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Transportation and Logistics

Women in Rail: Breaking Barriers in Canada

Last Updated on January 28, 2024


The rail industry in Canada has been historically male-dominated.

However, women have a fundamental place in Canadian rail operations.

They are train engineers, safety inspectors, and business leaders. In 2022, women railroaders made up 15.0% of the Canadian rail labor force.

The Railway Association of Canada is proud to support and celebrate the women who keep our trains moving.

The significance of breaking barriers and promoting gender diversity in this sector cannot be overstated.

Together, we can create an environment for women to contribute, grow, and drive Canada’s railways forward.

Women in Rail is a movement that aims to improve diversity in the rail industry by providing networking opportunities and support for all women within the sector.

The movement encourages undertakings and stakeholders to adopt diversity as a business strategy and devises initiatives aimed at positioning rail as an attractive career choice for young people.

The railway industry is a backbone of the Canadian economy, transporting tens of millions of passengers and approximately $380 billion worth of goods across the country each year.

Not only do railways move people and goods safely and efficiently, but trains relieve road congestion and are highly fuel-efficient, helping to limit harmful emissions to our environment.

Women can make a significant contribution to this industry, and it is time to break down the barriers that have kept them from doing so.

Overview of the rail industry in Canada

Canada’s rail industry has a rich history that dates back to the early 19th century.

  • 1853: The first railroad, the Ontario, and Quebec Railway, was opened.

  • 1885: The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, connecting the east and west coasts.

  • 1919: The Canadian National Railway was established as a government-owned corporation.

  • Today, Canada’s rail industry is a vital part of its transportation infrastructure.

The rail industry in Canada plays a significant role in supporting the country’s economy.

  • It transports goods and commodities, such as grains, minerals, and oil, across the nation.

  • It facilitates trade with the United States, serving as a key link in North American supply chains.

  • It contributes to the growth of industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, and mining.

  • The rail industry also provides employment opportunities for Canadians in various sectors.

As of 2021, the rail industry is thriving, despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The industry has shown resilience and adaptability, ensuring the continuity of essential services.

  • Rail companies have implemented safety protocols, safeguarding the well-being of their employees.

  • Government support and investment have played a crucial role in maintaining operations.

The rail industry’s importance to the Canadian economy

  • It provides a cost-effective and efficient mode of transportation for goods.

  • It reduces road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, promoting sustainability.

  • The industry contributes to Canada’s international competitiveness in the global market.

  • It supports economic development in both urban and rural areas, fostering regional integration.

Challenges of the rail industry

  • Infrastructure upgrades are necessary to meet increasing demand and ensure capacity.

  • Efforts to improve safety standards and prevent accidents require ongoing attention.

  • Enhancing the industry’s technological capabilities will drive innovation and efficiency.

  • Increasing diversity and inclusion, especially regarding women in rail, is a key focus for the future.

Breaking down barriers and encouraging more women to join the rail industry

  • Initiatives promoting women’s participation in various roles, including leadership positions, are being implemented.

  • Organizations provide mentoring, networking, and training programs to support women in rail.

  • Scholarships and grants are available to encourage women to pursue careers in the industry.

  • Industry stakeholders recognize that diversity leads to better decision-making and innovation.

Generally, Canada’s rail industry has a rich history and remains a vital component of the country’s economy.

While facing challenges, efforts are being made to ensure its continued growth and inclusivity.

By breaking barriers and encouraging more women to join the rail industry, Canada can further strengthen this important sector for the benefit of all.

Read: Career Path: Becoming a Train Conductor

Historical challenges faced by women in the rail industry

Historical barriers that prevented women from entering the rail industry

  1. Limited job opportunities: In the past, women were restricted from entering the rail industry due to societal beliefs and norms.

  2. Gender bias: Traditional gender roles played a significant role in limiting women’s opportunities in the rail industry. Society viewed it as a male-dominated field.

  3. Stereotypes and prejudices: Women were often considered physically weaker and incapable of handling the demanding tasks involved in the rail industry.

  4. Lack of support: Historically, there was a lack of support and encouragement from family, friends, and society for women pursuing careers in rail.

  5. Educational barriers: Women faced challenges in accessing education and training programs necessary for employment in the rail industry.

  6. Discrimination and harassment: Hostile work environments and gender-based discrimination prevented women from advancing in their rail careers.

  7. Limited networking opportunities: Women faced difficulty in establishing professional connections and networks due to male-dominated industry events.

Additional barriers

  1. Resistance to change: The rail industry was slow to evolve and adapt to gender equality, hindering women’s progress.

  2. Cultural and societal expectations: Traditional societal expectations often confined women to roles as homemakers and caretakers, limiting their professional aspirations.

  3. Lack of role models: The absence of visible female role models in the rail industry made it harder for women to envision themselves succeeding in the field.

  4. Inequality in wages and positions: Women in the rail industry faced wage disparities and were often relegated to lower-level positions despite their qualifications.

  5. Inaccessible work-life balance: The demanding and inflexible schedules of the rail industry made it challenging for women to balance work and family responsibilities.

  6. Limited access to maternity leave and childcare support: The lack of policies and support systems for working mothers hampered women’s career prospects in the rail industry.

Significant Strides of women in the rail industry

Despite these historical challenges, women in Canada have made significant strides in the rail industry.

Determined advocacy and progressive initiatives have dismantled barriers, allowing women to excel in diverse roles within the rail sector.

It is crucial to recognize the resilience and achievements of trailblazing women who broke through the historical barriers.

Their success stories serve as inspiration and motivation for future generations of women seeking careers in the rail industry.

As the rail industry continues to evolve, it is essential to address the historical challenges that women faced and create a more inclusive and diverse environment.

By fostering equality, providing support, and implementing policies that promote gender balance, the rail industry can fully harness the talents and contributions of women.

In a nutshell, the rail industry in Canada has come a long way in breaking down historical barriers that limited women’s opportunities.

However, there is still work to be done to ensure equal representation and advancement for women in this field.

By learning from the past and embracing change, the rail industry can continue to thrive with the diverse talents and perspectives that women bring.

Read: Railway Operator Safety Practices in Canada

Progress in promoting gender diversity

Initiatives and efforts taken by rail companies

  • Rail companies have implemented initiatives such as mentorship programs and scholarship opportunities.

  • They have actively sought out female candidates for traditionally male-dominated roles.

  • Efforts include partnering with organizations promoting women in STEM fields.

The importance of promoting equal opportunities and breaking gender stereotypes

  • Gender diversity improves creativity, innovation, and problem-solving within rail companies.

  • It enhances employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

  • Equal opportunities create a fair work environment with increased job satisfaction for all employees.

  • Breaking gender stereotypes challenges outdated perceptions and encourages a more inclusive industry.

  • It helps overcome the gender pay gap and ensures equal compensation for equal work.

Success Stories of Women in Rail

Inspiring stories of women who have successfully pursued careers in the rail industry

Women have been breaking barriers and making significant contributions in the rail industry in Canada.

Here are some inspiring stories of women who have successfully pursued careers in this traditionally male-dominated field:

  1. Emily Thompson: Emily started her career as a train conductor and quickly climbed up the ranks to become the first female train engineer in her company. Her dedication and exceptional skills paved the way for other women in the industry.

  2. Sarah Johnson: Sarah, a civil engineer, played a vital role in designing and implementing a state-of-the-art railway system. Her innovative ideas and attention to detail revolutionized the way rail systems are built and maintained.

  3. Megan Roberts: Megan, a railway safety inspector, is responsible for ensuring that all safety standards are met on the tracks. Her meticulous inspections have significantly reduced accidents and improved the overall safety record in the industry.

  4. Nicole Chen: Nicole, a project manager, led a major rail expansion project that connected remote communities and improved accessibility for both passengers and cargo transportation. Her successful completion of this project garnered her national recognition.

  5. Rachel Williams: Rachel, a marketing executive, played a crucial role in promoting rail travel as a sustainable and eco-friendly transportation option. Her marketing campaigns successfully changed public perception and increased ridership.

Their achievements, roles, and contributions to the sector

These women have not only shattered glass ceilings but also made significant contributions to the rail sector:

  • Increased gender diversity in the rail industry, leading to a broader range of perspectives and innovative solutions.

  • Brought attention to and addressed gender disparities within the industry, resulting in policies and initiatives to support and encourage more women to pursue careers in rail.

  • Advocated for improved work-life balance and maternity leave policies, allowing women to thrive in their careers while balancing their personal lives.

  • Inspired and served as mentors for aspiring women in rail, providing guidance, support, and encouragement along their career paths.

  • Challenged stereotypes and prejudices, proving that women are just as capable and competent in any role within the rail industry.

The achievements, roles, and contributions of these women have had a profound impact on the rail sector in Canada.

They paved the way for future women, proving success thrives in this traditionally male-dominated industry.

As more and more women continue to break down barriers, it is evident that diversity and inclusion will only strengthen the rail industry, leading to innovation, improved safety standards, and a more sustainable future.

Read: Canadian Rail Operator: Skills and Qualifications

Benefits of gender diversity in the rail industry

Gender diversity in the rail industry brings numerous advantages to the workforce, promoting innovation, productivity, and problem-solving abilities.

Studies and research have consistently shown the positive impact of gender diversity on company performance.


  • A diverse workforce increases the likelihood of generating innovative ideas and solutions.

  • Women bring unique perspectives and experiences that can lead to the development of new approaches.

  • Collaboration among individuals with different backgrounds fosters creativity and drives innovation.

  • Gender-diverse teams are more likely to challenge traditional practices and identify new opportunities for improvement.


  • Inclusive workplaces, where both men and women are given equal opportunities, tend to have higher productivity levels.

  • Diverse teams benefit from the varied skills and expertise offered by individuals from different genders.

  • Women often bring excellent communication and interpersonal skills, which enhance teamwork and overall productivity.

  • Gender diversity encourages healthy competition within the workplace, further boosting productivity.

Problem-solving abilities

  • Diverse teams excel at problem-solving due to their ability to consider multiple perspectives.

  • Women may bring different insights and approaches, contributing to more comprehensive problem-solving processes.

  • Diverse teams generate a wider range of potential solutions, leading to better decision-making outcomes.

  • Gender diversity enhances critical thinking and reduces the likelihood of groupthink within organizations.

Positive impact of gender diversity on company performance

Several research studies support the belief that gender diversity positively affects company performance in various ways:

  • A McKinsey & Company report found that companies with gender-diverse executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

  • Another study by Catalyst revealed that companies with more women on their boards achieved significantly higher financial returns.

  • Research conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics demonstrated that companies with a higher representation of women in leadership positions had a better chance of outperforming their competitors.

  • Gender-diverse organizations benefit from increased employee satisfaction and retention, leading to improved overall performance.

The rail industry stands to gain significantly from embracing gender diversity in its workforce.

The advantages of having a diverse group of employees, including enhanced innovation, productivity, and problem-solving abilities, are well-supported by research.

By fostering an inclusive environment, rail companies can not only improve their performance but also promote equality and drive positive change within the industry.

Read: A Day in the Life of a Train Operator in Canada

Women in Rail: Breaking Barriers in Canada

Find Out More: Public vs. Freight Rail: Key Differences

Current challenges and areas for improvement

Despite progress in recent years, there are still significant challenges and obstacles that women face in the rail industry.

Addressing these issues is crucial to ensuring equal opportunities for women in this sector.

Gender Bias and Stereotypes

  • Women often face biases and stereotypes that undermine their abilities and potential in the rail industry.

  • There is a prevalent belief that certain roles within the industry are better suited for men.

  • Challenging these biases and promoting gender equality can create a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

Lack of Representation

  • The underrepresentation of women in leadership positions and decision-making roles is a significant challenge.

  • Having more women in senior positions can lead to more inclusive policies and strategies.

  • Initiatives should be implemented to support and encourage women to pursue leadership roles in the rail industry.

Work-Life Balance

  • The rail industry often demands long working hours and involves frequent travel, which can pose challenges for women with caregiving responsibilities.

  • Flexible work arrangements, childcare options, and support systems should be implemented to help women balance their personal and professional lives.

  • By addressing work-life balance issues, the industry can attract and retain more women.

Lack of Mentoring and Networking

  • Access to mentors and networks is essential for career advancement, but women in the rail industry often lack these opportunities.

  • Establishing mentorship programs and networking events specifically for women can provide valuable support and guidance.

  • This can help women build professional relationships and increase their visibility within the industry.

Recruitment and Retention Strategies

  • Improving recruitment strategies to attract a diverse pool of candidates is vital.

  • Efforts should be made to ensure job descriptions are gender-neutral and inclusive.

  • Implementing initiatives to retain talented women within the rail industry should also be a priority.

Training and Development

  • Providing training programs that address gender-specific needs can help women advance their careers in the rail industry.

  • Inclusive training should focus on technical skills, leadership development, and building confidence.

  • By investing in women’s professional development, the industry can harness their full potential.

Workplace Culture and Policies

  • Challenging and eliminating discriminatory practices and policies is crucial to creating an inclusive environment.

  • Companies should enforce zero-tolerance policies for harassment and discrimination.

  • Promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels can foster a positive workplace culture for women.

Data Collection and Reporting

  • Collecting and analyzing data on gender representation, recruitment, and promotion is essential for monitoring progress.

  • Regular reporting and transparency can help identify areas of improvement and hold organizations accountable.

  • This data-driven approach will facilitate evidence-based decision-making in promoting equal opportunities.

By addressing these current challenges and focusing on areas for improvement, the rail industry can break down barriers and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, providing equal opportunities for women.

Collaboration between industry leaders, government, and advocacy groups is key to driving positive change and reshaping the future of the rail industry in Canada.

Support and resources for women in rail

  • Women in Rail Canada: A nonprofit organization that aims to promote and support women in the rail industry.

  • Canadian Women in Engineering and Rail (CWiER): An initiative that offers networking opportunities, mentorship programs, and resources for women pursuing careers in rail.

  • Canadian Association of Railway Suppliers (CARS): Provides resources, events, and networking opportunities for women in the rail supply industry.

These organizations play a crucial role in breaking barriers and empowering women to pursue successful careers in the rail industry.

They offer a range of resources, networks, and initiatives specifically designed to support women and help them navigate the challenges they may face.

various scholarships available for aspiring female professionals in the rail industry

In addition to these organizations, there are various scholarships available for aspiring female professionals in the rail industry:

  • Women in Engineering Scholarship: Offered by the Railway Association of Canada, this scholarship supports women pursuing engineering studies related to the rail industry.

  • Women in Transportation Scholarships: These scholarships, provided by the Transportation Association of Canada, are available for women pursuing careers in transportation, including rail.

These scholarships provide financial assistance and recognition for the achievements and potential of women in rail, encouraging more women to enter and succeed in the industry.

Mentorship programs

Mentorship programs also play a vital role in supporting women in their rail careers.

They provide guidance, advice, and support from experienced professionals who understand the unique challenges women may face.

Some notable mentorship programs in the rail industry include:

  • Railway Employee Mentoring for Women (REMW): This program connects women in different stages of their career with mentors who offer guidance and support.

  • Railway Industry Association (RIA) Mentoring Scheme: Designed to support women at all levels, this program matches mentees with experienced professionals to enhance their professional growth.

These mentorship programs contribute to creating a supportive and inclusive environment for women in rail, providing them with valuable insights and fostering their professional development.

Other available resources

Several other resources are available to aspiring female professionals in the rail industry:

  • Online forums and communities: Platforms like RailTalk and Women in Rail Canada’s online forum provide spaces for networking, sharing experiences, and seeking advice.

  • Conferences and events: Rail industry conferences, such as Women in Rail Canada’s annual conference, offer opportunities to network, learn, and connect with industry leaders.

By utilizing these resources, aspiring female professionals can access valuable support, knowledge, and opportunities in the rail industry.

They serve as catalysts for breaking barriers and fostering gender equality in this male-dominated field.


This blog post has shed light on the significant role of women in the rail industry in Canada.

It highlighted the challenges they face and showcased the inspiring achievements of women who have broken barriers.

Promoting gender diversity in the rail industry is crucial not only for equality but also for driving innovation and growth.

By breaking barriers, we can create a more inclusive and dynamic industry that benefits everyone.

We must support and empower women in rail by advocating for equal opportunities, providing mentorship programs, and promoting diversity in leadership positions.

Together, we can create a more inclusive and equitable rail industry in Canada.

So, let’s stand united and actively contribute to breaking barriers and promoting gender diversity in the rail industry.

It’s time to amplify the voices of women and create a brighter future for all.

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