Why, when over half of young people say they are attracted to a career that requires advanced digital skills, is our industry still failing to attract a diverse workforce?

Guest author

December 2, 2022

6 Min Read
Why telcos should challenge perceptions around who they want to attract
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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Charlotte Goodwill, CEO of The ITP, calls on telcos to rethink their approach to recruitment and retention.

It’s time for our industry to stop and look at itself. Tech roles make up 14% of all job opportunities in the UK, but only 26% of the UK tech workforce are women. For employers, ‘The Great Resignation’ and skills gaps are now at the top of the agenda when it comes to HR.

So why, when over half of young people say they are attracted to a career that requires advanced digital skills, is our industry still failing to attract a diverse workforce? Gender disparity is the first obvious issue. According to the WISE Campaign, over 1.1m women work across core-STEM roles, but still only make up 24% of the core-STEM workforce. Women account for just over 10% of engineering professionals and only 17% of IT professionals are women.

Re-thinking job descriptions

Where does the issue begin? Data from LinkedIn’s Gender Insight Report shows that the numbers are very similar for men and women looking for jobs and researching a company before applying. However, interestingly this doesn’t translate into the jobs applied for. Women were 16% less likely than men to apply for the job.

Research has shown that when reading through job descriptions, women generally tend to feel they must meet all the requirements of the job before they apply. Whereas men typically meet around 60% of requirements to feel it is sufficient. Roles advertised with a checklist of requirements can deter women from applying. In comparison, those advertised with performance objectives are more inclusive.

Research into gender-neutral language from Openreach last year led it to re-vamp job adverts completely. It found that hidden bias in job adverts deters 50% of female applicants for engineering roles. An innovative subsequent campaign subsequently attracted 300% more women into such roles.

This is something we have experienced ourselves as part of a major apprentice recruitment drive on behalf of one of our partners. We found that the key to attracting more women into the roles was de-coding everything from the job description to recruitment ads.

Changing job titles to make them more gender neutral, analysing the language used in the adverts and using female role models already in post to promote the business has all helped. However, for every one female we recruited we had to reach out to around 43 on average.

The wider issue

While gender diversity still sits at the core of diversity policies, organisations now need to address inclusive cultures and mindsets. Accessing socially mobile and diverse talent are commercially and culturally attractive solutions to bridging the skills gap for employers. Yet we are still failing to do so.

According to the BCS, just 11% of IT Directors are from an ethnic minority background. Shockingly, it also found that BAME IT professionals are less likely to be in positions of responsibility than those of white ethnicity – despite being overall better qualified.

Of course, work is underway in many organisations including the likes of BT to challenge this. In its manifesto it aims to have a workforce where 50% are women, 25% are ethnic minority colleagues and 17% disabled colleagues by 2030.

To be agile and drive change, we know that a workforce needs to be diverse. 15% of the UK population are diagnosed as being neurodiverse, yet many employers are not catering for their needs. If we hire in our own image, then we risk creating an echo chamber which does not signal change. New ideas come from seeing things differently.

It’s time to challenge perceptions when hiring

It’s time for employers to challenge perceptions around who they want to attract. Many of the partners we’ve worked with have started to run with this, and hire based on personality, interest, and drive, not skills. It may sound like a cliché, but it really is time to abandon the rule book when it comes to qualifications and experience. After all, these can be learnt on the job.

Last year we hired 60 female apprentices for one of our partners. Only 9% of these had a background relevant to the role, and only one had an engineering background. Many who are still in the business are already progressing from apprentice to team leader positions within a year.

We have had to use multiple ways to attract candidates, we had to be creative. It wasn’t about waiting for them to find the industry, it was about finding them and challenging their perceptions who what a typical engineer looks like.

Many partners are now looking at ways they can remove bias, including anonymous CV screening and using inclusive language in job descriptions.

Creating a culture of inclusivity

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace must be a long-term strategy. This means implementing a culture that will not only attract but retain staff. Creating staff networks, mentoring, and coaching all assists.

Make the workplace open and accessible to those with disabilities, hidden or otherwise. See diversity and inclusivity as more than just a tick boxing exercise and give more people opportunities that perhaps you wouldn’t have considered before.

Apprenticeships are opening doors

Employers want more work-ready early years talent and apprenticeships are key to this. Many of our partners are now investing in apprentices they can train up, instead of searching for elusive candidates at a higher entry level. There are currently 26 apprentice standards available in IT and technology.

Stats show that the majority of apprentices stay with the business after their initial apprenticeship ends. This indicates a more loyal workforce and a high retention rate. What’s more, 86% of employers say apprentices help them develop skills relevant to their organisation, while 78% say their apprentices improve productivity.

The overriding message is that recruitment practices must change. Look for transferable skills, challenge the perceptions of who you think you need for the role. In the last year alone we’ve seen former delivery drivers, retail workers and bakery assistants now installing fibre cabling around London. It’s these challenging perceptions which will ensure the future of our industry.


Charlotte-Goodwill-150x150.jpgCharlotte Goodwill is CEO of the ITP. Joining the organisation in 2017, Charlotte previously held the role of Head of Apprenticeships where she was responsible for addressing the UK technical skills gap within the telecoms and digital industries. With a commercial background, Charlotte joined the ITP to grow the Level 3 & 4 Digital Apprenticeship standards across businesses, and to encourage companies to grow their IT, technical and engineering teams through apprenticeships. As a result of her hard work the ITP’s apprenticeship scheme has grown by over 75%. Charlotte’s focus as CEO is on diversifying the digital workforce, advocating career development through apprenticeships and membership and serving as a voice for the industry.  Despite working full time and raising a young family, last year she graduated from the Open University after six years of studying with a BSc first class honours degree in psychology and counselling.



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