Anyone who has lived in or visited Melbourne knows the integral and iconic role the tram network plays in keeping our vibrant city moving. It is the largest tram network in the world and one which Keolis Downer, the proud operator of Yarra Trams, is focused on ensuring it meets the needs of Australia’s most culturally and ethnically diverse city. As an HR practitioner and passionate advocate for inclusion, it is a real privilege to be part of Keolis Downer’s journey towards making Yarra Trams representative of the amazing diversity of the people and communities, for which we provide an essential service.

Upon taking over the operation of Yarra Trams, Keolis Downer identified the need for a strategic focus on increasing the diversity of our workforce. While Yarra Trams had a rich history of being a culturally and linguistically diverse organisation, we had a problem, with less than 13 per cent of our employees being female in 2013. Of course, genuine inclusion is about more than just gender, so we embarked on a whole-of-organisation journey to increase female participation while also working to embrace diversity across other communities.

“Yarra Trams negotiated with our employees and unions to introduce the first part-time public transport rail driver positions in Australia.”

Tram drivers form the largest part of our workforce and are where many of our leaders begin their career at Yarra Trams, so it was critical for us to focus on attracting a more diverse driver workforce at this level of our organisation. At the start of our transformation, less than 10 per cent of our tram drivers identified as women.

To have an impact, we knew we had to set ourselves measurable targets, overhaul our approach to recruitment, and identify and remove barriers.  One of the most powerful parts of our early strategy was taking the time to listen to our existing female drivers about what they loved about the job and listening to people in the communities we serve to hear their perceptions about tram drivers and their role.  This gave us insights to work closely with our recruitment and marketing teams on our Driven Women recruitment campaigns, which aimed to change perceptions and reach people who may never have seen tram driving, as an option for them. Listening to our people has continued to be one of the most valuable sources to inform our diversity and inclusion initiatives over the years.

A second game changer was removing a systemic and long-standing barrier to employment – the requirement to work full time shift work. According to the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 68.5 per cent of part-time workers are women, and so the requirement to work long, and sometimes erratic, hours driving trams excluded a large section of the workforce looking for flexibility and part-time work. In 2019, Yarra Trams negotiated with our employees and unions to introduce the first part-time public transport rail driver positions in Australia. 

This move to implement part-time driving positions was immediately successful. In the first two years since part-time roles were introduced, two thirds of applicants for these roles were women, compared to only one in five applicants for full-time roles being female. 

The final piece to the puzzle was increasing gender diversity in our leadership teams at all levels. Ensuring we had female leaders, particularly in operational roles, and providing pathways for advancement. This has helped us drive other changes and improvements on the network, from improving our depot and network facilities, to identifying safety and security concerns, to championing and driving change. 

Even now it is not uncommon to walk into one of our many depots and strike up a conversation with a driver who’s been driving trams in Melbourne since the 1970s or 1980s, and has seen the city grow up around the tram tracks. While we are proud of our part in a long tradition of creating a workplace where people want to stay, it also means that changing the shape of a long-tenured, low-turnover workforce takes time. Yet, with our long-term commitment to Yarra Trams, Keolis Downer has doubled overall female participation from less than 13 per cent in 2013 to over 26 per cent less than ten years later, and we are confident of reaching our current target of 30 per cent by 2024.

While we still have work to do, I am pleased to say that a sustained focus on diversity and inclusion over the past 10 years has had a significant impact on our business and our people.  In addition to our work on gender equality, we have been working with our LGBTQI+ communities, commenced our reconciliation journey with First Nations Australians, and we are driving change for people with disabilities and accessibility needs. 

So, when you see our newly launched #AllAboard Pride Tram out on the network with its vibrant artwork, sending a beautiful message that trams are open to anyone regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, cultural background, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, religious faith, political affiliation, socio-economic origin, or family responsibility, you can be sure that it is more than just a piece of moving art.