By Chelsea Royer with photographs by Chez Photography
Over the last 100 years or so, women in Western culture have collectively stood up against the tide to say “we have equal value and will be treated as such.” Progress began slowly with the right to vote and many would say progress is still being made in the US today. Women continue to knock down doors holding them back from positions traditionally held by men. According to Matt Raasch of Aberdeen’s Pasha Automotive Services, railways are one of the final frontiers where much progress is left to be made.
For the last year, Raasch has been aware of the disproportionate number of women working in rail crews – a job that is physically demanding and traditionally perceived as, a “manly-man’s” task. In fact, Raasch is not aware of any other facility in the world that has an all-female rail team. In light of this, Raasch has set out to stitch together one of the first all-female rail crews.
“Women are not represented well or appreciated in this industry,” explains Raasch. “In publications on the subject, all you see are burly dudes. But the women on our rail crew are capable of doing it all – they break seals, set doors and pins, move chocks, and operate the buck-loader. It was a very proud moment putting this team together and it removes every excuse for the guys who feel they have been carrying the weight of women who work with them.”
While some women on the rail-crew face greater physical barriers than the men, many equally have a greater advantage with attention to detail and in following guidelines for a safer work environment. As Pasha expands, the company is dedicated to continuing its commitment to equal opportunities and creating a diverse workforce, with more women considering jobs traditionally held by men. “The input women bring is really valuable,” says Raasch. “Having women on the crew brings new and different perspectives, proving the benefits of diversity in the workplace. The sad thing is an all-female rail crew is basically unheard of in this nation as well as most others.”
Amanda Greene, one of the rail crew members shares that at first she had her doubts about an all-female crew. “But once I started, I really liked it. There were quite a few of us, actually, who felt really unsure of the whole thing as we just didn’t know what to expect. Were we capable of doing it? Could we all get along? And the answer is we have,” Amanda shares.
Brittney Deakin has the unique position of not only working on an all-female crew, but also working alongside her mom, Shonna Deakin. “At first I was terrified of doing plates,” Brittney says, about the heavy metal ramps that are set between rail cars, “but now I just want to go for it.”
Brittney doesn’t mind working on the same crew as her mom. “I’m afraid of heights and my mom can tell when I’m feeling nervous and helps calm me down. She reads me better than I read myself.”
Jessica Browne faces additional challenges; she has battled arthritis from a very young age. “I was the most nervous out of the entire crew because of my arthritis. But with all the teamwork, it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be and I’ve been able to prove people wrong,” says Jessica with a smile.
The rail crew is still in its beginning stages, with the women finishing up the last of their training and learning the procedures down to an exact science. With one all-female crew and one all-male crew, there’s sure to be a little bit of competition occurring in the coming months, but what hopefully is accomplished is a greater balance in equality among workers, pride in proving skeptics wrong, and a deeper level of teamwork among the Pasha employees.
Matt Raasch hopes to use the all-female rail crew as an example and an opportunity to increase diversity and equality, and encourage more women to apply for rail crews. The tasks in rail work, though tough and physically demanding, should be evaluated by the skills and abilities of each individual, and this all-female rail crew is proof that gender is not a variable.