International Rail Conference and SITCE speakers share their thoughts: Natasha Zulkifli of Women in Rail Malaysia

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As we approach the UITP International Rail Conference and SITCE (Singapore, 9-11 July 2018) our programme, panel sessions and list of speakers and participants is rapidly taking shape.

Over the next few weeks we will be sitting down with several of our Congress speakers and panellists to get their thoughts on the event, public transport in the region and the industry going forward.

Up next is Natasha Zulkifli, Founder Director of Women in Rail Malaysia

This year’s UITP International Rail Conference is combined with SITCE for the first time in Asia and will be based around the theme 'People at the Heart of Digital Railways', putting the customer at the centre of a modern railway system. How important do you think this theme is for public transport right now?

I think this theme is spot on because today at the swipe of a finger, technology enables the transmission of information instantaneously and with IR 4.0, it’s Game On for existing industry players. Technology has democratised access to the public industry and if organisations still believe it is business as usual, then they will definitely pay the price. In this age of disruption, no one can take anything for granted anymore. In a world where customer is king, the challenge for industry players is no longer just about maintaining competitive edge. All bets are now off since might no longer equals right. The race to improve the experience for the customer is most definitely on and this makes it all so very exciting!

You are due to take part in the Parallel Session: “Looking into the most precious asset: Human resources, talent, skills and generation challenges”. The panel will discuss how success for public transport companies depends on the ability to meet any and all human resources challenges – attracting and importantly, keeping talent in the sector.  This is a very interesting discussion, can you please tell our readers more about it?

The workforce now is different from the one 10 years ago. HR practitioners need to recalibrate their thinking and really prize their talent because we live in a world where loyalty to company is no longer a given. Wages, quality of life and job satisfaction are all valued and measured differently today. The difference in thinking of the different generational mindsets has forced companies to relook at the way talent is retained.

A general is only as good as his soldiers and so CEOs need to wake up and start to seriously look at how HR is investing and proactively retaining good talent. A company will either raise or fall and this depends heavily on the talent within.

Our readers are always interested in what attracts our different speakers, panellists and guests to our events. What do you hope those attending the UITP International Rail Conference and SITCE will take away from it?

Improved understanding of new and cutting edge technologies and new ways of doing business, plus an enhanced address book with a list of new contacts to ensure global assimilation and improved exchange of international best practices.

we need to get more girls in high school to understand there is a future career for them in the rail industry

UITP recently launched the #PT4ME campaign with the World Bank to promote and advance women in public transport. What do you think the public transport sector can do to break down barriers for women working in our industry?

The research in this space is clear and the increased awareness is there – the public transport industry will benefit by having more women work in public transport.

However challenges such as gender bias, unconscious discrimination and barriers to entry and career advancement remain. This is exactly why I established Women In Rail a Malaysia in 2017. Women in Rail Malaysia is premised on 3 strategic objectives:
1. Ensuring a quality talent pool to come through and strengthen the rail industry
2. Supporting the career progression of women in the rail industry
3. Advocating increased representation of women in leadership positions

To achieve objective number 1, we need to get more girls in high school to understand there is a future career for them in the rail industry, and they should be encouraged to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects.

With more women having a background in STEM, this will provide more opportunities for women to have a future career in the public transport industry. By championing strategic objective number 2, when women are qualified based on merit, this breaks down barriers and allows for a more gender diverse industry which is what we need for a more sustainable, vibrant and dynamic public transport sector.

And finally, on a lighter note, would you like to share with our readers a fun story you have experienced using rail, at home or abroad?  

I was privileged enough to ride the Maglev test track outside Tokyo, at the invitation of JR central in 2016. Nothing beats the whoosh in terms of sound and sensation when riding the Maglev. The speed and thrill is phenomenal.

Thank you, Natasha, for your time and see you in Singapore!

Don't forget to register for the International Rail Conference and SITCE (9-11 July, Singapore) here!

Stay tuned to our newsroom over the coming weeks for more in our Q&A Series from some of our event speakers! Catch up on the previous Q&A  here!

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