“Diversity and inclusion play a huge role in driving change in our industry because we need to attract a workforce that best reflects our passengers.”
Catherine Baxter is Chief Operating Officer at Team Global Express.
In her previous role as Chief Operating Officer at Metro Trains Melbourne she lead a team of dedicated and passionate people who are focused on delivering Metro’s strategic objectives. Catherine’s focus is to ensure that Metro delivers on its promise to the travelling public of Melbourne, by improving the passenger experience, all while the Rail Network undergoes major growth and changes.
Running a rail network like Metro, every second counts. This is why Catherine is leading Metro through a yearly Annual Performance Improvement Plan, or APIP as its known, which outlines key initiatives to improve performance. It also provides Metro employees with a roadmap or blueprint, on how everyone plays a role in improving performance. The APIP is Metro’s commitment to improving performance, year on year, and providing safe and reliable services for passengers.
Catherine has extensive experience and expertise in rail and logistics having previously held executive roles in large national ASX listed businesses including Aurizon, UGL, and Boral. With 30 years of experience in rail she ensures a strong focus on safe and disciplined operations. In April 2022, Catherine was awarded the Excellence in Transport Award at the Women in Industry Awards in Melbourne.
Rail is in my blood. My grandfather was a fireman on the trains during the Second World War, my father was in Queensland Rail all his working career, as were my two uncles. Even so, I never really considered it as a career option until my father suggested I think about joining the railway. I did and I haven’t looked back. Rail is a wonderful industry and a great one to grow your career in.
Something I have been keen to do throughout my career is to be highly visible and try to make the connection for women that transport and rail is a great career to have. Because if you don’t know it’s an option, then you are not going to seek it out. One thing we have done at Metro during my tenure is we have really gotten out and made sure people look at rail as a career. We have a lot of trainee drivers joining us now from a whole range of backgrounds – ex teachers, ex soldiers, ex police, even ex civil engineers and it is because we have actively promoted the opportunities. We’ve had fantastic support from the Victorian Government who have also helped let people know about rail and transport as a career. And I think for women they also need to have some role models to think ‘I can get there’. When I joined rail there were no women in senior management. The most senior woman I knew was one level above me when I joined. There was no one to look up to. Now there are lots of women in various levels of rail and transport.
In my role no day is the same. It’s an interesting mix of looking out five years and thinking about the strategies we need to be putting in place to deliver well then, but also overseeing the day-to-day operation of the railway. You spend time in both of those spheres as part of your everyday.
At Metro and Aurizon (where I previously worked) both organisations really focused on changing the gender dynamic to drive change. It’s not just about having women join rail but also women staying. What you don’t want to do is have the revolving door. At Metro we have communicated to women the career opportunities available including trainee drivers, signallers, leadership roles and we have recruited into those. In November 2009 when the MR3 franchise started, only 12% of employees were women. Today, in our train driving ranks we are sitting at just under 30% female drivers and have just over 30% for women across all of Metro. This is a huge change. In fact, in only 18 months we’ve seen some great improvements. We’ve increased women in our Network Operations area by 65% (51 women to 84), Authorised Officers by 40% (from 89 to 125) and in train driving women increased by a further 22% (317 to 387).
It is about supporting women when they come in, providing opportunities, and developing their careers. We do internal mentoring circles to allow women to connect with other women and senior leaders to coach them around leadership skills. We run a nine-box succession process at Metro and develop individual career plans for those people in the high potential categories. The succession process has worked extremely well, and we have seen a number of women promoted into more senior roles as a result of it. The workforce is a very different dynamic to where it was even three to four years ago.
We are working hard to have a workforce that best reflects the diversity of our passengers on our railway and the general population.
I was attracted to join Aurizon earlier in my career because the then Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Lance Hockridge, was a wonderful leader and very much a forward thinker in diversity. He was a real champion of change and he led by example. It went beyond gender.
I was in a relationship with a woman but I never told anyone at work up until I joined Aurizon. In my job interview at Aurizon I actually said ‘if this is going to be a deal breaker tell me now because I won’t take the job’ and the Human Resources executive said ‘why would be that a problem?’ I thought - ok this is a Company I want to work for! It was the first time in my career I could bring my whole self to work which was wonderful. While I was at Aurizon I married my wife. We had been together 20 years.
…the pace of innovation is going to speed up. There is a lot of change coming with technology and that is exciting. Rail and transport in the past haven’t been known for rapid change, but that is no longer true. We are going to see more growth in diversity and the industry will continue to grow as the backbone of Australia.