Monday 11 Nov 2013

Could IT be a Milton Keynes girl? – Win first year's university fee in new Network Rail competition to encourage more women into technology sector

Region & Route:
| North West & Central
| Southern

Network Rail's chief information officer is so concerned about the rapid slide in the number of women entering the UK's IT sector, she has launched a new competition for girls where the company will pay for the winner's first year of university fees.

The competition – Could IT Be You – has been designed by six women in the 500-strong IT team led by Group CIO Susan Cooklin, including a project manager from Milton Keynes, Network Rail’s IT headquarters, and aims to show girls what working in IT is really about and the career opportunities open to them.

The latest figures from E-Skills shows the proportion of women working in technology roles in the UK has more than halved since the 1980s* despite technology becoming an increasingly integral part of our every-day lives.

Katherine Thomas, a 23 year-old Network Rail IT project manager from Milton Keynes, Network Rail’s headquarters, who helped develop the competition said, “The IT industry is one of the most far reaching and fast moving industries out there. Every major company relies on technology to keep running; whether it be a high street retailer who manage their supply chain, website and finances through IT, or Network Rail who manages trains, assets and their corporate services. Working in IT means that the types of companies you can work for is not limited and the experience you can gain is massive. It’s exciting, creative and fast paced and it’s also one of the only industry that has thrived despite the economic challenges.

“My advice would be for girls not to close any doors. When I was 17, I didn’t imagine I would be working in the IT industry, but I kept my options open. I completed my studies in subjects I enjoyed and looked at every option once these were complete.”

** MEDIA INVITE** Katherine will be visiting schools in the region to share her experience and is available for interview throughout the week. Please contact Dayle Sellars on the details below to arrange.

BA History graduate Katherine is currently working on a programme to improve Network Rail’s approach to safety by developing a new app which assesses and locates railway assets such as bridges and tunnels, stores data from previous inspections and helps to identify when an asset needs work or maintenance before engineers even get to site. Helping to save time and money and enhance safety procedures.

Ms Cooklin said: "Popular culture has helped create a perception amongst young women that a career in IT is something for 'geeks' and all about writing code in basement offices – the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

"Could IT Be You aims to break down those myths and help young women realise how the skills and behaviours they already have – such as good communications, problem solving and working creatively are exactly what business leaders are after. While there are people in my team who are technical experts with IT-related qualifications, there are just as many whose skills lie in other important areas and do a critical job delivering the IT projects that make our railway run better."

A new survey for Network Rail of 16-24 year old women in the South East revealed:

- 76% of women have not considered a career in IT

- 20% had but were not currently working in the industry

- Negative stereotypes put 12% off pursuing a career with 49% saying it was a lack of technical skill. A further 45% said it was inadequate career advice or little insight into the industry.

- 60% believe that a high level of technical expertise in computer programming or code is the most important skill for a successful career in IT. 23% thought a degree or college qualification in a technology subject was most important.

- Only 4% thought good project management skills were the most important with only 4% citing good communication skills as the most valuable.

From 2008-12 the percentage of women in IT roles at Network Rail has grown from 26 to 28% but only 20% of those applying for the company’s information management graduate scheme were female.

To enter the competition, girls aged 16-18 years are asked to visit a new website to answer five simple questions and provide a short essay. The website includes inspiring video diaries from the six women who devised the competition who talk about their career path, skills and interests.

50 entrants will be invited to a networking day at Network Rail's national centre in Milton Keynes in February. Here they will have the opportunity to meet influential business women from various industries, learn valuable skills such as CV writing and interview techniques. They will be asked to record a minute-long film about their experience of the day. Those who record the top four films will win two weeks work experience at Network Rail during the summer of 2014 and continued mentoring with the best winning all this as well as the first prize of having their first year of university fees paid.

Notes to editors

*Women working in IT roles statistics from the E-Skills Technology Insights 2012 report

*Universities in Scotland do not charge fees but the prize is for study sponsorship of up to £9,000 and a paid work experience placement. For anyone attending a university in Scotland, the living expenses equivalent (eg: rent/bills/books etc) will be paid.

Visit to enter the competition. The competition is open for female UK residents aged 16-18. Closing date is 7th December 2013. You can follow us on Twitter @coulditbu13

The survey for Network Rail was conducted in October 2013 by with a survey sample of 1000 16-24 year old women across Great Britain.

Susan Cooklin : Biography
Susan Cooklin is the Group CIO at Network Rail where she leads activities that underpin a large and complex technology portfolio focused on reducing the cost of running the railway by 21% by 2014.

Initially studying economics and accountancy, she moved into technology in the financial services sector. Over the last 20 years she has held senior and executive roles in both IT and business operations within FTSE top 20 companies in the UK.

Before joining Network Rail she spent seven years at Barclays Banking Group in a variety of executive roles in technology, change and operations. In September 2011 she was asked to join the board of Leeds Metropolitan University as a Non-Executive director.

In May 2012 Susan was the only European shortlisted for The MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2012 Award for Innovation Leadership. In July 2012 she was listed as the 9th most influential women in UK IT by Computer Weekly magazine. Susan is based in London, UK.

Katherine Thomas : Biography
Katherine has been a project manager at Network Rail since completing university where she studied BA History, and later Msc Programme and Project Management. Katherine is currently working on a programme to improve Network Rail’s approach to safety by developing a new app which assesses and locates railway assets such as bridges and tunnels, stores data from previous inspections and helps to identify when an asset needs work or maintenance before engineers even get to site. Helping to save time and money and enhance safety procedures.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Network Rail press office - South East route
020 3357 7969

About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

Usually, there are almost five million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

Follow us on Twitter: @networkrail
Visit our online newsroom: