FREDIE Spotlight: ScotRail Alliance

A monotone graphic. Text reads: FREDIE Spotlight Scotrail

Article Overview:

Achieving excellence in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) involves creating a workplace where everyone feels they belong and can thrive. ScotRail’s journey demonstrates this through clear leadership commitment, comprehensive strategy, and an inclusive culture. Success requires transparent communication, measurable goals, and active engagement from all employees.

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Equality, Diversity, Inclusion: What does good look like?

Setting the Scene

ScotRail Alliance’s managing director, Alex Hynes says that our vision is that everyone belongs, everyone is welcome in ScotRail to use their uniqueness and creativity – through our differences we create success. We want talented people from all backgrounds to have an equal opportunity to work and succeed at ScotRail. Transport impacts everyone and we’re committed to increasing the representation of people from underrepresented groups in all grades, roles, and professions to better reflect the people we serve. We are determined to keep challenging ourselves to do more to build a workplace that is Inclusive for All where everyone feels safe, valued for who they are and comfortable bringing their full, authentic selves to work.

Alex Hynes
Alex Hynes

We’re proud of the progress we’ve made over the past year and we are open about how much further we must go. We have set ambitious goals to guide our efforts, measure progress and hold ourselves to account. We have lots of challenges ahead and whilst we meet those we shall continue to work together, to listen to and respect each other. In doing so, we will embed an environment.

ScotRail – Getting Buy-in

For transport company Abellio ScotRail, changing perceptions and building a campaign around promoting EDI in its fullest sense, has been challenging. There are 5,300 employees in ScotRail and, as is the case across the UK rail industry, it is predominantly made up of males – in ScotRail’s case 78% of its workforce are white males.  The opportunities for change recognised by HR Director Gerry Skelton and his team meant a root and branch overhaul of its practices and policies was needed.

When Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Karen Wallace joined ScotRail in March 2020, it coincided with the first day of the Covid-19 lockdown. This was no deterrent as she stepped into a brand-new role in an industry, she also had no previous experience or exposure.

Karen Wallace
Karen Wallace

She explains: “I knew there was a lot of work to be done on all levels and all fronts. Gerry was incredibly open with me when we met at interview, acknowledging there wasn’t diversity, and that equality and inclusion were present but not as embedded as was needed. I have always been one for a challenge and so the first thing I said to the Executive Committee and colleagues was:  every organisation is on a journey, there is no organisation in the world that can say it has reached the point of full inclusivity or that it has the most diverse workforce.”

The Executive team at ScotRail agreed and committed to the business of embarking on a transformational cultural change campaign devised and led by Karen.

Communication was a key element. In all initial communications, a reassuring message was given, and Karen’s approach was to fold in messages that diversity and inclusion was more than looking through the one-dimensional optic of gender alone and the issues for ScotRail were much more than that.

“Diversity is about the full range of protected characteristics; it’s about the intersectionality of those protected characteristics but it’s more; it’s about ex-offenders, returners to work, diversity of thought and approaches, it’s about people with neurodiverse conditions and optimising what they can bring to the table and so on. It’s about creating the framework, the environment by which every person who comes to work for ScotRail can do so openly, honestly and they can grow in confidence and capability in ways that allows them to achieve their fullest potential.

“So, I suppose in many ways I came in with the best possible intentions, disrupted a lot of the thinking and disrupted a lot of what had gone on before me.

“I started to say look, this is not just about increasing our diversity representation, we do need to focus on that, whilst simultaneously maximising the inclusion of the diversity we currently have.”

Karen’s key focus from the outset was to raise awareness of the benefits of inclusivity and enable the business to look at diversity beyond gender. To persuade and influence colleagues effectively, it was important to understand ScotRail’s true starting point.

That is where NCFD’s Investors in Diversity programme and its FREDIE (Fairness, Respect, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement) principles came into play.

The FREDIE principles were a great starting point and Karen, who had not worked with IiD or FREDIE in other roles, immediately set about familiarising herself with the principles and their framework; getting to grips with understanding the evidence required to demonstrate the accreditation framework and invest in achieving sustainable lasting change.

Alex White says that applying FREDIE to the business has helped us do our analysis on where the company is now, and Karen has done a lot of work around that to understand where the gaps are. It is not a perfunctory process by using FREIDE in context we are able to analyse pay and gender gaps and be more focused. Going forward it helps us identify where we want to be.

“Clearly Alex [Hynes] is passionate and passionate leadership is one of the essential requirements needed, if you want it improve your practices around FREDIE.”

Beginning afresh

In Karen’s first three months in post, she conducted a full EDI audit of ScotRail and its current policies, procedures, and protocols through the FREDIE lens and using the six principles she probed every single piece of ScotRail’s policies, practices, leadership, culture, and data, to understand and expose the businesses strengths and limitations. This involved speaking to directors, running workshops for different parts of the business, and interrogating historical engagement surveys, practices, data, and policies.

“I lifted up every stone as I wanted to know our true starting point.”

Being open and transparent from the start was an important value for Karen. Sugar coating anything was not going to help and was not what was needed to influence and encourage the buy-in she required.

She “pulled no punches” in presenting her audit findings to the Executive Committee three months later. 

Karen explains: “I outlined and described the starting point of my analysis and research, with evidence and data from my audit review. I then outlined what I believed were the priorities and challenges and pointed out, based on my discussion with them all individually, where they might think we were in terms of our diversity journey. I suggested that whilst the Executive might have felt confident, we were at one point of maturity, we were actually somewhere far short of that original perspective.”

Karen’s open and transparent style meant it was quicker and easier to secure the agreement and commitment of the Executive. She had evidenced a degree of complete awareness and acceptance of the issues and challenges but also described and showcased the potential opportunities that were possible if The Executive followed the direction she was outlining.

Dispelling any worries, Karen pointed out that whilst it was an honest and possibly challenging audit to have to share, the findings allowed her to create a full road map of opportunities and successes the business could genuinely hope to experience from the start of the journey with positive markers and timescales stationed across the route.

The Road Map

Increasing diversity representation but simultaneously maximising inclusion

Whilst ScotRail was legally compliant with the Equality Act 2010, the Executive Team wanted to go much further and much broader in their newfound ambitions. The approach they wanted to take, had to be coupled with innovation and impact. By working with the Executive at the outset, there was commitment and buy-in from the highest level.

The next step was to explain the vision and road map more widely. This was wholeheartedly endorsed without exception.

“I considered myself to be exceptionally lucky from the outset to have our Chief Operating Officer, Alex White and the eight other directors say, ‘what do you want and what do you need from us?’

Alex WHite
Alex White

Alex White agrees: “There was a big move in momentum for change and to move away from old stereotypes. We had to look at how we change our staff and personnel to get better split of roles across the company and create more opportunities for better gender balance, example, getting more women driving trains.”

“Notwithstanding the COVID-19 problems in driver training we are going to extend the population of women drivers. That is the right thing to do, and the opportunities are here and now. Identifying the opportunities means you can make sure you can deliver the change over a period of time. This whole change mechanism needs to be self-sustaining.”

Karen picks up on the messaging being important. This was not just about diversity and inclusion alone, it had to represent and be an expression of our philosophy and our businesses values: 

Bold, Collaborative, Honest, Customer Driven, Encouraging.

Engaging with Stakeholders:

“It’s about exploring and expanding diversity and inclusion with the goal to focus more sharply on making sure our people feel psychologically safe, valued, heard and included – that they belong.

“Questions I asked in focus groups, speaking with hundreds of people were: ‘do you feel you belong? Do you have that sense of belonging? Do you feel when you express a view or contribute, that it is valued?  Do you feel you’ve been heard or listened to?’

“That led me to conclude that focusing on creating and maintain an inclusive culture was essential.  We had to shift the dial on creating a sense of belonging for people and help them make the connection between that sense of belonging, feeling safe, valued, and heard and the links to increased engagement and innovation.

Being representative

Governance and reporting structures led to the establishment of a strategic Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group which is chaired by our HR Director, Gerry Skelton.

Prior to establishing the strategic steering group, Karen met with the four main rail unions within ScotRail. This was done by initially meeting the full-time officials of the unions individually and then all 4 collectively, ensuring that the intentions and the ambitions we were looking to achieve were explained fully and that we took their thoughts and concerns into our thinking. This enabled Karen to reassure and give confidence that she came from the start point of recognising the value and experience she would gain from working collaboratively with the unions.

All four unions were supportive and understood Karen’s intent and recognised that to embed true inclusivity she needed their help and support.

Agreement on the steering group was secured and it was agreed that the group would ensure all nine business divisions were represented along with the four main rail unions – RMT, ASLEF, UNITE the Union and TSSA. This was key to Karen being able to embed the whole EDI agenda to be founded on a partnership basis, with both the company and the trades unions working collaboratively.   

Understanding the benefits

The unions were fully onboard with the ambition and the vision for this approach because Karen had explained and outlined the long term benefits to their members, making it noticeably clear as she has done at every opportunity, that it is everybody’s job to make sure they get the workplace culture they all desire.

It is not HR’s job, nor the Executives’ and the steering groups – it’s everyone’s job to contribute to the best most inclusive workplace culture possible. This really resonated with everyone who’d committed to signing up the Road Map.

With the support of the Executive and the trades unions, plus Fiona Triller, NCFD’s adviser in Scotland who was helping with Investors in Diversity application, Karen co-facilitated workshops and launched consultation exercises which led to the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy ‘Inclusion for All’ being approved by the Abellio ScotRail Executive team.

Key Elements of Inclusion for All

  • Identify key diversity metrics and KPI’s for next five years.
  • Build in governance structures and reporting mechanisms.
  • Report directly to the executive committee every month.
  • Formally report to the Abellio Board twice per annum (June and December).
  • Align to overall corporate strategy and operating model by collaborating with colleagues throughout the business.
  • Understand that if strategy eats culture for breakfast it cannot just be a beautifully presented document sitting on the company intranet. This is where most organisations fail – it must be embedded at individual directorate level.

Approved Next Steps

  • From January, work with the business’s senior leadership teams across the nine directorates and conclude by February 2021.
  • Present data to each of the 9 directorates, using localised staff demographics, and responses to the staff engagement survey.
  • Identify the priorities and challenges as a starter for 10, based on the work and strengths ScotRail wants to share across the organisation.
  • Identify 3 or 4 ambitious but achievable priority actions that can be implemented over the next 12 months that working together, the directorate can achieve.
  • Help provide the lightbulb moment, identify one action on engagement to strengthen the links between EDI and engagement.

Building a Culture of Inclusion for All

In between the different strands of Karen’s work, it was important to get the message about the concept of belonging out to all our people.

Key to this was involving the social media team and sharing messages about belonging through various campaigns and initiatives such as Black History month, National Inclusion Week, International Women’s Day using hashtags such as:  #BelonginginScotrail #successinourdifferences #TeamScotRail

What is the vision?

Karen started by creating the vision and then engineering backwards.

“The vision is that everyone belongs, everyone is welcome to use their uniqueness and creativity, because it is through our differences that we create success.”

“That is the bit where we are putting our foot on the pedal to increase the pace at which we seek to achieve diverse representation but, for me, the focus is and always will be on inclusion, because you can get as many diverse people as you know into a business but, if it is not an inclusive culture, they won’t stay. And that is why it is Inclusion for All for our people, passengers and for the communities that we serve.”

Being a Disrupter for the greater good

All this work is not just about developing a strategy but about everyone developing a mindset.

Fixed mindsets and people do not speak about inclusion.

“People did not know about the benefits that the FREDIE principles bring but I threaded that all through the presentations, workshops and team meetings. By constantly bringing it back to the FREDIE principles, I reminded people of the benefits to the business and to them as individuals.

“I always pose the question – So what’s in it for you? I ensure I tailor my response to whatever audience I am speaking to in the business.

“This is not just a nice to have – it’s an absolute business priority and the Executive has made it clear that diversity, inclusion and belonging is more than a business imperative. It is the right priorities for the business that is the only way we are going to meet the future needs and challenges of the business.”

The Importance of Understanding your Data.

Staff data in June was low with the only figure that could be trusted being gender- 78% of the workforce being male.

LGBT+ and disability came out as 0.2% of the workforce but in Scotland 1 in 5 people have a have a disability so we need to highlight the benefits of people in ScotRail sharing their personal data.

Karen launched an employee monitoring campaign to demystify why the information was needed and to explain that it helped create the right policies and culture that met the individualised needs of people across the business.

This resulted in an increase in self reporting across all nine protected characteristics and gave us a clearer insight into our staff demographics.

This data helped us identify and introduce ambitious but achievable key performance indicators for 2020-2025.   In monitoring and reviewing targets around equality, diversity, and inclusion, we can take target action to attract and retain diverse people that represent the communities we serve.

We are developing a gender, ethnicity, and disability plan to increase representation across the business of younger people, women, disabled people, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The employee engagement survey and exit interviews surveys generate an inclusivity index and enable Karen to drill down into the data to ensure that there are no significant gaps between different groups of staff.

The importance of Accreditations

Working towards IiD and other external accreditations is a visible internal and external sign that we are committed to achieving sustainable, meaningful positive action providing frameworks to develop actions and measure and monitor and review progress.

Current accreditations include:

  • Gold Standard for Healthy Working Lives
  • Partnership with See Me a Scottish Mental Health Organisation
  • Disability Confidence Employer (Currently at level 1 Committed working towards level 2 Engaged)
  • Signatory to the Rail Industry Association, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Charter to embed more inclusive and diverse workplaces practices across the rail sector.  

Understanding the needs of the sector

It is recognised there is a huge skills gap for engineers in the UK and ScotRail has an added challenge: an aging workforce.

The average age is 52/53 so it is important to anticipate its skills shortage in the future.

Changing hearts and minds – building a Campaign

Aim of Campaign 1:
To highlight and dispel the myth that engineers are all male and wear hard hats, led to the start of a campaign that successfully showcased the diversity of people and particularly targeting women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds and younger people to consider a career in engineering.
A crucial element of moving the agenda on was identifying what strategic partnerships existed.

Karen established a partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering implementing a phenomenally successful campaign on Engineering Day (4th November).

Working collaboratively with the social media team, ScotRail was able to create a flood of posts in the run up to the day, with videos and case studies of its engineers with #notallengineerswearhardhats and #belonginginScotRail

The campaign was highlighted up by the national press and ScotRail was heralded as a socially inclusive employer of choice.

Campaign 2 Linking it to a new career’s website.
It became apparent to Karen when researching ScotRail as a business that the careers part of the website was not fit for purpose, it sent you to the generic Abellio Group website with no mention of diversity or inclusion.  

It did not inform or excite about what it was like to work in ScotRail.

A key priority was the need to look at recruitment and selection practices. This had been part of the audit process and Karen has recognised that there was opportunity in the current systems and processes for both conscious and unconscious bias.

To demonstrate ScotRail’s commitment to increasing diversity it meant the elimination and debias of the selection process starting with the website.

“Our careers website had all white male images and no key messages about ScotRail, nothing about EDI which meant no one can be what they cannotsee.”

A priority was to set up a project group Recruit for Success to conduct a roots and branch review of the recruitment and selection, practices, and processes.

Karen is extremely proud that the group rewrote the whole careers website, energising it, making it something people would get excited about.

It provided potential applicants with information about different parts of the business, with diverse images and a designated diversity and inclusion page. Folded into the site were our corporate values and videos and case studies of people in ScotRail talking about their specific roles.

A human touch was added with different people talking about what it meant to belong in ScotRail thereby creating a stronger sense of the diverse image of the business and its people.

A gender decoder was used on the website and we ensured the site was fully accessible for people with a range of disabilities and neurodiverse conditions.

Using National Inclusion Week as a Platform
The diversity and inclusion agenda was given a big bang launch on the first day of National Inclusion Week (September 28).

A Diversity and Inclusion Statement of Intent was launched signed by each of the Executive Directors with their photographs to demonstrate their individual commitment to embedding a fairer, more diverse, and inclusive workplace. 

Day 2:  80 ScotRail leaders attended an inclusive leadership two-hour training event.

This was followed up with a link to evaluate the training and everyone who attended to make an inclusive leadership pledge detailing what one thing they would do more or less of over the next twelve months to be an inclusive leader.

A virtual oak tree was created with the leaves used as pledges to make a strong visual impact.

Using already established communication channels like the ScotRail weekly Monday ‘Whistle’ a newsletter that goes to everyone across the business included links for making the pledge, with a new electronic signature provided.

This opened so many conversations across the business with individual’s wanting to know how they got the special email signatures and could make a pledge.

On the Wednesday: a hugely successful session entitled ‘Let’s talk about Race’.

On the Thursday: ScotRail worked with Values into Action Scotland saw two young men, one of whom with autism and one with a learning disability present the challenges and opportunities in the workplace and raised awareness of neurodiversity. Again, it prompted a great response.

The Friday Sessions: The last day included LGBT+ and Allyship promoting the benefits of being a good ally. This session broke down stereotypes and stigmas and encourage people understand the discrimination that people from the LGBT+ community face and what steps they could take as proud allies to support them in the workplace.

Karen said it was an incredible session with people sharing stories of coming out and leading to volunteers providing case studies.  

“It was more than I could have ever expected and has been the catalyst for so much more since then.”

Tip: Link every campaign externally and internally back to the career’s website.

Demonstrating Commitment

  • The executive signed off with their photos and electronic signatures incorporating a diverse and inclusion Statement of Intent powerfully showing their support, focus and accountability.
  • If you want to make it part of your DNA so that it becomes effortless in how you do your business, get visible buy in from the top and show your workforce you are genuinely committed to this agenda.
  • Executive Sponsors for race, disability, gender, LGBT+ and Age, Family and Caring

Reaffirming and reinvigorating ScotRail’s commitment to diversity inclusion and belonging

  • The Executive Committee have each agreed to be an Executive Sponsor for Race, Mental Health and Wellbeing, Disability, Gender, LGBT+ and Age, family and caring.
  • In addition, some executive members have agreed to be mentors and offer reverse mentoring as we look to introduce coaching and mentoring programmes.


  • Had to go 100mph but that created the excitement, drive, and momentum.
  • Getting executive buy in is essential.
  • Next steps are to develop EDI champions working to support initiatives and campaigns and being the eyes and ears to help shift the dial on the whole inclusivity piece.

Alex White concludes about the importance of sustainability. “When people talk about sustainability, they frame it around one aspect the green credentials, but I like to think of it in the wider sense. Talking about the sustainability of the business in a much wider context. We now have to get people doing the right job, yes understanding the green credentials are part of what we need to consider but it is a much wider perspective.

We are focused on delivering a model into the future and making sure it is sustainable beyond the franchise so anyone can take forward our vision and grow. That’s why it must be a robust and why we are all committed. It is not a nice to have.


Stay up to speed with the latest on EDI in the UK workplace from The National Centre For Diversity.