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Emma Atkins asks how we, as an industry help to close the gap in the education, attraction and retention of women in fibre

We want to change people’s perceptions of roles and the genders that should be working in them. 

Increasing gender diversity is a positive for any industry - it brings different perspectives to a workplace and can change some of the more outdated cultures for the better. There are also numerous studies out there that suggest gender diversity increases productivity across the workforce, so it can be a win on that front too.

As part of introducing FibrePeople to the industry, I wanted to facilitate the Women In Fibre Initiative (WIFI). From my experience recruiting in the industry, I could see a gap in education, attraction and retention and wanted to change that.  

Our aim is to help close the gender gap, working with exceptional women (and men) across the fibre industry. When looking at the most recent Gender Pay Gap reports (2019/20), we can see an average of 14 per cent of roles in the lower pay level band in telecoms are filled with women, whereas at the top pay level it is less than a quarter at 21 per cent. We need to do something! 

Open to all

We held our first WIFI event in December and the response from the industry blew our minds, whereas the response from the public just highlighted further the work required. The industry is willing and open to all. But the challenge we face is how we attract people, specifically, the under-represented? The majority do not know about telecoms as an industry or haven’t considered a career in it. The impact fibre has on our lives is huge and I love playing a small part in it, it’s my mission to have others feel the same!

In an ideal world it would start with education; let us get in early! In the UK we do not always have this luxury as the need for labour is very current, so it is time to get creative. All the while not dismissing the part education will play! I remember careers at school, it was pretty uninspiring, imagine being shown that you can be anything and anyone. That is the dream. It is not just about educating young people, we need to inspire conversations with their caregivers and schools too. Get ready LinkedIn parents and influencers, we are coming to educate and change perceptions…

If you talk about a job in telecoms, the immediate thought for many is men in hi-vis, doing an incredible job, deploying ‘something’ in the ground. These jobs can equally be carried out by women, and this is where a huge part of labelling roles as ‘masculine’ occurs. Additionally, there is an untold number of roles that go into making the deployment a possibility. As an industry, we must work together to educate people on the variety of roles, the inclusivity as well as changing perceptions.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the notion that certain industries are deemed as ‘manly’ because it is dirty work and hard work…! Ongoing mentoring, creating an environment that supports women and educates is key to change this perception! WIFI is here to help companies with this.

This is an exciting sector

As a recruitment agency that partners solely with the industry, this year we have filled roles from events manager to planner to head of partnerships to sales representative, as well as engineering and civils roles. Talking one-on-one to someone outside the industry, they can really see the exciting, inspiring sector for what it is, what we need to do is multiply that conversation times by EVERYONE!!

I am working with several companies that actively encourage women into the industry. And I hope we continue to work in partnership to move forward. INCA has and continues to be instrumental in this collaboration, along with alternative network providers (altnets). The encouragement from the industry who want to be part of the future is astounding!

Image credit: CityFibre

Please check out the awesome #FemaleFirst initiative by Vorboss. This amplifies what can be achieved when encouraging women into the workforce is a key goal and all the parties willing to be a part of it and put the effort in.

Covid has disproportionately impacted women, 1 in 20 women have lost their jobs, that is 64 million globally! Companies each have a part to play and addressing the gender gap will positively benefit them too, evidence shows that.

Up to us all

An incredibly wise person, Mel Forbes of APSco, said: ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ and I wholly stand behind this. I love seeing examples of women exceeding and achieving (in an especially predominantly male industry). It is up to us, influencers, and those with a platform to highlight these examples across social media, and in turn, in our conversations, in our hiring and retention policies. The challenge we all have is to not only attract but to retain!

Working together to improve things is the way, including considering caregiving. Businesses need to appreciate the time difference women allocate to caregiving compared to their male counterparts: working around school drop-offs, doctors’ appointments, time off to watch school plays. Although we raise these points for women, it undoubtedly has a positive impact for men too who can appreciate and feel the benefit of inclusive policies!

Ultimately, companies actively encouraging women into the workforce, delivering inclusive policies and behaviour for all are likely to thrive and grow going forward. That is not just a rumour but evidenced. Let us all be a part of it. Let us know how you are being more inclusive! 

Emma Atkins is founder at FibrePeople

 

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