Rail operator increases female driver numbers through dedicated partnership

Five female drivers have joined Govia Thameslink Railway after being on extended career breaks They are sharing their experiences ahead of International Women’s Day

Today, on International Women’s Day, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is welcoming five new female drivers into the fold, who have come through the company’s partnership with coaching, consulting and networking organisation, Career Returners - a social enterprise that aims to remove the ‘Career Break Penalty’.

The two companies began working together for the first time in 2022 to find talent through an avenue dedicated to helping those on extended career breaks.

There could be a number of reasons for falling out of long-term employment, from childcare and caring for elders, to illness or stress.

Following an initial recruitment, testing and onboarding period, five women that discovered GTR through the Returners scheme have been employed on a full-time basis with the rail operator and are now trainee drivers with Southern Rail.


Zoey Hudson, Head of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion at Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “We’re passionate about attracting the best talent, and we know this can’t be done through traditional avenues alone. It’s been a fantastic experience to be part of the Returners scheme and welcome five women to the business that had perhaps never even considered working in rail. The programme goes to show that just because someone has been out of employment for an extended time, they are no less determined or capable.”

Leigh Santamaria was a perfect candidate for the Returners programme, having been out of work for 10 years due to caring for her daughter who has significant learning difficulties. She says coming back to work after such a long gap was a huge change, but that the support she received through the Returners programme has been “invaluable”.

She says: “My daughter is very vulnerable and will probably have to live with me for the rest of her life, so it felt right to pause my career and focus all my energy on her. Coming back to work after a 10-year break was a huge change, because I’d been out of the loop for so long. However, the support I’ve received through the Returners programme has been invaluable, which has made the transition so much easier.” Read Leigh’s case study here.

Elba Lovelace-Francis also faced a tough decision when it came to juggling work and raising a family. She was working in a betting shop and chose not to return after her maternity leave ended.

She explains: “It didn’t feel right to go back to work after my first baby as it would have been very long days where I wouldn’t get home until midnight. I’d looked into working in rail previously, but the timing was never right. I saw something on social media advertising the train driver vacancies through the Returners scheme. At this point I had been out of work for over a year, so the programme seemed perfect for me.”

With a tough application process, followed by assessment days and various stages of interviews, Elba says you have to be determined to see it through. She adds, “I will finish in the driving school at the end of March, and then I’ll be out driving trains for real under supervision. I can’t wait!” Read Elba’s case study here.


Please contact press.office@gtrailway.com to arrange interviews.

GTR is focused on increasing diversity across the business to ensure its workforce represents the communities it operates in. The Returners scheme is one of many ways the company seeks out talent and supports its overall ambition to attract more women to rail. The number of female train drivers joining GTR has steadily increased year-on-year, with 2023 the highest split yet at 40%.

Hazel Little, CEO of Career Returners, said: "We are thrilled to witness the remarkable journey of the career returners as they flourish in their roles as Trainee Train Drivers. Our partnership with GTR has been a catalyst for their success, empowering them to confidently navigate and excel in this intensive programme. Witnessing their growth and accomplishments is not just fulfilling; it's a testament to the power of tailored support, coaching, and determination. We look forward to continuing this impactful work, creating more opportunities for individuals to break barriers and thrive in the professional landscape."

Check out the latest vacancies on GTR’s career website here: GTR | Careers (gtrailwaycareers.com).


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