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Northern turns spotlight on women working in rail industry to celebrate International Women's Day

08 March 2021
In just three years – between 2017 and 2020, the number of women working for Northern has increased by 33 per cent and more than 1200 are now employed in a variety of roles across the business.  
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Northern is turning the spotlight on the women who work for one of the UK’s biggest train operators.  

 Lou Mather – HR Business Partner and Equality Diversity and Inclusion Manager  

As a driving force behind Northern’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies Lou Mather knows how important it is to have a diverse workforce that represents the communities the rail operator serves.  

And Lou is helping find more innovative ways to do this – including a new way of recruiting which will help stop unconscious bias.  

Lou said: “Everyone has unconscious bias, it's just the way we are as humans. We want to ensure women, and everyone else, have a fair experience during the hiring process – so we are going to start blind recruitment later this year. 

“This basically means redacting information such as gender, ethnicity and age on a CV - before it goes to shortlisting - that could give away someone’s background.”  

Speaking from personal experience Lou says Northern is a great place to work.  

“You’re given the flexibility and autonomy to do your role, the EDI agenda isn’t just a piece of paper. It is under constant review and is a huge priority,” she said.  

“And we’re also engaging our colleagues with issues such as male mental and physical health, which are important topics we need to support our colleagues with. 

“There’s something for everyone, no matter who you are.” 

Claire Rowland – Head of Sales & Marketing 

As a newcomer to the rail industry, after working in hospitality and retail, Claire joined Northern as head of sales and marketing in November 2020 and says it has been a welcoming environment.  

“To say that the rail industry is historically an industry dominated by men is true, but I think the keyword there is historically,” she says.  

“At Northern there is a genuine desire and drive to be more inclusive – they are taking decisive action to tackle gender imbalances. 

I’d advise women to not make assumptions and follow opportunities with an open mind – things are changing. Work hard and make sure to ask for what you want.” 

“The more internally diverse and inclusive we are, the more customer centric and relevant we will become. We need great people from different backgrounds and experiences driving ideas and innovation – it’s not only about being the best representation of an ethical company, but it’s also important for business success.”  

She said being interviewed by women in senior roles at Northern was a key part of encouraging her to take the leap to work for the rail operator.  

“It helped me to see things from their perspective and it gave me confidence to know I’d be working closely with likeminded people, with similar values, where gender is not a barrier to progression.” 

Julia Wraithmell – Head of Transpennine Route Upgrade Service Performance 

Aged just 16 when she joined British Rail, Julia thought the job would give her the opportunity to explore the industry and decide what she wanted to do in her working life. 

But 34 years later, she’s still working for in the rail industry.  

She said: “I wanted to join somewhere that would let me have a career and let me be me.  

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work in lots of different roles – ranging from a number of operational roles to leading the engineering team at Neville Hill depot.”  

Julia is now heading up performance on the Transpennine route upgrade after moving from Head of On-time performance within Northern.  

“I was often the only women in the room, but I never felt that it mattered.  

“Respect has always been mutual, and I think that’s a good mindset to have. 

“The business has always been accommodating, I am a mother and flexible working arrangements are available for everyone, although I have never needed to apply, the business has always been accommodating if I needed time for my daughter.” 

Over the years, Julia has seen changes in the industry, with more women taking charge.  

“There’s more women in senior roles now, when I first joined, they mainly did clerical work or cleaning and when I worked at Neville Hill depot, we only had one female engineer,” she said.  

“If I was to give advice to anyone wanting to work in the rail industry, I’d say don’t doubt your own abilities. I think we are our own worst enemies. If an opportunity comes your way, say yes and worry about how you are going to do it afterwards, there is always someone to support you and we always succeed.” 

“But regardless of gender, this is a good industry to work in. Everyone is welcome, and opportunities are available to everyone – why would you not join us.” 

Demonstrating its commitment to diversity and inclusion, Northern runs a range of employee inclusion groups, boasts a 250 strong employee engagement group, and runs an extensive equality, diversity and inclusion events calendar.   

To read more about a career at Northern or to apply for available roles, visit   


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