Jo Plumley

Jo is a Technical Delivery Manager at Cellnex UK and has worked in the industry for the past four years.

She started her career as a PMO administrator in a start-up FTTP company, where she progressed into a regional project co-ordinator role, before moving to one of the big four Mobile Network Operators, where she gained both technology and telecommunications experience.

Having joined Cellnex UK as an Associate Project Manager in 2021, Jo was recently promoted to Technical Delivery Manager where she oversees Cellnex UK’s small cells, DAS and Private Networks projects. Jo also works with multiple industry partners to orchestrate ORANOS, a DCMS-funded project designed to accelerate the UK’s development of OpenRAN.

Prior to joining the telecoms industry, Jo held several roles in television, including a position as edit assistant on Channel 4’s hit reality show Gogglebox.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I joined Cellnex UK in October 2021 having worked in telecoms for four years. I worked across FTTP (Fibre to the Property) projects and cloud-based technology projects, before finding my place in the world of telecoms infrastructure, working with mobile network operators and enterprises to bring faster, more reliable connectivity to people and businesses across the UK.

As a project manager, I get involved with a diverse range of technologies, from street infrastructure that boosts connectivity in cities, to large scale in-building solutions for businesses, as well as exploring the possibilities of 5G and OpenRAN as part of government-funded Project FRANC. Outside of work, I play football for my local team and I’m loving that women’s football is finally getting the attention it deserves!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Broadly speaking, no, as I left university with a degree in television production and have found myself in tech instead! However, whilst I don’t think that you always need to plan what sector you work in or what role you do, I do think that goal-setting – whether short, medium or long-term – is important. Once I settled in the tech industry, I set myself the goal of becoming a project manager by the time I turned 30, and I achieved it two months before my 29th birthday.

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

Whilst there’s no doubt that gender equity is improving in our industry, there are of course going to be challenges for young women working in a male dominated sector. A big thing for me is confidence in my ability to do my job well – I know what I can deliver and where I can add value and, in fact, having a different perspective to my colleagues is actually a really good thing. This mentality doesn’t always come naturally, especially to women, but when you get in the habit of believing in yourself it absolutely helps.

Having mentors – both female and male – throughout my career has also played an important role. Being able to learn from how others have overcome obstacles and built their careers has been invaluable.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date has been my promotion to project manager, not just because I reached the point I wanted to get to early, but because I love the job itself. Since progressing to PM, I’ve been able to work on some really exciting projects, including the DCMS-funded Project FRANC, which aims to increase the use of OpenRAN technology in the UK. For those who aren’t familiar with OpenRAN, put simply it’s an open form of network infrastructure that makes it easier for equipment makers and operators to deploy connectivity (including 5G) faster, bringing its benefits to more people.

As part of this scheme, Cellnex UK is the lead for Project O-RANOS, which has really pushed me and given me the opportunity to collaborate with experts from across the 5G industry. The fact that O-RANOS could impact the use of OpenRAN and 5G nationwide is really exciting. For those who know telecoms, it will also be the UK’s first ever satellite backhaul solution, which is pretty cool!

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

I will never stop talking about the value of mentors – I’ve learnt a huge amount from other people in more senior positions, and their experience has been instrumental in helping me through the early stages of my career. It’s now great to be in a position where I am starting to mentor other members of my team, and in turn, I’m learning a lot from myself.

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

Try not to overthink the ‘technology’ aspect of it. There’s a misconception that tech jobs are only for people from STEM backgrounds or with super technical understanding, which isn’t true – the transferable skills from different academic backgrounds or those learned on the job rather than through higher education are always needed in our industry.

I always try and bring the technology into the real world, and I think this holistic view makes me more pragmatic in my job. You might not know what a Distributed Antenna System is, but you will certainly know what it’s like trying to get mobile signal in a busy stadium, train station or shopping centre – this helps me to keep the end user in mind and think about what the technology enables, rather than the technology itself.

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

I think there are barriers yes, as there are within any male dominated industry. Whilst there are things you can do yourself in terms of building confidence and overcoming imposter syndrome, I think crucially it lies with organisations to prioritise gender equity. I’m lucky that Cellnex participates in the UN’s Target Gender Equality programme, which has a fantastic women’s network and runs various allyship initiatives so that men can also play a role in reducing barriers for women.

It’s great to think that these barriers will become smaller for future generations, and I believe the earlier we can start the better. Getting out into schools and talking to young girls about careers in tech is really important work and I’m lucky enough to have had the opportunity to go out to schools as part of Cellnex UK’s social value scheme.

Finally, to really break down the barriers I think it’s important that we don’t just focus on young women and the future generations. We have a huge number of talented women in our industry, some of whom have been working in tech for decades. It’s important that organisations address the barriers disproportionally impacting them, whether that be implementing a robust workplace menopause policy, or flexible working options for parents. Support and progression for women in tech isn’t just about attracting talent or developing early careers, we must ensure that we’re retaining great women, too.

There are currently only 21 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?

As someone who has joined the tech industry through an unconventional route, I think that it’s particularly important to ensure that young women are encouraged to consider tech as a viable option for them. Schools, colleges and universities should have more career related conversations with girls which explore different routes into the industry offering insights into apprenticeships, work placements and careers after university. Similarly, a greater emphasis should be placed on transferrable skills, to encourage those considering a career change to make the jump. It’s worked wonders for me – and these are the kind of skills that will always be in demand.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Personally, learning from mentors within the industry has been incredibly valuable during my career journey. Aside from this, the Evening Standards Women Tech Charge podcast is a great listen for anyone wanting to hear from inspirational women. It tells the stories of women who have experienced and overcome similar gender-based barriers from a variety of backgrounds.