Diversity and Inclusion at Transport for London
By Staynton Brown, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
As we reach the end of 2018 and reflect on the year that has gone past, I think there has been a realisation that diversity is not just a hot topic, but something that all of society needs to consider seriously. While there has been progress, we need to make sure that everybody is treated equally regardless of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, appreciating the similarities that we all share, as well as celebrating the differences that make us individual. As the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Transport for London (TfL), it is a topic that I feel very passionate about.
There are many aspects to diversity to consider, especially as an organisation. For example, I think it’s important that in order to give our customers the best experience possible, we need to reflect the city that we serve and ensure that our workforce consists of a variety of people with a range of different experiences. Research shows that having a diverse workforce brings creativity and innovation, as they will all bring their own ideas and talent. To put it simply, it will ensure that we have a diversity of thinking within our organisation, keeping us on our toes rather than resting on our laurels. The excitement and energy that comes from having numerous ideas will help us to make sure that we are constantly improving our network for all who use it. This is vital because, as anyone who visits, works or lives in London knows, there isn’t just one type of Londoner. It’s a city that welcomes everyone and, as such, we need to make sure that everybody’s needs are considered so that we provide the best service possible.
That’s not to say the topic of diversity isn’t without its controversies – some people see it as a tick-box exercise, which is why certain days and months, such as International Women’s Day, can come under fire. There’s also the argument that we shouldn’t need these milestones, as equality is something that should be thought about every day rather than just at certain points in the year. I can understand why some people think this, but I believe they offer a great opportunity for reflection, allowing you to stop and think about what has been achieved and what more needs to be done.
This is certainly true for Black History Month, especially as the UK celebrates the 70th anniversary of Windrush and the contribution those who came over from the West Indies have made to Britain. It has made me think a lot about the past, as well as the future, having learnt that the history of London Transport, TfL’s predecessor, is intertwined with this anniversary and generation in a number of ways.
Back in June 1948, when the SS Empire Windrush ship arrived in the UK, there was a lack of housing because of the destruction wreaked by Second World War, which meant that accommodation for those coming over from the Caribbean was in short supply. When the authorities became aware that more than 200 migrants, who had come over to help rebuild Britain after the war, had nowhere to stay, Clapham South Tube station was used as a short-term residential base for them until they could find their own homes. While all those from the SS Empire Windrush being housed there had moved out within four weeks, the time they spent there would have been quite unique. There were no windows to look out and it would have been noisy with the Tube trains rattling overhead while the residents were trying to sleep.
London Transport Museum, which is offering visitors the opportunity to explore Clapham South and its underground passages as part of its Hidden London Tours, recently visited the subterranean shelter with John Richards, one of the 236 people from the Caribbean who lived there. It was the first time that he had been there since moving out to a hostel and finding work with British Rail. He discussed what it had been like, saying, “The trains that ran overhead in the morning woke me up. There were beds all around with crisp white sheets. They had a tea cart at the station… pie in the evening.”
I can’t imagine what this must have been like, and the courage shown by these people, who were faced with these types of challenges while embarking on a whole new way of life in a new country, is immense. The need to adapt was something that was shown too by the people who moved to the UK from the Caribbean, keen to play their part in keeping London moving. There were a huge number of vacancies in the aftermath of the Second World War so, at the invitation of the Barbados Government, London Transport began a recruitment drive in the Caribbean in 1956, opening a recruitment office in Barbados. Records show that in the February of that year the organisation recruited 50 male conductors, 20 female conductors and 70 station men.
New recruits were loaned the fare for the trip to the UK and a designated Barbados Migrants’ Liaison service was established to help them to secure housing in London. However, they were warned that they might find the move unsettling at first, or even regret their decision, but also that they would change their minds after a few months in England. The recruitment drive was soon expanded with recruitment offices being established in Jamaica and Trinidad in 1966. This all built on the work that London Transport was already doing to recruit employees from overseas, including Ireland and Poland.
It wasn’t always plain-sailing and there were challenges and early resistance, with some of the employees finding that there were barriers to promotion too. However, many of those who joined London Transport stayed for a long period of time and have inspired their own family members to work at TfL today. We continue to value the contributions of these employees and Black History Month has made me realise that now, more than ever, it is of vital importance that we have a range of activities and programmes in place, from mentoring to our staff network groups, so that these challenges do not remain.
If you or a member of your family were part of the Windrush generation at TfL and would like to share your story, please contact their Corporate Archives on email@example.com
Please check on the London Transport Museum website (www.ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london) and sign-up to the museum e-newsletter to hear about future tours at Clapham South. Age restrictions apply: Children under 14 years of age are not permitted onto the tours due to health and safety restrictions & the tour narrative being designed for an adult audience.
©Images TopFoto and ©TFL Museum