- In the last 10 years, the number of women train drivers has grown considerably.
- Reduced working hours, uniforms, breastfeeding and adaptation of the workplace are among the improvements to be implemented.
With slogans such as “for equality, full speed ahead”, “I want to be a train driver, not a princess” or “I am not brave, I am a train driver” … the collective of women train drivers, belonging to ALE, reaffirms the feelings of the collective in the run up to 8 March, International Women’s Day.
As an example, in Spain, women train drivers represent 4.5% of train driving staff, according to data collected by the Train Drivers’ Union. This translates into 260 female professionals out of a total of 5,600.
At first sight, this figure seems very low, as the incorporation of women in the railways, especially in driving, has been late and has had a very gradual impact. This is due to the fact that, at the beginning, the promotions of train drivers came from the military service, and it was not until the 80s that the incorporation of women in the railways was encouraged.
However, the figures are not bad if we consider that only 10 years ago, in 2011, the percentage of women train drivers was 1.73% (a total of 70). This 350% growth in just a decade shows the effort and initiatives of professional Unions of Train Drivers, together with the companies, are putting into practice to incorporate women into train driving.
The people responsible for Equality in our union affirm that “there has been a great advance in the incorporation of women. For out of 52 railway depots, spread throughout the territory, 44 of them already have women on the driving charts. This is almost more important than the overall number, as it helps to visualise and normalise the capacity of women driving of a train”.
ALE, as a trade union representing more than 40.000 train drivers among Europe, set itself the objective, a few years ago, of initiating actions to analyse the organisational structure of the sector. A programme carried out by women, from the point of view of women and the suitability of their needs in the performance of their work duties. With the aim of normalising the social conception of women in the railway sector, correcting possible gender deficiencies and increasing the incorporation of women in the profession.
As a result of various working groups organised by ALE member organizations, the first results were soon obtained. The issues raised by the women drivers revealed the rigidities of a system that is not “used” to female professionals.
The main shortcomings identified by the professionals were:
The scarce or non-existent adaptation of the workplace to maternity issues, both during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The difficult reduction of working hours to allow for family reconciliation, the lack of adaptation of the toilets to meet the needs of feminine hygiene. And also the lack of visualisation of women train drivers in the social imaginary.
The deficits were mainly due to the lack of a global and homogeneous strategy in all the management departments of the different companies. Each one addresses these requirements with its own solutions. In some cases this is satisfactory and in others it is not.
Curiosity on gender bias
In addition, one issue that attracted a lot of attention, raised by the train drivers in the working groups, was the uniforms provided. In the case of women train drivers (there is evidence that this is also the case in other professional groups), they are offered the possibility of requesting high heels and a choice between skirt and trousers.
The heel and skirt contravene normaly the Companies´ own self-protection and occupational risk prevention protocols. The work of the train driver requires getting on and off the train from the track (there may be more than one metre) with large slopes, walking on the stones of the track, accessing cabinets and chests that may be in the engine room or under the train, etc. As for the trousers, the women’s model is tight-fitting and has no pockets. Women train drivers cannot keep their access keys, the train controls for changing cabs, the key to open the lockers, or the pens needed to write down notifications from the control room.
This circumstance implies a gender bias, since in the case of women, image is prioritised over utility and comfort, due to the stereotyped sociological use of women’s image.
Trying to change this, aims at favouring the entry of women train drivers, visualising their image and attracting them to the railway sector. Once this first part has been achieved, they should not be forced to leave driving to take up other jobs that are more conducive to reconciling family and professional life.
Despite these shortcomings, it can be said that the incorporation of women in driving and in the railway sector in general is progressing at full speed.
Undoubtedly, in order to achieve a better awareness in society of women as professional train drivers, we must be aware that the train on which you put your longings and emotions when you go on a journey… the train on which every morning, you catch up on your sleep… the train that fulfils your illusions by bringing you a visit from a loved one… and the train that, with relief, leaves you at home at the end of each long journey, is surely driven by a woman.