How can we encourage more women into telecommunications?

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According to techUK, just 8.5 per cent of senior technology leaders in the UK are from minority ethnic groups, and only 16 per cent of IT professionals are female. As we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, 2023, Hull-based fibre network operator, MS3 Networks, talks to some of its very own female tech heroes.

While the number of females in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) roles has been gradually increasing over the past decade, there’s still a noticeable gap between the number of men and women entering the field. Women currently occupy 24.9 per cent of STEM roles. This is despite the uptake of STEM A-levels by girls in England between 2009 and 2020 increasing by almost 30 per cent, and 50.1 per cent of students taking STEM undergraduate courses between 2011 and 2020 being female.

Showcasing the breadth of roles across the industry and challenging perceptions on what it’s like to work in a STEM field is vital to diversifying the workforce. Based in Hull, MS3 Networks is a fibre network operator with plans to help over 500,000 local businesses and homes embrace the benefits of full fibre. A range of expertise goes into making full-fibre connectivity happen — from fibre network designers and installation engineers, to finance managers and community engagement officers. To demonstrate just how many opportunities are available in the industry, let’s hear from some of MS3’s female tech champions.

Pamela Jones — Financial planning and analysis manager

I began my journey into the world of finance ten years ago, after completing my bachelor’s degree in maths. I secured my first role with a manufacturing company, processing invoices and paying suppliers. As my career progressed, I discovered that financial analysis was an area where my skills could really add value.

Four months ago, I joined MS3 with the goal of using rigorous analysis to drive performance through a phase of rapid business expansion. As a financial planning and analysis manager, I’m responsible for analysing our financial data, creating forecasts and providing strategic financial guidance to senior management. I also work extensively with investors and other financial stakeholders, instilling confidence in our ability to deliver our plan.

Finance can be an incredibly rewarding option for young women interested in STEM, particularly when placed within a tech-focused industry. The finance department has a unique perspective, having to work closely with other departments to obtain a broad understanding of the whole business, so there are always plenty of opportunities to learn new things.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I’ve found that you have to shout louder to make your voice heard. The best piece of advice I received was to stand up for yourself and take credit if you’re able to, but crucially, advocate for the women around you, their ideas and their accomplishments, when they feel unable.

Lauren Jewitt — Streetworks coordinator

There is always so much going on here at MS3 and, as a Streetworks coordinator, there are always new faces to meet and engage with. One day I may be updating local councils on our expansion plans and creating work programs for our engineers, the next I could be helping coordinate our teams on site and managing all the details in between to ensure a smoothly-ran build.

Working with such a large variety of people, all with different areas of expertise and levels of experience, has helped me to motivate myself and prove what I’m capable of. Being only 19 years old I still feel I have a lot to learn but there are always people to help along the way and guide me in the right direction. Learning to communicate with lots of different characters makes every day interesting and has helped me develop my own communication skills and understand different ways of working. I’ve learned that the more questions you ask, the more valuable you become.

There are so many different roles available in the telecommunications industry any knowledge and experience are valued — not everything requires a technical background. Young women shouldn’t shy away from a career in telecoms as there really is something for everyone.

Deb Gilday — Senior fibre network designer

My degree is actually in architecture and design, and I entered my first telecoms role as a surveyor for a fibre build in North Wales with no experience in the field. My employer at the time admired my methodical approach to solving build challenges and the thought of working in a challenging, male-dominated environment really appealed to me. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with telecoms and have worked for companies across the country ever since.

I joined MS3 four months ago to manage a team of network planners and work closely with our design partners to produce quality, cost-effective expansion plans. I’m also involved in quality controlling designs before they go out to build; checking the design plans on our geographic information system (GIS), verifying straight line diagrams (SLDs), splicing matrixes, validating bill of materials (BoM) and ensuring health and safety documentation is up to standard.

My role is pretty technical, and with a lot of jargon that comes with it. That said, when I completed my degree I had no idea it would take me to where I am today and the role requires a lot of soft, transferrable skills too — the technical detail can be learned along the way. For those thinking about entering telecoms, whether that’s as a system designer or in any other role, my advice would be that you don’t need to know everything. A lot of skill lies in the ability to seek information and ask the right questions, so don’t be afraid to admit you need support.

Rebecca Dobson — People and property director

I’ve been at MS3 for just over a year. In that time, we’ve grown from a team of seven to 85 people working across multiple areas of the business. I’ve certainly been kept busy over the past twelve months, but it’s been one of the most rewarding roles of my career to date.

I’m currently the only female member of MS3’s Executive Leadership Team.  I was new to the industry but spent time with my colleagues, asking lots of questions in order to be able to make the right business decisions. I’ve got 17 years of experience in HR across various sectors, so I know I bring a different perspective to the team that’s valued by my colleagues in technical roles. Since joining MS3 I’ve put our people at the forefront of the business, working with our teams to create our values-led culture based on collaboration, team work, being inclusive and delivering results for our customers.

As a business, MS3 is extremely community led. We champion our people and our business vision centres around the expertise of each team member, valuing and looking after them as an individual. We’re involved in multiple outreach initiatives in the local community — we sponsor several local sports teams, work closely with a local foodbank in Hull, collaborate with local schools to engage more young people with our industry and have begun our apprenticeship journey with Hull College, to name just a few.  There’s more work to do to support women to choose telecoms as a carer and we will continue to champion this at MS3.

The work we do has people at its heart. Our mission is to offer better choice of broadband provider to local people, at a price they can afford. For me, telecommunications is a people business — the relationships we build and the challenges we solve always have that in mind.

My advice to anyone, but especially women, is to remember your worth, never be afraid to ask questions, continue to learn and push yourself out of your comfort zone, even if it’s scary.  As a woman in a leadership role, remember your voice is valuable, you have earnt your place around that table so use it, don’t waste the opportunity you have worked so hard for.

To find out about the latest roles available at MS3, visit the website.