On March 8, 2021, women all around the world are celebrated for their achievements on International Women’s Day.
We’ve got a lot of brilliant women working across all areas of ScotRail.
From frontline staff working on our trains and in our stations, to those in CCTV keeping everyone safe, to women driving our trains keeping key workers moving, to those keeping the trains running smoothly and every other woman in between.
This year we’re shining the spotlight on Syeda Ghufran, our Director of Engineering. When she started at ScotRail she was the only female engineer in a team of 200. Thankfully a lot has changed since then!
We sat down for a chat to find out all about Syeda’s career journey in the hope of inspiring other women to join the railway.
What led you to an engineering career?
I grew up in a family full of engineers. My dad was an electrical engineer and always engaged me in math puzzles and science quizzes from a very young age. I enjoyed Math and Science subjects at school and was inspired by my dad’s profession as a power systems engineer, which involved the generation and distribution of electricity. This eventually led me to choose Engineering as a career path.
I graduated from Glasgow University with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering. I then completed a Masters degree combining Mechanical Engineering and Management.
My career started as an Engineering Graduate with ScotRail in September 2010. I went onto large scale engineering projects before moving to the Head of Engineering role and now the Engineering Director.
What challenges have you faced during your career and how did you overcome them?
When I began my career with ScotRail, I was the only female engineer at Haymarket depot out of nearly 200 colleagues. I imagined that the perception of my colleagues was that I was a graduate straight from university with no experience of working ‘on the tools’ and would therefore not be a great help or support to them in the workplace. I made this my personal mission to prove them wrong!
My experience was by no means negative, however it made me more determined to prove myself, my abilities and my commitment to both fitting in and contributing just as productively as my colleagues.
What inspired you to become a Director within ScotRail?
I am very fortunate that my parents had always been very supportive and had always encouraged me to develop myself and my career. They made me realise from an early age that I could achieve great things if I worked hard and applied myself.
I’ve also been extremely lucky to have a great team of engineers who have always supported me in challenging times.
I am inspired by women who have reached senior positions in their STEM careers, eg, Dr Gianotti (Director general at CERN) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). Their blogs and books about women in leadership roles have helped me achieve my goals.
What three nuggets in your career have been critical to your success?
From an early age, my father encouraged my siblings and I to be engineers. He created opportunities to share his wisdom with us and ensure that we appreciated the importance of engineering careers to the field of environmental sustainability. I would urge young people to talk to their parents or other respected elders about their interests and future career aspirations, even if it doesn’t appear to be the most typical or expected stereotypical role.
I have a positive outlook on life and believe in myself. This has allowed me to achieve my dreams and succeed. Even if you do not get the best job right away, you must focus on the end goal and give it 100%. I have learnt not to be put off by others if they don’t support me fully. Often you will experience negativity but you must not be put off or distracted – have faith and stick to your goals.
I have found it invaluable to build good relationships with your team and colleagues in the business context. Networking can really contribute to continuous professional development and can create opportunities that will really support you going forward - seek out strong mentors and build good relationships. Always be authentic though, people can see when a person is genuine and honest. Authenticity, I have found, makes my life at work so much more manageable and enjoyable too.
What are you most proud of within ScotRail?
We have worked really hard over the last few years to deliver many successful projects as a part of the Abellio franchise. The projects which my team and I have delivered have made a positive difference to the customer experience, for example, the installation of free wifi on trains, fleet modifications which have improved reliability and accessibility and have therefore increased the punctuality of services and overall performance.
Within the business I am committed to gender diversity and equality. In my role, I have worked with local schools to promote engineering as a career of choice for young students. There are serious pipeline problems attracting women to an engineering career, and it makes me immensely proud when I know I have influenced those career decisions.
If you would like to find out more about engineering roles at ScotRail keep an eye on our careers page .