Getting more women into telecoms

workingmums.co.uk spoke to Rikshita Khela from Vorboss on the significant work they have put into increasing the number of female technicians they employ.

 

Women are not numerous in field technician roles in the telecommunications industry. On average they make up just 13% of the technician workforce in the UK. Yet technician roles have a clear career pathway upwards and a fairly good starting wage.

One company that is trying to shift the needle when it comes to more equal representation is Vorboss and their efforts are paying off. Around 40% of its field technicians are female and it is still pushing for equal representation. Progress has not been easy and has been the result of sustained efforts. “It hasn’t happened by chance,” says Chief People Officer Rikshita Khela.

Taking a step back

The company has taken part in a lot of initiatives to get more women into the business, including the Women in Fibre initiative. It has also improved the number of female apprentices it has taken on. But more than anything it has taken a step back to look at the reasons why women are not applying. The writing of job adverts came out as a big reason so the company reviewed the terminology it used. 

It has also introduced a range of new policies, including family friendly ones, which Rikshita herself has benefited from. She returned to work from maternity leave two months ago on a gradual return, initially working three days a week. In the last month she has increased to four days a week. Women on maternity leave receive their full salary for the first six weeks then 90% for the following 13, followed by 13 weeks at 50% and 13 at 30%. Dads get six weeks on full pay and don’t have to take all six weeks in one block.

Period leave

Rikshita acknowledges that the workforce is very young and so take-up of parental leave is not high. But other policies cater to women of all ages. They include fully paid period leave. Women can either use these to take the day off or move to lighter duties. Rikshita says this is to get around the issue of discrimination against women who, without it, are often forced to take those days as sick leave or annual leave and may therefore have a higher record of absence than their male counterparts. This can be a particular issue for technicians working in the field and doing physical work.

The company also has welfare vans which circulate around their field teams and have on board sanitary towels, spare uniforms for women who might need them and more. “There are not many companies that talk about these practical issues,” says Rikshita. “Employers tend to take for granted that people are office based and have easy access to a toilet. We want to replicate the benefits of being in the office for field workers.” The welfare vans are run by wellbeing officers who are also trained to triage other concerns, including mental health issues.

Rikshita says there has been a good take-up of period leave, especially by technicians working in the field due to the nature of their role and their inability to, for example, work from home.

Uniforms

Another issue is technicians’ uniforms. “When we took on the initiative to get more women into technician roles we didn’t think that sourcing uniforms would be one of the biggest problems,” says Rikshita. Vorboss found getting trousers that properly fitted female staff was very difficult. They had to send them to a tailor to get them altered. Gloves which fit petite women were hard to source. “It is important that our staff feel comfortable in their uniforms and PPE,” says Rikshita, adding that Vorboss now uses several suppliers to ensure they get the right fit for everyone on the team. She would like to see more telecoms companies campaigning for a broader range of uniform and PPE sizes to accommodate women.

Training

Vorboss also puts a strong emphasis on outreach in its recruitment efforts and has a purpose-built training academy in East London. It takes people with little or no experience in the telecoms industry. They complete an eight-week course, which includes an emphasis on career progression through, for instance, secondments to different teams. Many women have progressed through this option, says Rikshita, adding that the company is constantly looking at ways to upskill its technicians and check in with them about progression. Every member of staff gets a personal training allowance of 5% of their salary to use on personal or professional development. This is in addition to any training linked to their job.

Rikshita says she is very happy to share with others what her company is doing to improve the representation of women in its technician and engineering roles. It has pledged to get to 50/50 parity by 2027.

Asked what more Vorboss is planning, Rikshita talks about the training all managers and senior leaders are receiving in understanding how the menopause might affect workers. Vorboss has signed up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge. The next step is to roll out its menopause training to all employees, in the awareness that menopause and peri-menopause can affect women of all ages and that partners are also keen to know more.

“We are keen to build a better and more inclusive workplace,” says Rikshita, “to create an environment where women can thrive and be successful. We want to be more conscious of the potential barriers women face and be the change we want to see.”

*Picture courtesy of Vorboss.



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