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.

WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

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What to consider ahead of a gigabit future

Article by Sharon McDermott, managing director for telecoms law specialist Trenches Law

Telecoms, TelecommunicationsKeeping people connected has never been more important and following the Government’s £5bn proposal to commit to a UK-wide full fibre digital infrastructure roll-out by 2025, the future is looking bright for businesses as the economic recovery continues.

This year in particular has seen more demand being placed upon the telecoms industry – a sector that has been vital in enabling workforces to remain productive and allowing individuals to communicate effectively from various remote locations.

And with the possibilities of what a full fibre UK could present – such as high speed and reliability – these factors can be critical when it comes to creating jobs, developing new businesses and helping existing organisations to survive beyond the global crisis.

While the Government’s targets are ambitious, they are also achievable. But, it’s important to remain realistic during such transformational times as there will inevitably be obstacles to tackle throughout such a large-scale project.

The hidden complexities of full fibre roll outs

When presented with vast plans to completely revamp the way in which all UK-wide companies operate and communicate, there are many considerations to be made – and negotiations to be held – with freeholders and/or leaseholders to ensure the smooth running of network expansion.

A huge area that may be overlooked – often because of its niche nature – is the wayleave process. This is the permission granted by a landowner which typically centres around the purpose of installing telegraph poles and cables or ducting and fibre.

Despite 20-30% properties in a build project requiring wayleave consents, many operators won’t have even considered how much of a wider hidden cost this could entail. Such an oversight can set them back up to £950 in surveyor rates and nearly £1,500 per wayleave in traditional law firms’ fees. Add to that the expense and resource constraints that come with planning too, for example, and suddenly the project becomes more complex and costly than first anticipated.

It’s vital that emerging case law is taken seriously so it can help operators in this respect, and that the Government continues to communicate with telecoms law experts who can provide the critical education required throughout the build.

Ensuring individuals aren’t forgotten

There are also difficulties concerning people who are based in the UK’s hard-to-reach areas – how will they receive the vital support they need to feel less isolated and more connected? Plans have been tentatively published – via a three-tiered, technology-agnostic Gigabit Broadband Framework (F20 project) – but that’s going to prove to be more than a minor bump in the road.

With more considerations to be made, there is certainly a demanding handful of years on the horizon for this type of project. And while it’s reassuring to see plans for a gigabit future taking shape, it won’t be as straightforward as many believe – unless industry collaboration and suitably skilled project teams are firmly in place.

About the author

Sharon McDermottTrenches Law’s co-founder, Sharon McDermott, is a senior telecommunications lawyer having spent 18 years with Virgin Media, mainly as head of legal services. Here, she negotiated large deals in sales, wholesale, retail and the public sector before moving on to manage vast procurement contracts. Now a driving force behind the mission of telecoms specialist, Trenches Law, Sharon – a passionate advocate for women in tech – empowers a team to deliver straight-talking, business-changing legal support to clients large and small.


 WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here

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Connecting Women with Telecoms

Article by Nicole Curran, Service Delivery Technician, UK Connect

Telecoms, TelecommunicationsTelecoms is a dynamic, ever-evolving sector, where technology is driving change, improving systems and processes on a daily basis. It’s never been easier to communicate with one another.

However there’s one conversation which is still faltering within the sector, surrounding gender diversity and the distinct lack of female telecoms engineers.

It’s a situation which needs to change. Crucially we need to persuade women entering the world of work that a career in telecoms engineering is a rewarding, interesting and respected one. As I look to my own experience in industry, I’ve become increasingly aware that, if we’re going to change the situation we need to start engaging with women from an early age.

Like most 18 year olds, fresh out of school, I was a little unsure of what career I wanted to pursue and, like most, I stumbled upon the telecoms industry by accident. Having always been hands-on and practical, with a talent for fixing things, the idea of becoming a telecoms engineer appealed.

I took to the job quickly, each day was different and presented new technical challenges to tackle. It was, and still is, a deeply satisfying profession, and enables you to see the positive outcomes for your clients first hand.

However, when I joined the industry, working for Virgin Media, back in 2012 I was something of an exception, not the norm. Women were woefully underrepresented on the frontline, within the region of Yorkshire with 100+ engineers I was one of a handful of female engineers

Although this situation has started to change, we are still a long way off any kind of parity in the workforce, which still remains heavily male dominated. I think that some of this is down to institutional problems which persist, a bit like blue for boys, pink for girls. I remember at school, Engineering was not even a consideration by the career officer as a potential path.

The narrative is wrong, and I’ve often felt the implication is that such jobs are not suitable territory for women. I’ve never understood why this is the case, all this does is limit the potential talent pool available to these industries.

Old school attitudes also present a problem, and put off many women from pursuing engineering as a long term career.

I remember being frequently patronised early on, with many former male colleagues not expecting me to know what I was doing. Before joining UK Connect which, by the way, has an excellent diversity programme, I’d always been looked on as an apprentice/trainee, despite being more experienced than many of the men on my team. I put this misconception down, to being young and female. It’s sad such attitudes still prevail and I think it’s a definite hurdle, not just getting more women into engineering, but other male dominated professions too.

The good news is that we have the power to change this, making telecoms a more attractive proposition to female school leavers, university graduates and even those looking to change careers or returning to work.

For a start, those women currently in the profession need to be encouraged to shout louder about their success and use opportunities, such as this, to champion the industry as a highly-desirable career choice.

Schools can play an integral part in breaking down barriers, particularly when it comes to how they advertise apprenticeships. They need to be more proactive, equally promoting these to all genders alike. We desperately need to get over this aforementioned stereotype, women can make great engineers as much as men can be brilliant nurses.

Then there’s the industry itself. I know that the big three: Sky, BT and Virgin Media have diversity and inclusion programmes in place to help get more women into the industry and these have been relatively successful. However, they are not promoted nearly enough in the public forum. These companies should be shouting about these initiatives from the rooftops.

Hats off to my former employer (Virgin Media), which has now got up to 3-4 females per team, a very big success. But there’s still much more to be done.

Finally, I think more women need to have confidence in their own ability and follow their ambitions. Don’t be afraid to do what you love, even if it makes you the odd one out, you will find yourself often being the only woman in your class/team/company but don’t be deterred, use that to make yourself stand out and you’ll be successful in your field. Resilience and determination is key.

There’s a huge demand for women in engineering and so much opportunity for us to create equality and abolish gender roles for good.

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