The answer to attracting more women into the telecom field could lie in apprenticeships focused on filling the existing skills gap and making telecom a more appealing career choice for young women entering the workforce, according to Crissi Williams.
Williams is the recently appointed CEO of the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP), a UK-based professional organization for those in the telecom industry. Williams has a vested interest in apprenticeships as the ITP is focused on shaping the future of telecom through a new apprenticeship program, but she also has a personal interest in increasing female representation in the sector in particular. She took over the CEO job in January from Ann Potterton after working her way up from being the ITP's office manager.
The new CEO and new mom caught up with WiC to share her perspective on how to make telecom appealing to the future generation of workers, especially girls, to make pipeline problems a thing of the past.
Women in Comms: Tell us a bit about your career path and how you got to where you are today.
Crissi Williams: I took up the role of CEO of the ITP in January 2017. However, I began my career in recruitment for a High Street* recruitment company -- and absolutely hated it! After working for a smaller recruitment company, I then left the recruitment arena completely and had a complete change -- owning and running a pub for a few years. Following that, I came back to the world of recruitment, specializing in medical recruitment and loved it. I joined the ITP in 2007, and was only here for about six months before leaving to work in the Middle East for a couple of years and finally returned in 2011. I would say that a bit of luck, a lot of hard work and an excellent mentor has gotten me to where I am today.
*Editor's Note: Non-Brits, see this explanation on High Street agencies.
WiC: Running the ITP, which has thousands of members, gives you a unique view into the industry. What do you see as the biggest issues affecting women in telecom today?
CW: Women are sadly few and far between in our sector; it is sometimes a challenge to make yourself heard in a male-dominated industry. I think the way forward is to really engage with young people at an educational level, to advise and guide them at an early stage so that they can choose subjects with a technical and engineering focus; it's not just jobs for the boys anymore!
There are lots of fantastic campaigns running to encourage more girls into STEM, such as the WISE Campaign. Clearly more work still needs to be done, as the latest WISE higher education statistics show that women are still only making up 25% of those graduating from UK universities with core STEM degrees. We believe that apprenticeships could be the answer. Not only do they help to fill the skills gap which exists, but they can make telecoms an appealing career choice for young women entering the workforce by offering a wide range of experience across several disciplines.
WiC: What is the ITP doing to support and help increase the number of women in the comms industry?
CW: I am passionate about increasing the ratio of women in the sector. The ITP has an annual Women in Telecoms (WIT) award to recognize the outstanding achievement women make to the sector. Each year the winners are inspirational and demonstrate why telecoms shouldn't be male dominated. Last year's winner was Sue Gill, Media and Broadcast Service Delivery and Platform director at BT. Sue's team and efforts have transformed their customers' businesses through leading edge technological innovations. We are really looking forward to this year’s entries; it's always a very tough choice!
We also actively encourage young females to apply for telecoms jobs through our apprenticeship scheme and have several links with women's STEM groups. One of the finalists for our Apprentice of the Year Award 2016 was the first female apprentice in her team at BT. In just two years, she has become a mentor, a STEMNET Ambassador and a training representative for her region which sees her going into schools to talk to teachers about science and computer-related subjects. There are so many positive stories out there; we are committed to promoting telecoms as a great career choice for women.
WiC: What is your advice to women to continue their professional and career development throughout their career?
CW: It's essential! Telecoms is a fast-moving industry and I actively encourage our members to take control of their careers. At ITP, we offer a professional registration scheme to our members, giving them the chance to be formally recognized for their skills and to set them apart from their counterparts. Keeping your CV up to date with milestones and achievements is a great self-motivator, but it also gives you a competitive edge.
WiC: As a new mom, what is your advice to other women looking to better balance home and work life?
CW: There is no easy answer to this one! I have struggled to find a good way to balance home and work. I am my harshest critic, and there is always a feeling of guilt there -- either you feel like you are not doing well enough at work or you feel like you are not being a good enough mum. I try to make sure that when I'm at home I don't look at work emails and devote my time solely to the children. What I would say to other women out there is... keep going! If you do your best, then that is good enough. You are doing better than you think!
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms