Jody Sainsbury: Writing the book on non-traditional careers

Jody Sainsbury has more than 30 years’ corporate experience within the heavy equipment, earthmoving and rail industries. About seven years ago, she embarked on a new direction to start her career as a coal train driver in the resources sector.

Jody is an active advocate for inclusion and diversity and believes more women should consider non-traditional roles and careers. So much so that she’s written a book on it, penning ‘High Heels to High Vis: Kick Ass Women’ to provide a guide on building your career in non-traditional roles. She says the benefits of a career in rail extend far beyond the ability to secure your future, providing personal fulfilment and accomplishment along the way.

Jody is passionate about encouraging women of all ages to unleash the full force of their potential, achieve greater levels of self-sufficiency and fulfilment and create a more sustainable way of working.

About 10 years ago Jody found herself unemployed and having had to rebuild her confidence, re-launch her career and re-gain credibility. After working predominantly in the corporate sector, she decided to complete a course on project management and contribute to her family civil contracting business, which was linked to the rail sector. Her introduction to the rail industry started there.

“At this point, I was keen to find something more challenging, started looking online and came across a train driver trainee opportunity,” she explains.

“I thought, ‘am I really going to apply for this?”

“I filled out the online application and sat for about half an hour before hitting the submit button all the while second guessing myself. I did it and the rest is history.”

“I hit that button because I thought I’ve got to do it, I’ve got to step out of my comfort zone”.

“I’ve been working as a train driver for the last seven years and I can honestly and genuinely say – I love my job.”

Jody said she most enjoys the view from the driver’s cab window, where she has the chance to witness some spectacular sunrises and sunsets, wildlife and nature at its best.

“At first, I found the irregular work hours challenging, as I was introduced to the shift work and rosters,” she says.

“Being a train driver, there are early starts and late finishes, you do make sacrifices and if you have to go to bed at three o’clock in the afternoon, then you do that.”

“The terminology was another challenge. It’s the opposite of what you might expect, for example ’down’ means you travel away from the mine site and ’up’ means we’re travelling away from the port.”

“Memorising routine information is another challenge, that includes sections, speed limits, speed restrictions, track works, rail traffic delays, safety requirements and signals, gradients of the track, slight bumps in the track.”

“But the most important and crucial part of the job is obeying the signalling system. There is no room for error, you have to approach your train handling and management in accordance with signalling rules and regulations and using the appropriate breaking techniques.”

A variety of things can go wrong with train driving, but there is an incredible feeling of empowerment knowing that I can handle it and control it myself.

Jody notes that her organisation has a good balance of female and male drivers and the majority of her male colleagues are good mentors who are willing to share their knowledge.

She believes more women should consider a career change into non-traditional roles.

“There are a lot of great benefits and it’s not just about securing your well-paying future. It’s also about personal fulfillment and accomplishment and that’s a really good boost to the self-confidence,” she says.

“I also believe we need to address current barriers. Recruiting women is being proven as a win-win, they represent the largest talent pool available to employers and it is important to attract, recruit and retain them to solve the workforce skills shortage issues in rail.”

“And a real untapped source includes older women and women with disability many of whom are currently unutilised and are actively seeking career opportunities. These women are proactive and are recognised as a stable workforce. I am a big supporter of this particular talent pool.”

“I believe we should educate the industry about the role of women and the importance of staying connected. We should improve access for women of all ages to education and training and hence reinforce the confidence of women – yes, you can do all those non-traditional jobs, you can enjoy it and be passionate about it.”

Everyone is capable of doing the job. You will hear me say – go on and get your Glo On – I mean wear your hi vis – and become a Glo Getter!

Getting the right training at different stages of your career has proved valuable for Jody. She recently completed Dr Brené Brown’s “I am Dare to Lead” training to build her leadership skills.

“If every workplace could apply those leadership principles, we would have such an inspired and embraced culture in our workforces,” she says.

“To dare to scale leadership ability and feel courage in teams and organisations we need to be vigilant about creating a culture like that, it’s when people feel safe, secure, seen and respected so we can innovate and serve our industry.”

“And this is where diversity and inclusion are coming in place because we are all individuals and we all have something of our own to share so those different perspectives are welcome and they make such a difference to creative problem solving.”

Jody believes it is imperative rail establishes role models and diversity champions to lead by example and develop a culture that supports the next generation of an empowered workforce. She says the role of male colleagues as mentors cannot be overestimated.

In terms of practical measures to attract and retain women, Jody believes flexible working arrangements, mentoring and coaching are critical for women, especially for those looking to advance their career.

“When you gain knowledge, that’s power and you own it,” she says.

“This will create a ripple effect when those women, by acquiring mentor skills, will influence others.”

“Organisations will only win if they foster and support female leaders who should be utilised as mentors and role models.”

“On the individual level, colleagues should celebrate each other’s accomplishments, give each other credits, women should support women and sometimes give a little bit of a push to encourage someone who is not confident enough.”