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Improving diversity

Improving diversity in hard-to-reach industries

A diverse workforce can improve productivity, aid retention and make a business more profitable. CEO of the UK’s leading body for telecoms professionals, The ITP, Charlotte Goodwill explains why she’s on a mission to make her sector more diverse and how founder-led businesses can do the same.   

Like many sectors, IT and telecoms have long been considered as typically male-dominated industries. But it’s part of the bigger picture when it comes to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields altogether. According to WISE, women make up 21% of IT professionals in the UK and only 12.5% of engineers. What’s more, only 46.4% of girls aged 11-14 would consider a career in engineering, compared to 70.3% of boys.

Changing attitudes

One of our missions at the ITP has been to challenge the perceptions around the roles and opportunities in our industry. Our own organisation is a perfect example, having been led in succession by three female CEOs over the past 10 years. However, many of the founder-led businesses and start-ups we’ve worked with have struggled to attract a more diverse workforce and are missing out on talent by doing so. 

The onus is also on employers to scrap their preconceived ideas. We launched our #challengeperceptions campaign in 2021 to highlight that IT and telecoms roles are open to everyone. We set out to prove that you can hire based on personality and train the skills required. Many people still have expectations of what an engineer ‘should’ look like, including the typical educational pathway required for the role.

One founder-led business we have been working with is leading the way, having recruited three apprentices in 2019, to a whopping 170 to date, with many of their engineers identifying as female. They realised that they were closing off an entire demographic by insisting on specific qualifications and experience. So instead, they have been hiring candidates with no prior experience of the main skills component (they believe that skills can be taught, whereas attitude cannot). In fact, less than 10% of the intake they recruited in 2022 had prior experience.  It’s this approach that has seen them create a remarkably diverse workforce with an increasing number of women entering the field.

Of course, there are other things employers can do. Offering flexible working, addressing the gender pay gap and being transparent about diversity in the business are just a few. We run a Women in Tech Award each year and some of the stories we’ve heard are so disheartening. At some point during their careers, many have had to choose between having children and the career ladder. Things are changing however. High profile campaigns in our industry by the likes of WISE and STEMettes, along with employer-led initiatives are all paving the way.

De-coding language

We’ve found that many female candidates switch off from a job advertisement alone. In our sector, the likes of BT and Virgin Media have been quick to realise that job titles and job advertisements need to be gender neutral. Looking at your job titles is a huge eye-opener.  Even just the word ‘engineer’ can have connotations and potentially alienate an entire demographic. Our advice? When you’re creating a new role make sure you think carefully about the job title. Could it be off-putting? Changes that you make here will filter through to the job description and advertisements. It’s a useful exercise to re-examine all of your job titles and understand whether they would be attracting a certain demographic.  

Changing company culture

However, it’s not as simple as changing recruitment practices. It’s about creating an inclusive company culture where employees feel they belong. To do this, businesses need to be open, transparent, and fair. All employees need to feel safe to express themselves within their roles and the business.

We always advise:

  • Reviewing your company policies and procedures to identify any gaps and understand how these policies can be used to support staff.
  • Ensuring that you are leading by example. Good practice must filter down from the top.
  • Creating an open dialogue with employees to understand what an inclusive company culture means to them. Listening to feedback and taking action from it.

Retaining talent

Attracting more women into typically male-dominated industries is as much of a challenge as retaining female employees in the first place. Again, this isn’t an issue specific to our industry. Women in Tech found that a staggering 56% of women in IT don’t return to their jobs after having children. There is also a lack of diversity in leadership positions. According to a recent study by Deloitte, women make up just 23% of senior executives in the telecoms industry. This lack of representation can have a negative impact on decision-making and innovation, as well as employee morale.

What’s the answer? Mentoring can play an important role. Many large employers have discovered that mentoring schemes have improved retention and helped to develop future leaders.  According to Mpirical’s Learning & Development in Telecoms report,78% of those who have mentorships reported being happier than those who didn’t.

In typically male-dominated industries like ours, mentoring can help employees feel more empowered in the workplace. They can also help to attract talent. We desperately need more role models in tech to inspire others to enter the industry. 

Attracting the next generation

We’re big advocates of apprenticeships, and they are now accessible for founder-led businesses as well as their global counterparts. The benefits are far-reaching; 86% of employers say apprenticeships have helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation. We’ve been encouraging employers to look at apprentices in addition to STEM graduates. We believe that it’s more important to understand how they fit with the company’s value and culture, as opposed to their qualifications.

Apprenticeship schemes can seem like a minefield, but they don’t have to be:

  • Make sure your company’s mission and values are clear. This helps to identify the candidates that are a good fit and where there might be gaps in your growing workforce.
  • Establish some brand ambassadors within the business – as simple as testimonials on the website or social media, or profiles on your ‘About us’ page.
  • Seek out candidates, rather than waiting for them to come to you. We’ve worked with colleges and universities as well as used social media to find suitable candidates.

We believe that the key is for employers to continually challenge perceptions.  Embrace differences and think about transferrable skills. Let’s not forget that hybrid working has also allowed for new possibilities to diversify the workforce across the UK, and internationally. What are you waiting for?

Author: Charlotte Goodwill, Chief Executive Officer, The Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP)

Charlotte is the Chief Executive of the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP). She originally joined The ITP in 2017 and was responsible for managing the apprenticeship scheme, growing the Level 3 & 4 Digital Apprenticeship standards across businesses and addressing the UK technical skills gap within the telecoms and digital sector. During her time running the programme, ITP’s apprenticeship scheme grew the by 75%. In 2022, Charlotte was appointed as CEO of the ITP. Her focus as CEO is on diversifying the digital workforce, advocating career development through apprenticeships and membership and serving as a voice in the industry. She has encouraged and continues to encourage many businesses to look to apprentices as a solution to the UK technical skills gap, advocating apprenticeships as a vital and viable alternative route for people entering the industry as well as upskilling those already in the industry. She is passionate about enabling people to turn their love of digital technology into a skill set ideal for their future career and helping our members to push their careers further.

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ITP | The Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (theitp.org)


Charlotte Goodwill