
If I could go back to my younger self and share information on navigating and thriving in the industry I would tell myself that knowledge would be my empowerment, of course, there will be challenges and I will spend a lot of time out of my comfort zone, but my confidence comes from knowing my craft. I would add that finding a group of women or peers across the business I could be vulnerable with to share ideas without fear of judgment is invaluable. Lastly, I’d tell myself to seek out mentors I admire and learn from them. It’s not about mimicking their behaviours or attributes but using their experience to help me figure out my authentic self. I can only hope that in time I will be able to pay it forward and support women and minorities as they too start or continue learning and thriving within TfW.