IER and ASLEF launch new On Track with Diversity report

At a packed reception in the House of Commons on 17 June 2019, train drivers union ASLEF launched its new report On Track with Diversity.

21 Jun 2019| News

The report, produced by IER and authored by two equality experts from Old Square Chambers, is an update on a 2012 report produced by IER for ASLEF. The 2019 edition reviews the recommendations made in the 2012 report and assesses the extent to which the train and freight operating companies and the union have implemented those recommendations.

Despite progress having been made, train drivers still fail to reflect the communities they serve. The harsh facts are that in 2019 only 6.5% of train drivers are women (women make up 51% of the population), just 8% are from an ethnic minority (20% identified as BAME in the last census) and only 15% are under 35 (23% of the population are 18-35).

Mick Whelan, General Secretary of ASLEF, said: “We believe that a train driver is a train driver is a train driver – regardless of gender, sexuality, religion or race.”

He said his union is absolutely committed to equality and diversity in the rail industry and that it would continue to work with companies to improve recruitment policies to better reflect the communities they serve.

Mick was joined by Jo Stevens MP, Rachel Maskell MP (Shadow Transport Minister) and Dawn Butler MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities) in welcoming the report. They congratulated the authors, Nadia Motraghi and Ijeoma Omambala, on an excellent piece of research and analysis and on the 19 recommendations contained in the report.

Nadia and Jeo then summarised the main conclusions and recommendations of their report and promised to work with ASLEF to help ensure the recommendations aimed at improving the representation of women, BAME and young people amongst train drivers in the UK were implemented to good effect.

Carolyn Jones, Director of IER said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work once again with ASLEF on assessing current levels of diversity amongst train drivers. ASLEF are committed to diversifying their membership but they can only recruit members from the drivers recruited by the companies. We hope the recommendations in this report provide new negotiating tools for ASLEF to take to the train and freight operating companies.”

The recommendations proposed in the report are:

For train and freight operating companies


  • Gathering data: data should be at the heart of what operators do and operators should gather, understand, monitor and evaluate their data with sufficient specificity to capture absolute numbers as well as proportions of women, people of BAME backgrounds and under 35s in driver grades. Improvements in the representation of under-represented groups are more likely where operators use an evidence-based approach;
  • Monitoring and evaluating data: operators should evaluate data arising from recruitment processes, even where handled by a third party, to understand where there are significant drop offs in the success of under-represented groups. Once identified, targeted action should be taken to address the disparity e.g. holding workshops, providing guidance and using independent panel members;
  • Appoint Champions: appoint a senior leader as Champion for a particular under-represented group to be a visible presence at events, and to bring senior influence to drive the agenda forward;
  • Reverse mentoring: we recommend that senior leaders undertake reverse mentoring with drivers from under-represented groups to better understand the challenges faced by individuals from those groups;
  • Staff Networks: introduce and support staff networks for under-represented groups to better understand the challenges they face and appropriate solutions with direct access to the appointed champion;
  • Talent Development Programmes: operators should consider establishing talent development programmes, drawing on diverse candidates already in the rail industry who may be highly suitable to progress to the role of driver;
  • Peer to peer workshops and recruitment events: we recommend operators use drivers from under-represented groups to speak about their journey into the rail industry and the driver role;
  • Equality and diversity proofing adverts/ recruitment packs for driver roles and using positive action statements:
    • include positive action statements welcoming part time workers and stating in terms that applications from under-represented groups are particularly encouraged.
    • carefully scrutinise materials to ensure off putting language is avoided e.g. any gendered reference to the role of driver.
    • imagery used in adverts should be consistent with the message, including photographs and case studies of drivers from under-represented groups.
    • advertise widely including in a diverse range of publications likely to be read by under-represented groups.
  • Promoting the importance of equality and diversity among all staff:
    • operators should introduce unconscious bias training for all employees, with an initial focus on those involved in recruitment.
    • support an inclusive workplace, holding events and discussions on International Women’s Day, Black History Month and other dates used to commemorate and celebrate under-represented groups.
  • Closer working partnerships with ASLEF: There is much to be achieved by operators and ASLEF working in closer partnership as shown by the recent development of a junior driver role with one operator.



  1. Place equality and diversity at the heart of the union’s negotiating agenda: ASLEF should continue acting as critical friend, holding operators to account, by gaining commitments from operators that they will gather and report on data regarding the diversity of recruits and its train driver population on an annual basis, sharing that with ASLEF as well as contributing to ASLEF’s ongoing ‘On Track with Diversity’ research initiatives;
  2. Encourage and support any positive action initiatives implemented by operators;
  3. ASLEF two yearly review: ASLEF should re-evaluate the progress made for under-represented groups across the cohort of operators on a two yearly cycle to ensure equality matters remain at the heart of the ASLEF Charter;
  4. Appointment of ASLEF Champions: ASLEF should appoint a champion at senior level for each under represented group identified in this report who is able to liaise directly with the appropriate Champion and/or senior leadership at each operator;
  5. Continue raising awareness to challenge the stereotype of the train driver and to educate the public about the modern train driver role;
  6. Promote the value of flexible working arrangements and family friendly working conditions;
  7. Encourage operators to adopt the recommendations of the RSSB Validation of the Psychometric Assessment of Train Drivers Study, January 2019;
  8. Encourage members of all under-represented groups to be active within the union and within their operator’s networks;
  9. Encourage those TOCs in public ownership to demonstrate the fulfilment of their obligations under the public sector equality duty.