From mum to management, postnatal depression and inspiring women into rail – Charlotte Curtis from First Group talks about her career
Due to expansion and significant investment in infrastructure, confidence in the UK rail industry is at its highest. Crossrail and the soon to commence HS2 projects are just two of the landmark schemes that are helping the sector to flourish. Consequently, the rail market has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change, as the success of these technical projects depends on reaching into a diverse pool of talent to deliver them. With initiatives such as the (Morson sponsored) Big Rail Diversity Challenge, the rail sector is actively embracing the opportunity to improve gender diversity within the industry and, most importantly, inspiring the next generation of diverse talent.
One of the companies at the forefront of rail transformation in the UK is First Group who are a leading provider of transport services in the UK and North America. First Group is one of the UK’s most experienced rail operators, carrying more than 260m passengers across their three franchises and their open-access operation a year.
We sat down with Charlotte Curtis, Project Manager at First Group to find out more about her career journey and aspirations for the future…
“Currently I work in a project management role delivering the design and build of Feltham Depot. It’s a large project, consisting of 10 sidings, a staff accommodation block, connection to the mainline and enabling works. The purpose of the scheme is to stable the new 701 fleet trains.”
Charlotte explains that there is no typical day at work, one of the best things about her role is that it’s varied and always challenging:
“My days differ dependent on the lifecycle stage of the project for example during Grip 3 (option selection) I found myself attending frequent IDR (Initial Design Review) sessions with our appointed designer.
During the same period, I supported our designer with preparing all of the environmental studies that are required to submit to the Council as we needed planning approval from the from Hounslow in order to commence with the development.”
Young women are enormously underrepresented in rail and engineering, and yet stand to make a massive contribution. Charlotte discusses some of the challenges she has encountered working in a male-dominated environment:
“I'd like to think I bring diversity to our current team being a full-time working mum of two in her late 30s.
I came on board to this project with a fresh pair of eyes and I was able to bring not only my experience within the rail sector but a positive attitude and exceptional organisational skills having juggled two children under the age of two years old.”
The use of our railway lines is expected to double in the next 25 years and so to meet this challenge we need a diverse workforce with innovative ideas at the forefront of rail operations. Charlotte chats about her aspirations for the next 5-10 years…
“Firstly, being a mum of two girls, I'd like them to witness that women have the power to accomplish anything especially when it comes to their careers.
I would also like to increase the value of the type of contracts I'm managing. I'm currently owning and monitoring various workstreams, but I would like to learn new things and develop my contract awareness through training courses.”
Charlotte chats about how she juggles being a busy mum of two and working full time:
“I’d like to think I maintain a good work-life balance and I think it’s all about using your time wisely. I have a 1.5-hour commute to work every day, I tend to use my journey time to respond to emails whilst I'm on the train. I push myself to go to the gym every lunchtime Monday – Friday, I think this breaks up my day and releases tension.
I threw myself into my role at First Group and have encountered many occasions where I’ve ended up spending my nights working on my laptop after my children have gone to bed. Very different from being a full time stay at home mum!
I thrive on the fact that I have a good job and great people to work with who show me respect and offer support. I can't imagine not working as it gives me a sense of purpose, so my advice to all those mums who want to get back into work, just do it!”
After taking three years off work to have her children, Charlotte was unfortunately affected by post-natal depression and struggled to get back into the industry she loved. She discusses how she got back into work with the help of Morson…
“Taking three years off work to have my two children seemed like a lifetime and despite doing admin tasks for my husband’s company during this period, I still felt like I’d lost my identity.
I can remember some companies turning me down for an interview because I’d spent more than 12-months working within in a non-rail environment. I felt like I was being punished for wanting to raise a family, but I was determined to get my career back on track and all I needed was one person to believe in me.
One day I got a call from a Staci Hodson-Glenn at Morson (also a driven hard-working mum) who was about to give me the break I deserved. She put me forward for a role with one of her clients, First Group and I haven’t looked back since.”
Charlotte has now embarked on a new challenge as Project Manager for South Western Railway. She will be working on a 2-year project worth 5.3 million, delivering CCIF (customer and community improvement funded projects). We wish her all the success and look forward to catching up with her about her new role soon!
Morson’s dedication to diversity
As an organisation which operates in sectors hardest hit by imbalances, Morson is dedicated to improving diversity within the industries we work; in 2017 our CEO, Ged Mason OBE, pledged to double the number of female engineer contractors we have working for us by 2020, a figure which we’re well on the way to achieving.
In March, we announced our first official diversity ambassador, CEO and founder of Northern Power Women, Simone Roche MBE, to help us on our journey to creating truly inclusive workforces. Simone joins a growing list of existing Morson ambassadors across business, sport and the armed forces. Find out more about our partnership with Simone here.