Building the gender diverse workforce of tomorrow

By Jo Bertram, Managing Director, Business at O2

Today marks the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science; a day designed to recognise the critical role women and girls play in these fields. As a woman working in telecoms, I am often confronted with a lack of gender diversity, not just in the telecoms sector, but in the technology industry as a whole.

Women make up just 24% of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce. This simply isn’t good enough. While progress has been made, there is still much to be done to build a truly diverse STEM workforce. A critical part of achieving this comes down to how we engage with school-age girls on these topics; how we support them to study STEM subjects and how we nurture their careers in STEM sectors.

Beyond this though, as individuals, we each have a role to play in encouraging young women to study these subjects and consider a career in STEM. There is an important role for organisations too, especially when it comes to supporting programmes that address the lack of diversity on a bigger, national scale.

As a leading telecoms company, at O2 we know that we have an unmissable opportunity to drive real change and attract more diverse talent to the sector. That’s why we joined Career Accelerator, a programme that provides support for young people looking to go into STEM roles.

Via the Career Accelerator, colleagues from across our business mentor school-age students from underrepresented backgrounds in technology. The O2 mentors support their mentees to make informed post-18 choices and prepare for careers in the digital sector in both technical and non-technical roles.

For both mentors and mentees, the programme has been hugely rewarding. 100% of O2 employees who ran mentoring sessions found it to be a meaningful volunteering opportunity. Reflecting on her experience, one mentee said: “My mentoring has made me consider jobs which I would have previously considered irrelevant or unimportant”.

Helping to build a more gender diverse technology sector is of national importance. We could not be prouder to say that, through programmes like Career Accelerator, our people are doing their bit to make this happen.

As part of my role at O2, I also have the privilege of being the executive sponsor for our Diversity & Inclusion work. As well as being a virtual platform where women can connect and share stories and experiences, the network supports Step into STEM. Led by GirlsTalkLondon and run in conjunction across the telco industry, Step into STEM is a mentoring programme aimed at encouraging young women to pursue a career in STEM.

The scheme has, and continues to be, an overwhelming success. Over a five year period, we have provided mentors for nearly 200 girls. Of this number, over 80% are now studying technical STEM courses at leading universities around the world. In time, as these students progress onto careers in the digital sector, this will have a direct impact on female representation in STEM.

We are also signatories of the Tech Talent Charter which is a movement to address inequality in the UK tech sector to ensure that it becomes truly inclusive.

Today is a day to not just reflect on progress already made (and celebrate the women leading the way in innovation in our sector), but to set the tone and momentum, for the year ahead. Embracing diversity is the key to creating lasting change. I can’t wait to see how far we’ve come by this time next year.