Stephanie Penney Jones

The Role of Women in a Male Dominated Pastime

The volunteering industry within the United Kingdom has changed substantially during the last decade, and more recently, according to data provided by Nfpsynergy (2016) in terms of participation rates, previous gender gaps have closed. Up until 2009, women far outnumbered their male counterparts, however, during the last three years levels between the genders have stabilized to similar levels. While this data broadly reflects the general volunteering environment within the UK, women and individuals from an ethnic minority, or from a “working class” background, are considerably underrepresented within the preserved railway industry, which disputes Rameder et al’s. (2014) statement that volunteering is an “inclusive activity, where everybody can find a niche where they can do what they enjoy”.

Participation is often connected to elements such as income, education, and social networks, and volunteers for heritage railways typically fit into a demographic of “male, white, over fifty, English and middle class”. Based on data generated as part of my PhD thesis, it is clear that whilst the preserved railways of North Wales are actively encouraging a more diverse pool of participants, there remains substantial barriers, which prevent and impact upon women’s involvement within this industry.

While participation numbers are increasing, female volunteers are still very much in a minority, which may be linked to perceived gender stereotypes.


“Women are able to carryout the same roles as men, it is increasing, however very few do, I think it might have something to do with it being seen as a manly thing to do, it has always been a male dominated hobby”.

 “Women make fantastic volunteers, but very few decide to take part”

Heritage railways have traditionally been considered a “male environment” with a lack of “feminine roles”, and for those who do participate, activities typically involve working in the café, shop or becoming travelling ticket inspectors, as these are considered to be the most “suitable” roles for women. It is clear that notions of masculinity, gender, and associated norms and roles, can be prominent barriers to women’s participation within this particular industry, which can explain their underrepresentation.

“Erm…Women tend to work in the café and shop, but some become TTI’s, these are the only girly jobs we have. We don’t have many feminine roles here, this is a manly environment.

 “As a woman I have occasionally had the odd comment like what is a woman doing working here, but I don’t let it bother me to be honest”.


“I often had comments like why don’t you help in the café”

Recounting personal experiences of receiving negative responses as a result of their gender, and associated implications on future participation. A fear and anxiety of judgement by others, in addition to a degree of hostility is often a significant barrier for many.

“I think it has a lot to do with stereotypes, you expect the driver to be a man with grey hair, and not a young woman. I would like to have a go at being a fireman, but I don’t know how others would feel about it. I have been accepted here, but there is still a bit of hostility you know… particularly by the older generation, it’s not really seen as a womanly thing to do. To tell you the truth, that’s probably why I do it, I don’t want to have to fit in a particular box, I want to do things that challenge me, surprise people, and do the unexpected. ”


Nfpsynergy (2016), How volunteering turns donations of time and talent into human gold. (Accessed 24 August 2017).

Rameder, Paul., Maier, Florentine., and Meyer, Michael. (2014), Who is in charge.,_PaulNEW.pdf (Accessed 23 August 2017).

I began my doctoral research in October 2015 having been awarded a WISERD PhD studentship as part of the ESRC funded WISERD Civil Society Research Centre. Prior to this I gained an MA (Merit) in Comparative Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2015, and a BA (Hons) (First Class) in Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2014. I have been a course representative for the Bangor School of Social Science for the past two years, and am also member of a number of professional organisations including the Institute of Welsh Affairs, the British Sociological Association and the American Sociological Association.