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Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards

Driving Change - how a chatbot brought more women aboard

Winner in Travel & Tourism

Bronze Honor in Integrated Campaign



Imagine a train driver. Is it a man?

If you said yes, that could be because only 6% of UK train drivers are women.

Avanti West Coast is ahead of the pack with 13%, but they had a long way to go to reach their ambition for 50% of applicants to be female by 2030.

The fact is, train companies struggle to attract women to train driving - but it’s a great job with an excellent salary and benefits.

Avanti wanted to change the face of the industry by accelerating their female recruitment drive, fast.

To do this they’d need to place this issue in the public eye and help women visualise themselves in the driver’s seat, turning consideration into an application.

What they needed was a fully integrated PR and social campaign.

Faced with this herculean task, they decided to bring Cubaka and our partner, Mischief PR, on board.


An ambitious project needs ambitious goals. Since 2020, recruitment drives have convinced only 400 women to apply to be train drivers.

In just one campaign, we aimed to double that number to 800. Ridiculous right?

As well as actual applications, we were seeking other signals of success:

Strategy and Execution

Early on, we spotted two major barriers that could be holding women back from applying to be a train driver:

  1. Visibility - Train driving was seen as a male profession and not something women could picture themselves doing. We urgently needed to shift this perception.
  2. The application process - It wasn’t designed with women in mind, giving them less chance of success. It was in need of a serious overhaul.

Here’s how we tackled those barriers.

Hi-vis Required

You have to see it to be it. So we needed a visible icon of a female train driver. A role model for the rails.

Working with our PR partner, Mischief PR, we found out about Karen Harrison, one of the UK’s first female train drivers.

Her story of sustained harassment, how she countered it, and her campaigning for women’s rights in the transport industries was largely unknown. We decided to change that.

After securing buy-in from multiple stakeholders at Avanti, Network Rail and beyond - no easy task - we were given the green light to do visibility in a big way.

We got street artist Akse to create a giant mural of Karen at Euston to give her the fame she deserves.

It would get people talking for all the right reasons, grabbing significant press attention - and the attention of potential women drivers.

Interest was piqued. Visibility achieved (quite literally).

Now what to do with all that attention? Turn it into meaningful action by creating a more female-friendly application process.

Recruitment on the right track

So we could transform the process, we needed to work directly with Avanti West Coast’s HR and recruitment teams and discover what the key blockers for women were.

Through regular discussions, we found out that women often take more time than men to consider a role before applying, while men - even if they meet fewer criteria - are more likely to fire off a quick job application.

In previous driver recruitment campaigns, there was a very short window of time to apply, and little to no advertising before applications opened.

The result? Less time for women to consider the role and apply.

So we launched the campaign a whole month before and changed the entire process, extending the window to give women more time to consider applying.

We needed to take advantage of this extra time by making this crucial consideration stage engaging. We wanted women to visualise themselves in the role, to see themselves as the next Karen Harrison.

It needed to be informative and interactive.

That’s where the industry’s first-ever recruitment chatbot comes in.

Let’s have a chat

We needed to show quality candidates they had all the goods to apply and get the job.

So we designed our Meta chatbot to be like a light-hearted first interview, asking a few questions and chatting to people about what it takes to be a driver in an engaging, fun way.

Thanks to Avanti HR, we knew a successful train driver needs several key qualities:

  1. Safety first
  2. Comfortable working alone
  3. Commitment to a rigorous training program away from home for several weeks
  4. Outstanding focus

So we focused on these qualities with our questions, for example: "Would friends and family call you ”the responsible one”?"

To bring another female star on board, we recruited Avanti West Coast’s Rebecca to play a leading role as the ‘host’ of the chatbot, creating some original GIFs showing her at work.

As a trainee train driver, she was another way applicants could ‘see it to be it’. An extra little nudge to build that self-belief.

To make the chatbot engaging, we used a friendly, conversational tone of voice throughout and featured Karen Harrison for an extra dose of inspo.

It also told people what they’d need to apply and when applications opened. It even offered to send them a notification.

We promoted the chatbot using fun, social-first videos, once again starring Rebecca.

It was all boosted through an underlying paid media strategy that capitalised on early interest, retargeting those who had engaged with the content and driving more people to the chatbot.

After four weeks of building and testing, we launched on 30th January. The entire campaign from start to finish lasted another four weeks.


“What can I say? This campaign exceeded everyone’s expectations.” - Emma, Head of Social Content at Avanti West Coast

Emma puts it best. The campaign drove 400% more female driver applications than all efforts since 2020 - a total of 1,500. Nearly double our (already ambitious) target of 800.

On launch day, landing page views skyrocketed and even beat views for the timetable page - an unprecedented event. Like a Kardashian, we ended up crashing the website!

And alongside Mischief PR, we blew the original target of 22 pieces of coverage out the water with over 300 in total. The best part? The coverage had a 97.7% positive or neutral sentiment.

But that’s not all, expectations were exceeded across the board:

Add on millions of video views and tens of thousands of engagements and you’ve probably got the most successful recruitment campaign the industry has ever seen. It was definitely Avanti’s best ever.

Our approach arrived at fantastic results, but also had a huge impact on levelling the playing field for women in the rail industry.

We hope other train operating companies - and industries with similar issues - see this campaign and use it as a template for success.


Video for Driving Change - how a chatbot brought more women aboard

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Cubaka, Avanti West Coast

Entry Credits