Jill Grainge, chair of the BT Women’s Network tells us about this global resource that provides the 22% of female employees within the organisation with support and guidance on workplace issues.
Q. Can you tell us how BTWN was set up and when?
A. At BT, the Women’s Network is now in its 21st year. It was founded by a group of like-minded BT women attending a Cranfield course in 1986, who recognised that there were specific issues for women in the workplace. The idea was for a network that could champion issues with the board, such as retaining senior women, and grow a network that could provide support to women in the organisation both at a national and local level.
Today, BT has c107,000 employees globally and just 22% of those are women. The BTWN, run by a dedicated committee of volunteers, has over 4000 members with branches across the UK, in Europe and North America and an expansion plan for Asia Pacific. The strategy has three strands – networking, personal development and support – and provides services to members through senior engagement, events, personal development workshops and on-line networking and information.
Q. Are there any other social networking resources available to employees?
A. One of nine diversity networks in BT, the BTWN’s networking primarily happens through face to face events which are hosted by the regional branches often with the support of senior BT hosts and external speakers. We also have an on-line networking tool which is proving very successful for members.
Q. What kind of information / interaction takes place and how is it carried out?
A. Members seeking information, sharing learning and generating discussion on a whole range of issues that affect women in the workplace
Q. Is there an email newsletter to support the Network?
A. The BTWN also has a comprehensive website which is accessible to anyone in the company. It includes an events calendar, a personal development area, networking tools and techniques, part time and job-share information which supplements HR published information, a bi-monthly newsletter and a feedback section.
Q. Is BTWN monitored or even censored in any way by BT?
A. The BTWN, along with the other diversity networks is supported by BT People and Policy (HR) who ensure the networks’ activities reflect the spirit and intent of BT’s inclusivity strategy. Beyond that the BTWN has autonomy to run the network in a way that best serves its members.
Q. Do the issues raised by women online get passed on to anyone else in the organisation?
A. Yes. All issues are either handled by the BTWN or passed to the most appropriate person to deal. Like the other BT networks the BTWN also has a Pastoral Care Officer. The purpose of the role is to provide a single point of contact for BTWN members if they have a question or concern on a professional or personal matter and are not sure where to go for help. The Pastoral Care Officer is not a trained counsellor or coach but does have access to information and assistance. They can offer advice and support and specifically point individuals in the right direction to get assistance from professionally trained people. All enquires are treated in the strictest of confidence.
With regard to bigger issues affecting many members eg more women into senior roles, the committee may decide, if appropriate, to champion the issue and raise with the seniors managers in the company.
Q. What do you regard as the main advantages of this network – what does it give to its users?
A. I believe the BTWN works for people on different levels. For example, in these days of remote and home-working, some members look simply for involvement with a group of people locally, whilst others participate in network activities to enhance their career progression.
On a personal level getting actively involved has helped me in three key areas.
1. Firstly, my network of contacts both within the company and externally has greatly increased – that in turn means access to knowledge and experience.
2. Secondly, involvement in the Network automatically means working alongside people from other business units in BT – and that has given me a better insight into BT’s global operations.
3. Thirdly, leading the Network has given me a much broader perspective on a whole range of diversity issues and how much there is still to do. I have to remind my self every day that this is a part-time voluntary role which I do in addition to my full time busy job managing BT Property’s marketing and communications.
I am regularly approached as chair of the BTWN, by other companies looking to create a women’s network of their own. That in itself tells you this is an area of interest and need. It also means that our networking extends beyond BT, with benefits both commercially and for individuals at a personal level.
Jill Grainge, Chair, BT Women’s Network