Sarah Waters BT.jpg

In Interview | 

We sat down with Sarah Waters to discuss her experiences in telecoms and her thoughts on Women in 5G!

Please tell me a little bit about who you are, your background &  how you ended up working in Telecoms? 


I live in Wales with my husband, two dogs and a cat, and pre-covid could often be found on a train shuttling back and forth to BT Centre.  I joined Orange 11 years ago, recently out of university with a bachelor of science in Psychology and with no specific designs on my future career.  Orange quickly merged with T-Mobile to become EE, and then I TUPEd into BT after the acquisition.  For a number of years I worked in different roles within the IT Partnerships directorate managing the performance of our strategic partners, who deliver IT change and support our IT services, and designing and negotiating new service contracts..


What is your current role and what are the key things you are focused on? 


In 2019 I moved into my current role within IT transformation to programme manage IT's skills transformation, sourcing strategy and the evolution of our operating model and organisation design.  I love the strategic focus of the role, and the opportunity to bring outside thinking into BT – seeing how other companies are adapting to the accelerating pace of technology change and working with teams right across Technology to set ourselves up for success now and in the future.  My programme recently completed the roll out of a best-in-class technology learning platform across 2000+ people in IT.  We’re now building plans to use the platform as a vehicle to meet strategic upskilling targets across our technical population.


Women In 5G aims to empower and promote the women in this industry, what do you think the industry can do to support and engage women to get involved? 


Gender equality won’t happen this century without a concerted effort.  We can’t sit back and wait for progress.  BT’s Tech women is a great example of a programme that builds community and drives change, as well as initiatives like FurtHer – Code first: girls, which specifically recruits women from non-technical backgrounds into an intensive digital skills programme.  I consider myself lucky to have so many colleagues in the IT senior management team that are truly brilliant, inspiring women – having great female role models in Technology roles goes a long way to fostering ambition in others.  I would also like to see recruitment change so that factors which could identify a candidate’s gender, age, race or nationality are removed before being passed to recruiting managers, to help combat unconscious bias.


If you could give advice to your younger self at the start of your career, what would that be? 


I have been known to suffer from imposter syndrome and over time have realised how prevalent this is, particularly amongst women.  Research has shown that imposter syndrome actually corresponds positively with high performance.  The reality is that almost everyone doubts their skills and experience sometimes (maybe with the exception of Donald Trump?) and that you have to be willing to be bad at something first to get good at it.  Knowing that is empowering and I would love to somehow impart it on my 24 year old self starting out in an EE Networks role and feeling the fear!


What are the biggest blockers you feel that remain in the industry for Women and how do you think we can overcome them? 


Unconscious bias.  Our brains have evolved to package up information and take shortcuts, due to the massive sensory input we are bombarded with every day.  This is a neat trick but a by-product is that we will unconsciously ascribe people to our ‘in-group’ or ‘out-group’ and this leads to people recruiting people who are like themselves.  It’s a fact of life that we are all biased; we can’t hope to un-bias ourselves.  Ultimately I think what’s needed is more training for people to be aware of their own biases so they can be consciously managed.


What things could we change in the industry to inspire the next generation? 


Showcasing the stories and successes of great women leaders in our industry and buddying young women up with mentors to support their ambitions and accelerate their progress.


Finally, what are your future ambitions and what keeps you motivated? 


I’m currently working my way through a Harvard business school leadership course, and loving putting into practice what I’m learning each week, which is opening my mind to my future potential as a leader.  I’m motivated by the bold transformation BT IT is undergoing and the opportunity I feel I have in my role to make a direct, positive impact on BTs future.