To celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March, Northern is turning the spotlight on the women who work for one of the UK’s biggest train operators.

While the industry has been historically dominated by men, Northern has taken a different approach to recruitment in recent years to ensure it has a more diverse workforce that better represents the communities it serves.

Almost 20% of Northern employees are women, with more than 1,300 employed in a variety of roles across the business.

Lauren Pugh is a driver based in Blackburn. The 35-year-old is a former British Transport Police officer who joined Northern as a driver seven years ago, so she could take on a new challenge and spend more time with her children.

“When I’m in the cab, I’m focused on being the best driver I can be. When I step out, I’m focused on being the best mum I can be,” she said.

“I love the job, it’s amazing. I walk around with a smile on my face every day and still pinch myself that I get to do it.

“I do permanent early shifts so I can pick my children up from school every day and take them out for activities, but also make sure I’m well rested for work the next day.

“I used to miss putting them to bed all the time and now I go to bed at the same time as them.”

She said most of her colleagues are men but there “is no divide” and she is always encouraging other women to consider a career in rail.

“Go for it,” she said. “When I joined, I didn’t even know how my car radiator worked.

“I had doubts. I didn’t know if I could actually drive a train and thought I might be making a big mistake.

“But as you go through your training and all the exams, you gain confidence and start believing in yourself. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’ve never looked back.”

Linzi Whitby is a conductor based in Sheffield. The 39-year-old worked as a customer adviser at a bank before she joined Northern six years ago.

“It is a male dominated industry and was a bit daunting at first, but I’ve had no issues whatsoever,” she said.

“It’s been brilliant. There are also more women than you’d think and more have joined over the years I have been here.

“I've never felt intimidated or threatened in the workplace because there are loads of men here.”

She added: “I love the freedom and the independence that I get. Management keep you in check, but you’re out there on your own. It’s just a breath of fresh air and it's like nothing I've ever done before.

“It’s definitely got its challenges, especially when the trains are very busy and there’s disruption that’s out of your control. But it keeps you going and keeps you thinking.

“There's no reason why I can't see myself being here in 20 years. There are different avenues within the railway, so you can go onto training, management or head office roles - anything really.

“Just give it a go. You won't regret it if you like working proactively on your own but also like to be part of a team.”

Shanice Lent is a trainee driver based in York. The 30-year-old worked at the kid’s club on Royal Caribbean cruise ships before joining Northern and she began her driver training after working as a conductor for four years. She is due to qualify in September.

“I absolutely loved being a conductor, but I was ready for a new challenge. The step up to driver comes with a lot more responsibility as you’re the person in charge of the train,” she said.

“The training quite intense, but I’m loving it. I’m really interested in what I’m learning and quite passionate about it. If I’m in control of a 200-tonne train then I want to know how everything works.

“When I first started as a conductor in York there was only one female driver, but when I qualify there will be five. It’s definitely moving in the right direction and I think that people are very open to that as well.”

She added: “I would definitely encourage more women to apply. It's a very welcoming environment and Northern do a lot to make women feel included. We are all treated as equals.

“I think it's really important that women get into these roles so there is more representation.

“I feel like when people see me as a driver, especially younger girls, they feel like they can do the job too.”

Angela Davey is a conductor based in Blackburn. The 44-year-old joined Northern in 2020, after working as a flight attendant for 18 years. The mother-of-two said she had seen other workers join the rail industry as there are a number of transferable skills.

“Northern just happened to be recruiting. I thought ‘you know, what, I'll give it a go’ and was lucky to get a position in Blackburn,” she said.

“I love being a conductor and I love being out on the trains. With my background in customer services, I like talking to people. You're out there in the midst of it and every day is completely different.

“You never get the same day twice even though we're doing the same routes, as the passengers are different and the situations are different. I find that the shifts go really quickly as there's always something occurring.”

Angela said the shifts can be challenging but she has a supportive family who help with childcare and she gets to see her two children every day.

She is also keen to progress in her career and has been working as a deputy shift manager in Blackburn since May.

“I think most people that do join the railway stay in for years, so I would definitely encourage people to give it a go,” she said.

“If you don't particularly like the role that you start out with, there are lots of other opportunities for you.

“It's still male dominated in terms of the numbers, but I think since I've been here it's changed dramatically.”

She added: “In the time I’ve been here, I’ve never been treated as anything other than an equal.

“We do all get along, everybody respects each other and is there to help you, especially because the railway can be quite daunting and the training is intense when you start.”

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Northern is the second largest train operator in the UK, with 2,500 services a day to more than 500 stations across the North of England.