An open culture for women in tech and telecoms post-pandemic

Article by Ayshea Robertson, People and Culture Director at Zen Internet

Telecoms, TelecommunicationsMarch was an important milestone for many reasons.

Not only did it mark one year since the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK, but we also celebrated International Women's Day and Women’s History Month – aimed at highlighting the significant contributions of women throughout history and modern-day society.

It presented an ideal time to reflect and celebrate women's achievements, especially over the 12 months. For many, this year has been challenging and research has shown women in particular have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The effect of coronavirus and the associated lockdowns on women and girls across the UK has been huge, whether it be the childcare, home-schooling and employment crisis’, drops in general confidence or the large numbers of women at risk working direct on the frontline. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to address women’s contribution and the current steps being made to forge a gender-equal society.

For me, working in the tech and telecoms sector specifically, I see this as a key opportunity to raise awareness against bias, take action for equality, as well as address the imbalance and how the pandemic may have impacted or aided progress so far.

Maintaining support for women in tech

The tech and telecoms sectors are often perceived to be heavily male dominated, therefore a key barrier has been simply attracting women in the first place. Despite the progress that was already being made prior to the pandemic, only one in five (19%) of the UK tech workforce are women, according to Tech Nation.

For some, the long-hours-in-the-office culture that has epitomised the tech industry traditionally has presented challenges. However, this has dramatically changed since the pandemic outbreak. Due to flexible and remote working becoming the norm, many parents, especially mothers, have had to adapt rapidly to home schooling children during this time.

As such, flexibility really is a key component to encouraging more females into our industry going forward. The way to change these perceptions is through positive messages, companies supporting its female workforce, offering flexible working, and promoting the ways in which women can thrive and flourish, despite their out-of-work commitments.

In addition to flexible working, we need to take responsibility and elevate female leaders as aspirational role models, to showcase to young girls, thinking about STEM careers, what can be achieved in the industry. They can also play a large part in inspiring and encouraging other women to step up and excel in leadership roles.

Personally, I am extremely grateful for all the inspirational women in the world, who are leading the way as role models for all the girls and women out there. When I was at the start of my career (many years ago!) I was really inspired by women who broke down gender stereotypes and pursued careers in traditionally male dominated areas. I remember as a teenager being in awe of a journalist/news correspondent called Kate Adie. She was one of the first female reporters sending dispatches from danger zones around the world. She was fearless and inspirational and has been a pioneer for women reporting from the frontlines. And throughout my career I have taken inspiration from many women and men who have championed gender equity.

Not just talking the talk

Leading our ‘People First’ culture is extremely important to me and my role within Zen and involves encouraging diversity throughout our business and attracting, supporting and nurturing female talent. As a company, we are always looking at ways that we can encourage women to consider a career in technology and help level the playing field; like many other industries, we need to ensure that women are better represented in our industry.

Our Women in Tech group at Zen is a key example of the change we are trying to make both internally and externally. It aims to address the number of women in technical and leadership roles throughout the business and our steering group meets regularly to ensure tangible progress is being made.

We recently launched our first women-only technical development programme, which we called ‘Step Into Tech’. The programme, which aims to help women develop technical and transferrable business skills and inspire others into taking that step into a career in technology, had eight delegates and at the end of the week six of the women were offered a permanent role with Zen – a record 75% success rate. To add further context to this achievement, prior to the programme our technical support team had only five per cent female representation, and after, this increased to 16%. We are delighted with the success and plan to run the programme again in the future.

Female leaders of the future

As a result of the pandemic, some things have changed that will help us when looking ahead. It’s important to recognise the resilience and fantastic efforts women, within our company (and beyond), contribute to the industry and wider society, especially following the last year.

Whilst more progress is being made to forge a gender-equal society, and a gender-equal tech industry too, now presents the ideal time to realign on diversity and inclusion efforts, as businesses recover from the pandemic and individuals reassess their priorities.

We all need to take stock to make sure our efforts continue in the right vein and there are various factors that can make a difference way beyond International Women’s Day and this year in general; including having strong role models and action-led mentoring and training programmes to support women in our industry.

About the author

Ayshea is an experienced MCIPD qualified HR/People Director, with a proven track record at strategic/executive/board level within a range of organisations and sectors. She works collaboratively with business leaders to design and develop people strategies which help organisations achieve their business /operational goals. Ayshea has particular interest and experience in: People First cultures, Leadership development and Diversity and Inclusion.


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