IWD2023 Julie Nerney, Interim Rail Director

To mark International Women’s Day we’re looking at those championing their role, and opportunities of women in our organisation.

Julie Nerney, NTS’s Interim Rail Director, discusses the challenges and opportunities of the current climate and the importance of having a diverse workforce.

What a time to be in rail freight! It’s great to be back leading transport operations after a decade away, but it’s certainly a challenging context right now. Despite the clear opportunities for the rail freight sector to shape the country’s economic and environmental ambitions, it’s facing a number of headwinds which might limit that.

Our customers depend on a reliable way of getting their products from point A to point B as quickly as possible. At the moment, the external environment to facilitate that is difficult with reduced reliability of the network we depend on for our services. Yet our teams navigate these challenges brilliantly on a daily basis to deliver for our customers. And the significant hike in electricity prices is making the customer choice of rail freight to support their sustainability credentials an expensive one. All of which is in the context of an industry that has historically operated on very fine profit margins. On the supply side, key providers of our assets and other critical services are facing their own external challenges too as a result of global economic conditions.

And in the midst of that external context, we’re halfway through a significant programme of internal investment in modernising our own business. This is to support the bright future that we can see for rail freight in the UK in the medium term and, in particular, how we at NTS Rail support our core markets and customers with new, innovative and digitally-enabled solutions.

So, there’s plenty to do. Lots of external context to navigate to get us through the current headwinds and out the other side to the brighter future. Lots of ways in which we can continue to work hard internally in our business to enhance our offer to our customers. And I’m really excited about those prospects for us, and also in how we play our part in working across the industry to demonstrate the value of rail freight as a key part of the UK economy, and an enabler for reducing emissions to deliver a greener future for the country.

On a personal level, I think that taking this role provides me with a platform to champion opportunities for women in the rail freight sector. I spent the first third of my working life as a serial entrepreneur working across a range of industry sectors in the UK and Europe. That gave me a privileged position of creating my own environment and not encountering any overt issues with gender bias. In fact, I was creating exactly the opposite – probably unconsciously – so it was just the norm for me. It was only when I started to work with larger, more established organisations that I began to see the endemic barriers to equality of opportunity for women in business – both societally and organisationally.

I see the role of a leader as being quite simple. I have just one responsibility. And that is to create an environment where everyone can be the best version of themselves. By doing that, I create the best opportunity for our people to realise their own potential and, of course, the organisation also gets the multiplier effect of this.

The start of that cycle begins with creating opportunities for people from all walks of life to find a career with us that enables them to achieve their own ambitions, and I’m really proud of the work we’re doing at NTS in this regard. I see women joining us as engineering apprentices, train crew and in management positions. I see NTS Women’s Returners Programme capturing talent that might have been lost to us without this concerted effort.

When the success of any organisation is all about its people, having the widest available talent pool to choose from is essential. I will continue to champion creating the greatest number of opportunities to join us, and ensure that we have development pathways in place so that people can realise whatever their own career ambitions are while they’re with us.