Crissi WilliamsI am the Chief Exec for a Telecoms Institute. I’m conscious that the word ‘Institute’ sounds very dry (and possibly a bit dull), but in reality, I get to help people who want to focus on their career and moving it forward. 

Over the past seven years we’ve helped hundreds of young people access apprenticeships, helped train those already in our industry and champion ground-breaking leaders in IT and telecoms. My job allows me to try to inspire the next generation and challenge employers’ perceptions of what an engineer looks like – it’s a great job, if not a little daunting sometimes!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Definitely not!  When I was at school, I wanted to be a pharmacist or a barrister, but I am just not the studious type.  I am someone that goes with my gut instinct and like to play to my strengths while doing a job I love.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

So many – none more so than in the role that I am in.  Being a woman in this industry comes with many challenges, none of which are insurmountable. You just must believe in yourself, have the confidence to speak out when something isn’t right and know your stuff.  It takes a lot of hard work and determination to be respected in this industry, but if you stand your ground, prove you know what you’re taking about and continue to try and challenge people’s perceptions you can get there.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Becoming a CEO and all that comes with it is my biggest achievement. I left school at 16 with no qualifications and my first job was in a factory – I never dreamed in a million years that I would have this role.  I’m proof that if you work hard, have determination and believe in yourself then can achieve anything.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I have been very lucky to have been mentored by three people in this industry – two of which were women.  I found that the women were harder on me than the men, but they knew from experience that I had a wall to climb and jump over to be accepted and they set me up for that.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Firstly, don’t be put off by job titles if you’re looking to enter the industry. We know anecdotally that even having ‘Engineer’ in a job title has put some young people off applying for roles.

For many of the past winners of our Woman in Technology Award mentoring has played an important role in their career journey. Either they have mentored or have been mentored themselves. I would say always extend your knowledge to others and support other women in the workplace. If your business has a programme supporting women in tech then join, and if it doesn’t then consider starting one up. There are also professional networks which you can join to enhance your career. Also, don’t be afraid to shout about your achievements and make yourself visible. Enter yourself for industry awards and showcase your skills.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, stereotypes still exist. Some of the stories we have heard from our Woman in Tech winners are shocking – having to choose between having children and their careers. I’m pleased to say that things are changing, and there are some amazing campaigns challenging these stereotypes (by the likes of WISE and STEMettes). However, it’s still a male dominated industry and the issue is attracting women in the first place. We’ve recently run a recruitment campaign with Vorboss to recruit hundreds of fibre installation apprentices. This was with the ambitious target that half of these should be female. We’ve managed to do it but have calculated that to recruit 50 female apprentices you need to speak to over 1,700 females. For every female apprentice hired, you must review on average 43 CVs. The barriers to entry clearly still exist. We’ve been working hard to decode job titles to make them gender neutral and have actively approached candidates to sell the industry, instead of waiting for them to come to us. We’ve showcased the amazing work the apprentices are doing across social media and run our Woman in Technology Award for this very reason. In addition, I try to speak at as many industry events as I can on this issue. We are also looking at how we can work with local education providers to get the message across earlier. There is still much work to be done.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I mentioned Vorboss, one of the partner organisations we work with. It is doing some great things to attract and support women. It offers benefits and flexible working options which take into consideration other commitments its female employees might have. This has been a massive draw to female recruits. Sharing stories of successful women, promoting them to senior positions and offering them more visibility within the business will encourage more women to enter the industry.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I truly believe the issue stems from the classroom where gender stereotypes begin. We need to create an environment for children from an early age where they can think widely (as opposed to having their options narrowed by the stereotypes of ‘traditional’ male and female subjects). If I could wave my wand, I would introduce STEM at reception age – way ahead of when they would even begin to start thinking about career options. We know that we lose female students from the STEM pathways by GCSE or A-level. We need to do more to incorporate it into early education so that it’s fun and not considered just to be for boys.

Beyond this, we know that the problem continues into university and HE settings. COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated this further. STEM Women recently found that 60% of female STEM students have had their future career prospects negatively affected by the pandemic. This is where I would wave my magic wand. I would allow all girls to fulfil their potential and not be put off by STEM subjects, and instead encourage a lifelong love!