How Russian Railways is Enhancing Women’s Conditions of Work

Russian Railways has launched a new comprehensive program to support female employees

Women under the protection of the company |  First persons |  Irina Kostenets, Co-Chair of the Coordination Council for Improving Working Conditions, Rest and Social Support for Women

photo: Personal archive

The advisor to the General Director – Chairman of the Management Board of Russian Railways, Co-Chair of the Coordination Council Irina Kostenets speaks on how Russian Railways is improving conditions of female workers in this interview with

– Irina Aleksandrovna, what results have you achieved over the past three years? Have you managed to implement all the points of the comprehensive plan until 2020?

– I can say with confidence that all points of the action plan to support railway women have been fulfilled. We managed to do even more than planned, since as the plan was being implemented, we regularly held meetings with workers on the roads, received feedback from them and adjusted the plan taking into account their wishes. So, in May 2019, after the first women’s forum in the Beryozovaya Roscha boarding house near Moscow, we began to pay more attention to women workers who were in difficult life situations. Now we are conducting targeted work on women’s appeals: these are the issues of the rights and obligations of the employee and the employer, employment, the provision of medical care and many others. All appeals are considered in detail and an individual decision is made for each.

After a meeting of representatives of our Coordination Council with railway workers in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, we drew up an action plan for this region, where there are a number of specific problems. This plan was fulfilled: now Sakhalin residents have the opportunity to reimburse the cost of vouchers to local sanatoriums, and for their children – to health camps of third-party organizations, as well as partial reimbursement of the costs of training children in paid sections and groups of third-party sports facilities in the Sakhalin Region.

A special place in our work is to support the health of our workers. So, in the new VHI program, it became possible to undergo examination by narrow specialists: in the field of cardiovascular and oncological diseases, as well as to do genetic research for family planning. Specialized medical programs “Women’s Health”, “Stop-Stress”, “Beauty Week” were developed, the “Academy of Future Mothers” and “School of Mothers” were organized. Together with the doctors of the Russian Railways-Medicine network, a set of industrial gymnastics exercises was created. Workers receive a notification (pop-up window) on their work computers several times a day asking them to do a five-minute set of exercises. This is especially true now, at remote work, when we spend most of our time at the computer.

– Often a woman needs to combine work and family care. What kind of company support can female workers with children expect?

– Long before the start of the pandemic, we developed a mechanism for applying flexible working hours and telecommuting, which, of course, is very convenient for young mothers. An employee can make her own schedule in such a way as to have time to take the child to the garden or pick it up in the evening, or, for example, work remotely while at home with a small child. Now all the mechanisms are fine-tuned, managers are no longer afraid of the remote work format, therefore, I think, after all restrictions are lifted and the return to offices, this opportunity will be used more often by railway women.

If a year ago 222 nursery groups were opened in kindergartens of JSC Russian Railways, now there are 292, 40 preschool institutions have been transferred to an extended work schedule or to round-the-clock. But we approach the issue of social support as consciously as possible: there is no point in creating groups for the sake of groups. Where there is a request, there is help.
Annually for the academic year, plan targets are approved for recruiting preschool educational institutions of JSC Russian Railways, which take into account the need for early age groups (from one year of age) and the working hours of the groups. If the employees of the company have a need to change the working hours of specific kindergartens to 24/7 or extended, it changes.
Another significant support measure is the Compensated Benefit Package (CSP). Thanks to the work done, the list of elements of the PCB was supplemented with the possibility of partial compensation for the payment of nanny services, private kindergartens, and services of cultural institutions. Every year, the number of women who are provided with PCB increases: in 2018 there were 4,675, in 2019 – 10,940, and in 2020 – 17,433.

According to a sociological study conducted in 2020, the satisfaction of women with work in the company is 76.7%, in 2019 this figure was at the level of 72%. Women feel that they are socially protected, they see the care of the company – this applies to corporate medicine, health improvement opportunities, family recreation in sanatoriums and dispensaries, and much more. The results of the study indicate that we are going in the absolutely right direction to improve working conditions and improve the mechanisms of social support for women.

– At the end of 2020, Oleg Belozerov, General Director – Chairman of the Management Board of Russian Railways, approved a new action plan to improve working conditions, recreation and social support for women at Russian Railways for 2021–2025. Please tell us how it was developed?

– When developing the action plan, the views of regional councils on improving working conditions, recreation and social support for women were taken into account, which, in turn, carried out work on the ground: they asked the workers what additionally needed to be included in the new plan. I would like to note that when implementing any initiatives, it is very important for us to receive feedback from railway women. And the meetings of the members of the Coordination Council with representatives of labor collectives on the railway network have always been a very productive channel for communication and receiving feedback for us. Women workers of all categories are invited to such meetings: managers and specialists, representatives of blue-collar professions, office workers. It is this composition that gives us the most complete picture of the issues that need to be addressed. Conversations take place in a relaxed atmosphere, conducive to a frank conversation. As a result, we manage to quickly resolve a lot of issues, which certainly affects the daily work of women in the company.

– Due to the pandemic, it turned out to be impossible to hold such meetings. How was the dialogue with the female workers established?

 – Yes, the spring of 2020 has greatly changed our lives. And this year, online forums for female workers have grown. At the road level, they were held on Privolzhskaya, Kuibyshevskaya, West Siberian, Moscow roads, and in November last year, a network-wide social corporate online project for women “How to be successful and happy” was held. The online format has its advantages – this way we can significantly increase the audience, for example, 1,020 women workers from all over the network took part in the project “How to be successful and happy”. At each online event, railway women have the opportunity to ask a question by writing it in a special window. Then we organize all the questions and send the answers. Still, the online format is far from always suitable. Conversations over a cup of tea cannot be replaced by a video conference. Therefore, as soon as the restrictions are lifted, members of the Coordination Council will resume face-to-face meetings with representatives of labor collectives. But we do not plan to completely abandon the remote format, perhaps in the future the events will be held in a combined format, some of the participants will be connected via video communication, and some will be present in person.

In May of this year, we plan to hold a network-wide forum to support women at Russian Railways and, of course, hope that the epidemiological situation will allow it to be held in person.

– What areas of work of the Coordination Council will become priorities in the coming years? What new benefits and bonuses will railroad women be able to take advantage of?

– The new action plan until 2025 contains, as before, six sections – areas of activity and is a kind of continuation of the previous one. But there are also fundamentally new projects. This year we are planning to introduce additional benefits for women with children. Thus, it will consider the possibility of providing children of employees from three years of age with a separate seat on long-distance trains, as well as the possibility of partial compensation for parents of the costs of joint sports with children from 5 to 16 years old on FAMILY FIT family passes at the facilities of Russian Railways, or the organization of such classes on the basis of physical culture and sports clubs located in the region of the railway, free of charge.

Already in the second half of 2021, it is planned to organize and conduct quarterly “Women’s Saturdays”, when workers will be able to visit specialized specialists (endocrinologist, gynecologist, cardiologist), and it will also be possible to do mammographic examination. All this complex of measures will allow to identify diseases at an early stage and to start their treatment in a timely manner. There are also plans to organize targeted provision of medical consultations through online meetings with doctors by appointment on issues that do not require a personal appointment. An analysis of the incidence of women, which will be carried out on an annual basis from 2021, will provide a complete picture of the health status of our railway women.
In 2021, a new program will be launched to support women of pre-retirement age in order to motivate them to lead an active lifestyle and continue their development. To expand the horizons of our workers, we also plan to organize online sightseeing tours to major cities and museums located in the regions of the railways.
On the basis of the Service Portal, it is planned to create a section where events for railway women on various topics will be held. This year, a separate section has already been created in the distance learning system dedicated to courses for women. We hope that this will help our employees to develop at a convenient time for them, harmoniously combining work, personal life and

Another project that should start working this year is online consultations with a psychologist or lawyer. We are still working with IT specialists on what platform this service will be implemented on. Perhaps it will be integrated into the Service Portal. The need for consultations with a psychologist is quite large: the coronavirus pandemic, the rapid transition to remote work, fear for one’s health and the health of loved ones negatively affected the emotional state.

– It was planned that by the end of 2020, functional (emotional) relief rooms will appear at workplaces. At what stage is this project now?

– Functional unloading rooms are one of those projects that we are proud of: they help our employees not to burn out at work and recuperate on time. Now such rooms are already on several roads, in particular on Krasnoyarsk, East Siberian. The rooms in the Main Computer Center and the Central Directorate of Infrastructure have reached the final stage of the renovation. Another room in the near future will be opened by the Far Eastern Railway as part of the Far Eastern Railway – a landfill for advanced development program.
These are pleasant, bright rooms where women can relax, be alone with their thoughts and continue their work with renewed vigor. An obligatory element is soft chairs with armrests and headrests or poufs that take the shape of the body. The premises are equipped with an audiovisual complex for broadcasting soothing sounds, such as the noise of the forest or the sea. First of all, such rooms are created for those who experience emotional stress at work or whose work duties require increased concentration of attention: dispatchers, duty personnel, accountants. In specially created conditions, they will be able to quickly cope with emotional stress and restore performance. In the future, such rooms will appear on the entire network.

– In December 2019, the Concept for the development of new models of special clothing was approved, in 2020 they were created. Were the wishes of the workers taken into account?

– Certainly. In the course of sociological research, when assessing the quality of clothing, dissatisfaction was caused by the quality of the material, poor fastening of accessories, the lack of women’s clothing models, and uncomfortable shoes. We heard our women, and to solve this problem, new collections of workwear and footwear for women were developed and introduced, uniform and corporate clothes were updated. I remember the proposal of the employees of the Directorate of Railway Stations: they asked to add a dress to the uniform set, their request was fulfilled.

According to the concept for 2020, 12 models (32 types) of women’s workwear were updated and two models (16 types) of high visibility signal clothing were developed again. All the developed models have been tested in the regions of the railways. The testing of new kits both in winter and in summer was attended by women – employees of various structural divisions of the company, who highly appreciated the new models.

The summer kits of workers directly involved in organizing the movement of trains include a T-shirt and a headdress made of fluorescent materials, which will ensure safety regardless of wearing the entire kit. This approach is especially relevant for workers in the southern regions, for example, the North Caucasian Railway. In winter transformer sets, insulated signal vests are provided, which can be used as an independent product in conjunction with demi-season or summer overalls.

Currently, lighter versions of workwear are being developed, including for women working in heated premises. The initiative to develop new uniforms usually comes from affiliates according to their actual needs. Now such a need is for the traction directorates, multi-unit rolling stock and high-speed communication. It was in these branches that the women – the driver’s assistants – were hired. We communicate with them a lot: we hold high-level meetings in the format of an open dialogue, we do polls. As a result, it became clear that not all clothes are comfortable for girls. During a meeting of women – assistants to the driver with the leadership of the Traction Directorate and the Directorate of Motor Car Rolling Stock on February 17, the girls were interested in whether it was possible to provide a knitted vest in uniforms, since in the cold season this piece of clothing was necessary. This issue will be resolved shortly. In the Directorate of high-speed communication, there are vests in the uniforms of the girls, so there is even no need to change the terms of reference.

– The launch of the first female driver assistants at the beginning of this year has become a historic moment. How is their work organized now?

– Yes, this is the most important event in the modern history of the development of railway transport. Today, 52 women have already been employed on eight railways. 11 more girls are finishing their studies. In the branches, 28 girls are currently employed in the Directorate of Multiple Unit Rolling Stock, 17 in the Directorate of Traction and 7 in the Directorate of High-Speed ​​Communication. Polls show that women are satisfied with their work and level of training. They highly appreciated the living conditions for work, including the rest homes of locomotive crews and the availability of personal protective equipment. There is a reason to be proud of our men: the atmosphere is positive, there are no cases of discrimination in the workplace, everyone is actively helping to get used to the profession. At present, at Russian Railways, the psychological support of women – driver assistants has become an important area. Already now, the psychologists of RZD-Medicine are using in their work one of the most effective methods of restorative (corrective) measures – psychological consultations that take into account the gender characteristics of workers. Psychologists help find answers to typical questions that arise in the process of adaptation of women to new conditions, increase stress resistance, and gain psychological comfort. Correction methods are formed for each woman individually, based on her request and personal characteristics. gain psychological comfort. Correction methods are formed for each woman individually, based on her request and personal characteristics. gain psychological comfort. Correction methods are formed for each woman individually, based on her request and personal characteristics.

In the future, work on preserving mental health, maintaining a high level of efficiency and professional reliability of workers will be continued in the psychophysiological divisions of Russian Railways Medicine, which, in turn, will allow maintaining an able-bodied team in any conditions.

I have no doubt that in the near future, women will be able to become machinists, train drivers, and perhaps even heads of locomotive depots. If there is a desire to learn, nothing is impossible.

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