At the end of National Inclusion Week, TJ editor Jon Kennard chats to Zena Dent from West Midlands Trains.
Tell us how you got to where you are in engineering.
I have been working on the railway for almost 30 years and I’m really proud to be a female engineer, leading our teams to help make trains better for everyone. I started out as an engineering graduate and I’ve worked across a number of train operating companies at a range of depots including Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle.
I have worked on various projects that involved bringing new trains into the UK from around the world. Now, I’m leading teams at West Midlands Trains to provide safe, clean and reliable trains, and also deliver multi-million-pound investments in new trains and depots across our network, revolutionising our customer’s future journeys.
Are we doing enough to focus on STEM subjects in this country?
We can always do more to raise the profile of STEM, but it should be about inspiring young people to be passionate about problem solving. Engineering should be something people feel they can get involved in, especially through finding solutions to fix real world problems. Creative and innovative ideas can be combined with science and technology to make this happen; it doesn’t have to be dull.
What’s your advice for aspiring female engineers in your sector?
If you’re a woman and you’re thinking about a career in engineering, my advice is: go for it!
There’s a wide variety of subjects to work on out there and there are great opportunities to work in a range of fields. There’s lots of chances to learn and develop, and do what I enjoy most, solving problems. I’ve had a fantastic experience in my career as a female engineer and being a woman doesn’t limit anything you can do in this field.
Are inclusion initiatives in better shape than they’ve ever been, and what more can we do?
Things are always improving, and inclusion is more important than ever right now since Covid-19. In times of isolation, we need to prioritise diversity more than ever, and that is certainly what we are striving to do at West Midlands Trains. We must be more agile and flexible, and I recognise that inclusion is an important part of this.
As engineering director at West Midlands Trains my approach is to be ready to listen to, support and evolve for the needs of my teams and our customers, and to show empathy and reflect diverse realities in what we deliver.
About the interviewee
Zena Dent is the engineering director of West Midlands Trains.