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Developing our women leaders

25 June 2013

Women have A long history working in the rail industry, but do their positions in management and our union leadership today reflect that? TSSA’s new learning project in Scotland aims to build greater equality in the rail industry.


The first female railway employee whose name is recorded was Stationmistress Mary Argyle, who was in charge of Merry Lees station on the Leicester and Swannington Railway from 1832 right through until 1871. At no point in her service was Mary Argyle able to join a trade union. Not only did no national railway union exist until the 1870s, but it was not until 1907 when the Railway Clerks’ Association (TSSA’s forebear) decided to accept women members. Throughout the Victorian era, women were excluded from most uniformed station grades, such as ticket collectors, as well as from senior management. They were also excluded from the trade unions that represented their male colleagues.

By the time the First World War broke out the situation had changed. A hundred women had joined the Railway Clerks’ Association (RCA) and their voices were beginning to be heard. The first woman delegate to an annual conference of any rail union was the RCA’s Mamie Thompson in 1915. Throughout the First and Second World Wars, as the numbers of women working on the railways grew, so too did their membership of and activism in their unions, especially the RCA. In 1942 women held one in ten posts within the RCA and the union was firmly behind the women rail workers’ equal pay campaign.

Today, the formal commitment to equal pay for men and women is a given. Yet 70 years on women remain under- represented at senior management grades in the rail industry. A 2005 survey by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Managers found that across Europe, only one percent of executive posts are taken up by women, despite 19 per cent of the rail workforce being female. Even in their own trade unions women are under- represented at senior levels. Just two out of the 15 members of TSSA’s Executive Committee are women – hardly representative of the 31 per cent who are members – and only one more than in 1942.

There are many reasons why women find it harder than men to progress in the rail industry and in their union. Even that first step into activism can seem hard in an industry still dominated by men. Now TSSA Scotland’s new learning project offers a chance for women in the Lowlands and Uplands areas to sign up for a programme in women’s confidence, aimed especially at TSSA members. ‘They don’t have to be rail workers – women from the ferries and the travel trade are welcome too,’ says Liz Warren-Corney, newly appointed Learning Organiser (Scotland).

The project isn’t just about learning for women – new programmes in leadership and management and neurodiversity awareness are open to men and women. There are also opportunities to get involved in more traditional learning opportunities such as foreign languages, British Sign Language and report-writing skills. Plus for anyone considering a first step into activism, there are opportunities to be trained as a Union Learning Representative.

‘The Union Learning Rep role is a great way to get started in union activism!’ Liz comments. ‘You’re fully supported, mentored and trained and you can learn all the skills you’ll need. It’s also great fun, you get to know your fellow workers much better and you can really make a difference in people’s lives.’

For more information contact Liz on or 07872 507201.

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