Building a diverse and inclusive workforce is increasingly a priority across UK industries. The telecommunications industry is no exception.
In telecoms, particular attention is being directed towards tackling low female representation. As it stands, women make up an average of 35% of the workforce across five leading telco organisations in the UK.
This figure points to a need for change. Fortunately, the telecoms industry is stepping up to the challenge, introducing impactful initiatives to recruit and nurture female talent.
Companies such as Microsoft are leading the way in efforts to reach 50:50 representation for men and women. These hyperscalers are setting a baseline for the whole market and telcos are following in their footsteps.
At NTT DATA, we are on this same journey. Diversity and inclusion are top priorities for our leadership team. NTT DATA UK’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Kim Gray, spearheads initiatives designed to promote the growth of female employees within the company. She runs the Women’s Business Network, a forum for women to share ideas and get motivated and inspired.
Crucially, we ensure that diversity and inclusion at NTT DATA goes beyond objectives and includes real positive action. This is necessary to bring about change. Our two key priorities are to motivate and support existing female employees, and to recruit female talent into the organisation.
Making the transition
We see more and more telco operators embracing these kinds of diversity initiatives. Driving female leadership, in particular, has become a top priority across the industry in the last 15 to 16 months.
Jeanie York at Virgin Media, Julie Sadler at O2 and Rachel Higham, former Managing Director of IT at BT, are all examples of women leaders at the top level of the telecommunications industry. Each one of them is a fantastic role model, sending out a message of change and inspiring women to consider exploring the many opportunities a career in telco has to offer.
Julie Sadler, currently Director of Smart Metering Implementation at O2, won Role Model of the Year at the Women in Business awards in 2017. She led O2’s participation in the ‘Step into STEM’ programme that provides mentors and work experience for girls in Year 12 studying STEM subjects.
The O2 Women’s Network has also collaborated with NTT DATA to facilitate a workshop entitled ‘Speak Up and Stand Out Online – Digital Gravitas’, run by Carline Goyder. The workshop aimed to provide advice on maintaining confidence when communicating online.
As Managing Director of IT at BT until November 2020, Rachel Higham worked to support women into leadership positions within the company. She and her team set up the BT Tech Women Network. They devised a programme centred around six core modules designed to help women overcome specific challenges. The modules were based on information from women within the company, who provided personal insight into the kinds of barriers they faced to progression.
“BT’s TechWomen programme has so far helped 2,550 of BT’s female technologists to achieve their full potential. This programme empowers women, giving them the tools they need to succeed. It builds courage and promotes collaboration so that women can support each other in reaching their career goals.” – Rachel Higham, former Managing Director of IT at BT.
Virgin Media, along with NTT DATA, sponsors Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) UK, which provides a supportive network for women in the industry. Launched in 2014, WICT UK delivers events and provides podcasts and learning resources for its members.
Vodafone is also striving to empower its female employees. The company aims to become the best employer for women by 2025. Its Reconnect Programme supports people returning to work after a career break. Those on the programme benefit from flexible working arrangements, support from a mentor, and access to internal learning resources. Vodafone has so far hired 525 Reconnects, 433 of whom are women.
Nurturing young female talent is particularly important for Vodafone. In 2017 it partnered with not-for-profit Code First Girls to provide digital education to girls aged 14 to 18. To date, the global coding programme has been delivered to over 3,000 girls across 22 markets.
These kinds of initiatives are not only an essential part of redressing the imbalances that have long existed within the industry. They are also part of telcos’ broader mission to give back to and improve society.
Leading telcos recently stepped up to address the problem of unequal access to the internet among school children. This has become a pressing issue during the pandemic lockdowns, with schools forced to close their doors to most pupils and move their teaching online. Companies such as BT, O2, Virgin Media and Vodafone have joined the government scheme to increase mobile phone data allowances to support disadvantaged children.
Actions such as these indicate the desire among telcos to lead in enacting positive change. Alongside continued action to address diversity and inclusion within the industry, telcos are working hard to make a real difference, ensuring the benefits of living and working in a more connected world are felt by as many people as possible.
While significant progress has been made, it’s important that we do not allow diversity initiatives to lose any momentum. The industry is in transition, and any transition takes time. But there is plenty for us all to do to keep change moving in the right direction.
Employers can learn from the experience of the pandemic. During national lockdowns, some women have had to juggle childcare responsibilities with working from home. Flexible working arrangements and support from employers have been invaluable for many in this position.
Going forwards, it is vital that the right support is available for those who need it. When employers take each employee’s individual needs into account, not only will they get more out of their people, but they will also cultivate a more inclusive and supportive working environment. In turn this will lead to greater creativity, collaboration and innovation amongst teams – key ingredients for a successful business.