Improving Gender Diversity in the Telco Industry

On the Women in Telco miniseries on The Connectivity Matters Podcast we’re shining a spotlight on diversity. In the miniseries’ fifth episode we spoke to Alex Foster, the Managing Director of Division X at BT, about her experiences as a woman in the telco industry and how the sector could improve gender diversity. Read on for her insights. 

How do you think the attitudes towards diversity and inclusion have changed throughout your career so far in telco?

We’ve always spent a lot of time looking at diversity and inclusion. We’ve done an awful lot of work in terms of the barefoot computing initiatives. Our volunteers help to make sure that all children feel that they’ve got the ability to really enjoy the STEM world. That then moves up the chain in terms of what we do, both at senior school and university, where we run initiatives around coding for girls. The work that we do, particularly around cybersecurity, really helps make sure that people aren’t frightened about technology. It’s like riding a bike, it can seem frightening before you start. It’s the same thing with STEM; making it accessible means taking all of that fear out of it. And as a consequence of that, we’re seeing many more women coming into technology as well. We’ve got huge levels of representation for women, from apprentices and graduates and up through to our leadership roles within the organisation as well.

BT has a female CEO now. What impact do you think that will have?

It’s an important representation of women in leadership roles. I think that that will encourage more and more women into technology roles, because it just shows you how inclusive telecoms can be, and particularly how inclusive we as an organisation can be, and it shows that we are a very accessible workplace. Nobody should be worried about coming into a STEM role, because you can go from being an apprentice to being a CEO, and everything in between.

What challenges did you – or do you – face as a woman in the telco industry?

Some of the barriers have changed since I joined the industry. My children are on their way to university now, but if I think back to when I had maternity leave, coming back after only three months was quite challenging. Since then, huge amounts have changed. You can get a year’s maternity leave or alternative provisions in terms of how you return to work. At BT, we’re really proud that 87% of people who go on maternity leave come back into our organisation. 

The other challenges I had were things that are now mainstays like lactating rooms – those were definitely not common back when I started. 20 years on, the world has changed significantly. We’ve got great maternity policies, great return back to work policies and great facilities for people who want to carry on and bring their babies into the organisation and carry on feeding them at work. All of those provisions are there now. 

How do you think organisations can make the workplace more accessible to everyone?

Inclusivity is expansive. One topic close to my heart is dyslexia. I work with Kate Griggs and the Made By Dyslexia organisation. We have a chapter of the organisation here at BT, which helps us look at Dyslexia as a superpower, because dyslexic thinking can be very creative and join the dots in a different way. It’s absolutely about creating an inclusive place for all types of people to come and work with us. So for me, inclusion doesn’t just mean gender inclusivity, it’s all of those facets of identity. Having a space like the Made By Dyslexia chapter in a workplace can really empower people to share what makes them different and recognise their own strengths. We also use technology to solve some of their challenges too, such as using Word’s spell-check or speech to text ability. It all just helps us recognise what skills we can bring to the company. 

Do you have any specific recommendations for how companies can be more inclusive?

I think that it’s about making sure that when you’re starting to hire into the organisation, you’ve got diverse lists to start with. If your list isn’t diverse it’s going to be quite hard to create an inclusive environment. It definitely starts with having a look at how you hire and who you hire, and making sure that those that are hiring are starting to think about skills and inclusivity at the same time. Organisations that are on an inclusive journey can lean into external networks, such as Women in Technology, both from a learning and networking point of view, but also as a pipeline for talent. If you’re engaged with these groups, your organisation will start to show up as an organisation for whom inclusivity is important, and candidates will be drawn to you. You’ll then start to find a plethora of candidates who want to work at your organisation because you are seen to be inclusive, and you’re behaving in an inclusive manner.

To hear more from Alex, tune into Episode 17 of The Connectivity Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

Speaking Up About Impostor Syndrome

During the Women In Telco miniseries on The Connectivity Matters Podcast we’ve been putting a spotlight on diversity in the industry. That includes covering topics such as impostor syndrome, which we discussed with Richa Daga in the miniseries’ fourth episode. Richa is an Embedded Software Engineer at Cisco, and she is the winner of the 2022 WomenTech Global Conference Speaker of the Year Award. Here are her insights on the impostor syndrome and how to tackle it: 

Impostor syndrome is a topic that is being talked about because people do feel it. That is a reality that occurs. A programme that I took part in at Cisco had a cohort of female leaders from different teams. As we talked about it, we all realised that most of the time it’s only in our head. Imposter syndrome is like wondering “Do we really belong here?” Once you start speaking up and sharing what is going on in your mind, you’ll discover that several other people in the room might also be feeling the same way. We all question “Should I say that thing or not? Is it right or not?”, but we don’t realise that other people wonder the same thing. 

If you waste time contemplating whether or not something is the right thing to say, someone else will say it and be recognised for their idea. These things keep happening. You have to have the courage to say what’s in your mind. That can be a difficult process, and it’s hard to get out of that thought process because we fear disagreements and rejection. We don’t want to disagree with what is happening in the room. That is why we don’t want to be our natural selves, because we want to feel accepted. 

When we build inclusive and equitable environments, people can share their perspectives at all levels of the business. We need to stop comparing ourselves to people who have 5 times more experience than us and take the opportunities we have in front of us. We also need to focus less on output and more on input, and value what people are contributing. We should be empowering, motivating and encouraging people to speak up, shed their inhibitions and come out of their shells. Courage is what helps us get rid of impostor syndrome. They’re all small changes, but we should try to do our bit to get rid of impostor syndrome.” 

To hear more from Richa, tune into Episode 16 of The Connectivity Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

FYUZ 2023 Summary Blog

This year, Fyuz returned to Madrid for three days of talks and networking, with a focus on Open RAN technology. Here are the key takeaways, straight from the neuco team: 

Day 1:

FYUZ ‘23 kicked off with a bang when Ericsson’s EVP and Head of Networks, Fredrik Jejdling, entered the stage for the first big announcement. He announced that Ericsson has 1 million radios ready for deployment in Open RAN. While Fredrik was hesitant to commit to a timeline, it seems that late 2024 is the earliest we will see the upgrades deployed on the market. 

The next significant announcement came from Vodafone’s Andrea Dona. Andrea revealed that Vodafone currently has 16 live sites in the Southwest of the UK, providing connectivity through Open RAN. This is a truly cross-vendor platform that reaches over 100,000 people. They not only expect to increase the number of sites to 24 by the end of October, but also anticipate that these systems will outperform their legacy equipment in all key performance indicators (KPIs).

The big takeaway from Day 1 is that although progress in Open RAN has been slow, it’s no longer just a concept; it’s here. Although there is still a long way to go before Open RAN technology becomes the norm, it’s exciting to see it come to fruition.

Day 2:

The second day of the conference focused on the challenges of Open RAN and multi-vendor engagement. There was a significant discussion about how operators will need to oversee relationships with multiple vendors, and a big question mark hung over the accountability of the vendors in such a scenario.

AI was another central topic. Open RAN and automation are interconnected, but there isn’t a comprehensive understanding across the industry when it comes to automation. Therefore, a substantial effort is needed to attract talent from other areas to meet growing demands from the connectivity industry.

Day 3:

Day three placed a significant focus on the use cases of Open RAN and how it can help expand into other areas of connectivity, such as private wireless and indoor connectivity. The panel rightly pointed out that 80% of device usage occurs indoors or in a vehicle. This means that a substantial portion of the mobile connectivity market isn’t being reached.

While Wi-Fi effectively provides connectivity in these hard-to-reach places, and will therefore remain the dominant connectivity method, questions arose about Open RAN’s place in the connectivity ecosystem. The multi-vendor nature of Open RAN allows operators and vendors to take their equipment indoors. Coupled with the fact that neutral hosting is inherent in Open RAN, this could make the transition between indoor and outdoor connectivity seamless.


Overall, this year was a bit slower than anticipated. Vendors are slowly getting on board with the process, and operators are even slower to invest. However, through industry bodies such as the Telecom Infra Project, the wheels are slowly but surely turning. We’ve seen a lot of positivity about the future of the industry, and we all hope it will start to pick up pace in the coming years.