Gender bias focus sees Openreach Scotland boost female recruit intake

Telecoms network provider Openreach has seen a significant boost in female recruits across Scotland.

The jump in the number of women joining the company in both field and desk roles comes after bosses made a decision to put the language used to recruit employees under the microscope.

Back in January 2021, work started with gender bias expert Chris Begeny from Exeter University, which revealed that women were 50 per cent less likely to consider roles that had a coded gender bias.

Since then, “significant changes” have been made throughout Openreach, the separate network arm of BT, to the way jobs are advertised, helping drive an uptake in the number of women coming into new roles during the past year.

New recruits Lucy Kennedy (crouching) and Jodine Crombie (standing) at work on an Openreach fibre installation in Lanark.

The company is recruiting some 275 people into roles across Scotland in the current financial year, from the Highlands to the Borders. To date, about 17 per cent of the intake is female – a statistic that in previous years stood in single digits.

The new recruits are mainly to support the roll out of ultrafast full-fibre broadband, which has so far reached nearly half a million homes and businesses north of the Border. The high-speed connections are rolled out to properties by the company and offered to customers via service providers such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone.

Katie Milligan, chair of Openreach’s Scotland board, said: “We’re glad to report that the number of women expressing an interest in a career with Openreach in Scotland is on the rise.

Research into the language barriers that impact female job applicants has shown that it plays a fundamental role in the recruitment process. We’d like to see more women choose careers in engineering, particularly here at Openreach, so we’ve been trying to address that. I’m delighted to see it’s starting to work.

“Engineering is a varied, stimulating and valuable career and it’s really important that we present it in ways that encourage as diverse a workforce as possible.

“We’ve been amazed to see just how much of a difference subtle changes in language can make. Despite four in five women admitting they wouldn’t consider working in engineering, more than half were interested in an entry-level engineering role once it had been rewritten in a consciously unbiased way.”

She added: “Gender imbalance won’t be remedied overnight but we’ve been hugely encouraged to see a significantly higher percentage of women joining our Scottish workforce this year. We’ve set ambitious targets and plans to support the journey.”

The firm recently published its diversity and inclusion commitments, which include that by 2025, 20 per cent of trainee engineer recruits and 50 per cent of external hires into management will be women.

It is also setting targets based on regional variations in ethnicity which reflect the local population and, at a minimum, match regional ethnic minority representation.

In November, Openreach said thousands more Scottish homes and businesses were set to be offered a broadband boost thanks to fresh investment by the business. More than 50 further communities will be upgraded following the company’s latest £95 million upgrade announcement.

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