Nita Rabadia, HS2 Ltd’s Head of Specification and Assurance, has been called one of the most influential women in rail.
We asked her about the changing culture of the industry, and her advice for women interested in a rail career.
Nita’s job is to manage the sponsor’s requirements – what the government wants HS2 to achieve and deliver.
She takes the requirements and turns them into technical specifications. These are like detailed instructions or guidelines for the teams who design, build, commission and operate the railway.
So what does that involve?
I need to get different parts of the business to use a ‘systems thinking’ approach. The key is to see the bigger picture and understand how each part fits within that. This helps us to deliver the right solution for each activity we do. We avoid wasted efforts, we minimise risk, and we provide confidence to our stakeholders that we are heading in the right direction.
What did you do before, and how was that different?
I’ve worked on some great rail projects – like upgrading the North London Line in time for the Olympics – taking them through initial design to detailed design.
It was really strange when I entered the rail industry almost 13 years ago. At the time, the industry was driven around safety, standards and processes - those were such a big part of how people thought and how they did things. It was a vast contrast to the manufacturing industry where I’d come from: that was all about innovation, being creative, always looking to improve our systems and be more efficient. That has really changed, though. Companies like HS2 Ltd realise how important innovation and efficiency are, while keeping safety at the top of the agenda!
What are you most proud of?
Working as part of a highly skilled team, and being equally valued and respected, is my biggest achievement.
I have learned that if you continue to believe in yourself and share your experiences - both highs and lows - it can open doors. That’s why I mentor and coach people. It’s rewarding when people come back to tell you about what worked and what didn’t.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
When I entered the industry, it was much less gender-balanced. It was quite daunting, being young and ambitious, and my ethnicity probably came with its own perceptions.
I had to be patient, take advice, absorb the great knowledge that lived in those around me. In turn, that helped to build my technical knowledge, and my self-confidence grew.
The key is to listen and understand differing viewpoints, and gain the trust and respect of others. It’s hard to achieve and easy to lose.
What could be done to attract more women into rail?
As an industry, we need to do more for you. When you’re exploring your options aged 11-16, we’d like to be offering placement sessions to help you see the great opportunities the industry has to offer. Practical work experience along with theoretical learning has so much to offer, and can really make a difference to the career path you take.
That is why I am a STEM ambassador and a Systems Engineering advocate at international level. I get involved in anything that promotes diversity. Being a school governor for four years also helped to spread the word about the opportunities for women in rail.
Who has inspired you?
I’m fortunate to have had some amazing teachers, colleagues and bosses, who each inspired me to become the driven individual that I think people see me as.
My family is a great support hub. Engineering doesn’t run in the family, so it’s nice to say I do something slightly different and challenging.
What’s your advice for women working in rail?
Drawing from my own experiences, there really isn’t a glass ceiling for women if you are hard-working, focused and determined. Sure, there will be challenges along the way - as a mother of two I do know - but that’s life.
Finding the balance and also the courage to pick yourself up during the lows, to get back on that journey to achieve your ultimate goal, is essential. It has a sense of achievement that can’t really be explained. I always advise those I mentor or coach to keep the end goal in sight. If you haven’t got a coach or mentor, get yourself one: it really does help to talk about your career goals.
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