Frontline to Boardroom - An evening with Sir Peter Hendy, CBE

By Sonya Veerasamy

CEO of Women in Transport

Last month, we headed out to Reading for our first Spring Reception outside London. It was an inspirational evening with a keynote from Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Chair of Network Rail, followed by a panel discussion focusing on supporting career advancement for frontline and operational staff with women from across the transport sector who have direct experience of the issues, challenges and opportunities.

It was fascinating to hear Sir Peter’s stories of his early career, including his own lived experience of discrimination as a young person working his way up. Sir Peter shared his career journey with some honest reflections on the challenges of being a senior leader in a series of public facing and high profile organisations.

My main takeaways were:

  • Networks matter - support and challenge is needed at every point in your career and building a network of trusted friends, advisors and colleagues is essential.

  • Inspire people and get to know them - work sometimes needs to blend into personal, not too much but at least a little, to promote a culture where you understand your team’s motivations and work together effectively.

  • Put yourself forward - you have to apply to be in with a chance, many women don’t apply for jobs if they don’t meet 100 per cent of the criteria and so, often, aren’t even in the running.

  • Trust your team - to be a good leader you have to give your team the freedom to do their job, own their mistakes and learn to apologise honestly for said mistakes.

We were delighted to welcome Kerri Rogan, Head of London Underground Network Command, Caroline Anscombe, HR Director of Reading Buses and Alero Abbey, Area Manager for Transport for London as panel members. They were joined by Anna Delvecchio, Commercial Director at Amey and Women in Transport board member. The lively discussion was chaired by Sinead Trudgill, Head of HR from Network Rail.

There was so much great advice and discussion that it’s hard to choose just a few highlights but I’ve chosen one snippet from each of our inspiring guests.

Kerri spoke passionately about the importance of giving your time and listening to what people really want for their careers and what they want to get out of work.

“There is nothing that speaks more volumes than giving your time, going in at weekends and learning what people want. Not everyone wants to climb the ladder...sometimes it's about understanding their challenges.”

Alero provided a fascinating insight into her unique experiences and how she has approached her own career while supporting many other women and men to find the right career pathway for them. I was particularly inspired by Alero’s strength and determination as she stated the promises she had made at the beginning of her career.

“At the start of my career, I made myself some promises: I am going to go as high as possible, I am going to build my network and draw people up and allow them to draw others up.”

Anna talked about her experience of becoming an apprentice again in National Apprenticeship Week and shadowing some of the Amey apprentices. She highly recommended taking up similar opportunities as a way of understanding the frontline experience and to gain a better understanding of individual motivations. Her advice for anyone looking to progress was to be confident, be trailblazing and build a network.

“Never give up, go and knock on those doors and don’t take no for an answer!”

Caroline discussed how Reading Buses had changed over time and how their approach to diversity and inclusion is making a difference through a number of initiatives to create a positive and inclusive culture that allows people to perform at their best.

“It’s important to create an organisational culture that allows people to feel they can progress and succeed.”

It was an inspiring and motivating evening and it was wonderful to hear from four incredible women who are so passionate about supporting others.

My key takeaways from the discussion were:

  • Build your network - having a strong, trusted supportive group of people around you to support (and challenge) you in your career and decisions is crucial.

  • Don’t be afraid - ask for support, advice and mentoring.

  • Pay it forward - mentor someone else, call out behaviours, help others where and when you can.

Networking followed the panel discussion and it was lovely to catch up with some familiar faces as well as meet new people.

It is clear that our members and guests enjoyed the evening with some great insights shared on Linkedin. Highlights from the evening can be found on Twitter.

The networking continued on the train journey home as a group of members including myself and fellow board member, Kirsten Galea, travelled back to Central London together.

Our thanks to Network Rail, Morson Group and ATA Recruitment for generously sponsoring this event.

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