The railways in Slovenia and Europe are predominantly male workplaces. Women are comparatively underrepresented in technical and operational rail jobs, such as train drivers, and in management roles. At Slovenske železnice, female employees currently account for 17.8% of the workforce, indicating a steady increase from 16.4% back in 2015, when growth was first recorded. In March earlier this year, the number of women working within Slovenske železnice Group stood at 1155 – down by almost 200 compared to 2015 in absolute terms – but the relative percentage was higher than in previous years because of total headcount reduction. Women hold a range of different positions and roles in the Group, with the highest percentage of female rail operations staff noted in the passenger division SŽ-Potniški promet. 

Women in Transport

In 2017, the European Union started making a concerted effort to improve women’s employment in European transport industry. Against this backdrop, a project called Women in Transport – EU Platform for change was launched on 27 November 2017 to attract more women into transport-related jobs and provide equal opportunities for all within the sector, as well as to exchange best practices and adopt measures to improve the gender balance. A number of different associations and organisations have since joined the platform, including European Railway Agency (ERA) and Shift2Rail.

More and more women are taking up train driver and infrastructure maintenance jobs according to the 2018 Annual report on the development of women’s employment in the European railway sector, which is produced by the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF). The report suggests that, between 2017 and 2018, the percentage of women in train driver, infrastructure maintenance and rolling stock maintenance jobs rose by 0.3%, 0.1% and 0.2%, respectively. 

The report also indicates an improvement at all levels of management in rail undertakings, with 1.1% more women holding the highest executive position, while middle-level management and team leadership roles saw an 1.2% and 0.5% increase in female leaders. In total, women accounted for 22.3% of all management roles at the companies surveyed.

The total headcount at Slovenske železnice saw a notable decrease over the past few years, dropping from 8106 in 2015 to 6491 at the end of this March. The company supports better inclusion of women into its workforce and strives to provide a modern and safe work environment for all. As part of this endeavour, a draft strategy on human resource (HR) management was prepared for the period between 2021 and 2025, which is centered around the workforce and places more importance on improving female participation in male-dominated jobs. The strategy, which will be applied at Group level, is a progressive and holistic approach to developing HR systems and maximizing employee potential.

Melita Rozman Dacar, MSc, CEO at rail freight operator SŽ-Tovorni promet: »The difference in women’s leadership? Women have a more connective approach to leading and tend to exercise more care and forethought with respect to company matters. They are also more likely to display sound judgement in difficult situations and typically show more empathy for other people’s situation. We are quicker on the uptake when it comes to weaknesses in our professional capacity, so we tend to seek change sooner and are better able to respond to changes. Moreover, we view problems from a wider perspective and aim to find long-term solutions. That aside, it is also crucial to have the right skills for the job. I believe that men are comparatively more focused on short-term goals and are better at making decisions on the spot. These essentially different takes on leadership are complementary to each other, and their synergies hold the key to success.«

As at the end of March this year, women accounted for 17.79% of the total headcount at Slovenske železnice, or 1155 out of 6491 employees. With 243 women employed, the female workforce is the strongest in Slovenske železnice, d.o.o., followed closely by SŽ-Potniški promet and SŽ-ŽIP with 227 and 220 railwomen, respectively. The staff at the infrastructure manager SŽ-Infrastruktura comprised 186 women, while the female numbers at the rail freight operator SŽ-Tovorni promet and fleet maintenance provider SŽ-VIT peaked at 143 and 61. The remaining companies in the Group have 30 or less female employees, with only one woman working at the quarry Kamnolom Verd.

A breakdown of staff structure by department within SŽ Group shows that the number of female employees is the highest in the cleaning department at SŽ-ŽIP, followed by SŽ-Potniški promet’s operations department with 118 railwomen, of which 98 work as train guards (also known as onboard conductors). The traffic control department at SŽ-Infrastruktura has a total of 100 female employees, with 78 working as traffic controllers and two as route control managers. A breakdown by job title, on the other hand, indicates that most women at Slovenske železnice (171 in total) have perform an office job, followed by cleaners (123) and train guards (98). 

Vojka Martinčič,MSc, CEO, SŽ-ŽIP »I still remember the time when I became the first woman manager in the history of Slovenske železnice, heading the HR department for the whole Group. It was more than twenty years ago, and I will never forget the looks of astonishment on my male colleagues’ faces. To this day I remain thankful to the late Director General, Igor Zajec, for having the courage to appoint me to this position. While is it possible to obtain certain leadership abilities through training, it is important to have the right personal skills for the job, in particular the ability to build positive relationships, making decisions quickly, being effective, and displaying loyalty to the company. I believe that some of these skills are innate to women given their role as mothers.«

Women have a strong presence in leadership roles at SŽ

At Slovenske železnice, the portion of women holding a senior post is above average. The company has as many as five female managers, with one of them also sitting on the Board of Directors. Out of twelve managers in total, this translates to 41.6% of all top executive positions at the company, which is notably above European average. 

Nina Avbelj Lekić, Worker Director and member of the Board at Slovenske železnice, talks about working in rail:

Nina Avbelj Lekić

I try to use my role in the Board to help foster an inclusive work environment, which provides equal opportunities to all regardless of gender and other differences. To achieve this, it is crucial to promote collaboration and balance while linking different aspects of the staffing policy. The railways are traditionally a specialised sector with limited female participation. Women currently account for 18% of the total headcount at Slovenske železnice, but the portion is growing steadily. Our company has a number of advantages, such as having a long tradition, providing a stable and secure working environment, and promoting workplace health and safety. Jobs within the Group are highly diverse and offer full career opportunities to all regardless of gender. We give special attention to people with disabilities and adopt family-friendly practices to help employees achieve a good work-life balance. There has also been a growing effort recently to attract more women into the workforce and to promote female participation in the trade on the whole.  Employment-wise, permanent employees make up 95% of the workforce, with a notably low employee turnover rate within the Group.

While we take great pride in the advantages of working in rail, we are also facing a number of challenges when it comes to merging traditional practices, which run deep in the trade, with modern business models, digitalising HR processes, and building a workplace which fosters excellence and employee engagement. To achieve these targets, we prepared a draft HR strategy at Group level for the period between 2021 and 2025, which is centered around the workforce and promotes female participation in the rail industry. The strategy is a forward-looking and holistic plan to develop our HR systems and maximize employee potential, underscoring that employees are the difference between long-term success and failure in the company.

Melita Rozman Dacar, MSc has held the position of CEO at SŽ-Tovorni promet since 2013. She has been a part of the rail industry for 28 years. Below are her thoughts on female leaders in rail.

Melita Rozman Dacar, MSc

“Whether you’re a man or a woman, heading a company is all about your skills as a leader and the way you treat your employees. Good leaders know how to combine the two and inspire others to fulfil the goals they set.

How do I navigate a world that is traditionally populated by men? Everything starts with an opportunity to show what you can do, and I am thankful to the current Director General for placing trust in my abilities and letting me head an entire company. To be completely honest, women have to put in some extra effort and have to prove themselves a bit more to be accepted by their male colleagues as ‘one of them’. But once you prove yourself you gain a lot of respect. I never experienced or dwelled much on these issues, however, because I had the support and help of my male colleagues. We work well together as a team and learn from each other’s experiences.

I took on all kinds of jobs in the 28 years I have spent with Slovenske železnice – from desk officer in sales to CEO – and have built a strong network of colleagues, both home and abroad, over this time, which helps me find new business opportunities and foster relationships based on trust. It is undeniably true that female leaders are a rare sight in top executive positions in logistics in general, and even more so in rail freight. It will be nine years this year since I started managing the company’s affairs, and I know for a fact that we would not be here today without a collaborative effort of our employees and other companies in the Group, as well as trade unions. 

The point of being a CEO isn’t simply about taking credit for success or accepting responsibility for failure; it is more about steering your company and guiding your employees to produce results, whatever the outcome. With a significant portion of key staff recently going into retirement, SŽ-Tovorni promet is facing a number of great challenges in terms of management and achieving its goals, which are typically complex in nature – our business operates in a competitive market while coping with the effects of COVID-19 and the impacts associated with production hiccups on the side of our clients. Moreover, the recent entry into a strategic partnership further adds to the challenge. 

My mission is to attract young people into the industry and foster collaboration between employees in order to build a foundation for sustainable leadership. This is vital to our success, and it should also make the next turnover of employees at retirement age notably less painful for the company. Young people bring in new knowledge and fresh energy and are more open to change, while the older generation has the know-how and experience they can pass onto their younger colleagues. Combining the strengths each side brings to the table is essential for the company’s success. I support gender equality in leadership roles and aim to improve female participation in management across all disciplines through my work in the Section of Female Managers of the Managers’ Association of Slovenia. Diversity in key positions is important because the distinctions between men and women in the boardroom are incredibly nuanced and hence complement each other. Once connected, these fundamentally different takes on management lead to success!  

Darja Kocjan, MSc has been the CEO of passenger division SŽ-Potniški promet since 2019, and has worked in infrastructure and rail industry for eight years in total. This is her take on women in rail industry:

Darja Kocjan, MSc

Workforce diversity is at the forefront in SŽ-Potniški promet because building an inclusive working environment is crucial to achieving good results and providing good transport services at international level. Currently standing at 42%, the number of women joining the company has been growing steadily over the past years. Women hold positions ranging from top executive posts to on-site rail operations jobs. Our work is producing results, and we have set high goals for the coming year, too. The strengths men and women typically bring to the table are complementary, so everyone needs to be included in work processes to get the desired outcome. I have spent eight years working in the infrastructure division at national level and in rail, and I can tell that the gender balance in rail industry is slowly starting to tip in women’s favour. From my perspective as a woman, working at Slovenske železnice is a good feeling, and I don’t recall any issues because of my gender. My colleagues and I work well together – a number of major projects, which we had worked on for years, have been completed this past year alone. We are currently modernising our train fleet and digitalising our business, with a number of other ambitious projects in the pipeline. As we tackle all of these challenges in the face of the epidemic, it is immensely imporant to balance and combine the strengths men and women bring to professional environments.

Vojka Martinčič, MSc has held the position as CEO of SŽ-ŽIP since 2011. She started her career in the railways over 28 years ago.

Vojka Martinčič, MSc

These are her thoughts on women who work in rail:

“I often get asked how do I stay afloat in what is essentially a man’s world, and how hard it must be working in transport and logistics. And my response is always met with the same look of surprise when I say that I haven’t regretted my choice of career once in the 28 years I’ve been working at Slovenske železnice, and that I love my job. Naturally, there are often days when things aren’t easy, but that makes the joy all the greater when we work out a solution to a challenging situation to keep our clients and employees happy. Over the past ten years of heading SŽ-ŽIP, the workforce became a strong team which, like a well-oiled machine, is able to rise to any challenge, securing long-term success for the company and serving as the driving force behind HR development and the design of services supplied to companies within SŽ Group and to clients outside the Group. The achievement we are the most proud of, however, is being able to offer quality services at competitive prices despite having a workforce of 606 where more than half of the employees are persons with disabilities. In my capacity as head of the company, I rely not only on the skills of my male colleagues but also on the strengths women as a group bring to the table. This is the secret of our success.”

Majda Železnik has held her position as the CEO of rail printing house SŽ-Železniška tiskarna since 2020. With over 34 years worked in the railways, she is a veteran in the industry. Below are her thoughts on women in rail.

Majda Železnik

“It has been more than thirty years since the start of my career in SŽ Group. I got an internship at SŽ-Železniška tiskarna as a student and later became a regular employee, taking up a number of different jobs over time, which helped me learn about the different kinds of work done at this company. In the past, printing was largely a male-dominated occupation, with the majority of women working in book-binding and accounting departments. The technicians and printing workers in this line of business were traditionally male, and not much has changed there because certain tasks in printing are physically challenging. Nevertheless female participation has been growing steadily in the railways and the printing house alike. As the number of employees kept shrinking, the gender balance tipped in favour of women once I became head of the company. I believe that women who decide to work in traditionally male-dominated trades have to put in some extra effort and prove themselves a bit more than men.  That said, I never felt like I was treated differently for being a woman at SŽ-Železnška tiskarna. Both the management team and my colleagues have always been very professional in that regard, and I do my best to maintain that kind of atmosphere. The printing house is a busy place, with a workforce made up of excellent staff, both women and men, who are more than able to fulfil our business goals.”


From a print version of the Slovenian Railways Magazine March 2021