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Catherine Colloms gives us an insight into her life at Openreach

20 Aug 2019

Catherine Colloms, Director Corporate Affairs and Brand,  talks us through her career path to date and shares her experience of working in a male-dominated industry. This is part of our International Women’s Day #BalanceforBetter campaign.

“I think anyone can learn anything – so don’t be put off by the idea that this is technical or ‘too hard’. Openreach is a great company.”

In 2016, Catherine was recruited into a new role to run Openreach’s reputational strategy, build the narrative of an independent Openreach and to deliver a rebrand for the company. Being successful hinges on being able to orchestrate multiple moving parts and to influence tough stakeholders in a policy and industry environment.

The role is about strong leadership externally as well as internally.


Catherine Colloms by Openreach van

Q. Have you always worked in the telecommunications/engineering industry?

“No, I started my career at the Foreign Office where I worked on a range of crisis situations, including the Government’s humanitarian response to 9/11. I also led the development of the UK’s policy on Kosovo and was personal political adviser to Lord Ashdown, the High Representative for Bosnia, in Sarajevo. Outside the office I am a trustee of two charities, VFAN and Wiener Holocaust Library.”

Q. There’s no denying this is still a male-dominated industry –  how's that been?

“Yes, that’s true - the senior echelons of the sector are still very male-dominated. When I walk into a room like at the Broadband Stakeholder Group, 90% of the time, everyone in it is male.

It’s not unique to this industry, but it does take some time for your voice to be heard. I’ve found throughout my career that there is a tendency for ideas put forward by women to be repeated by someone male round the table who gets the credit for them. It’s important to build your credibility and reputation from the start, as someone who is going to do things differently but fundamentally knows what they are talking about. I believe in collaboration, in particular, cross-industry collaboration. I stand-up for what we want and believe in. With that approach I have found you can really drive industry debates and get the best possible outcome for everyone, but it takes time, usually about six months.”

Q. Do you have any advice for others looking into a career in this sector?

“I think anyone can learn anything – so don’t be put off by the idea that this is technical or ‘too hard’. If you are interested and want to learn, it’s all doable. Openreach is a great company. It’s rare to find a company with such a clear plan and vision and to do work that matters so much to people and our country.”

Q. What’s your ‘top tip’ when mentoring others?

“Don’t be afraid of moving on if you’ve given a company your best shot and you don’t feel you can make it work. Culture is critical. All companies have one and as individuals we will find we can work at our best in certain cultures. If something isn’t working out, look hard at if the cultural fit is right for you. Hey, it just might be them - not you!”

"The can-do attitude in our work-place is fantastic! We have an extraordinary opportunity every day to make a difference, not only to individual people’s lives, but the UK as a whole. That is a rare and an amazing opportunity.” 

Q. What’s a typical day for you?

“There is no typical day, I aim to get in early to beat the commuter rush and set out the plan for the day before everyone gets in. I often have stakeholder meetings booked such as seeing Ministers, industry groups or journalists. Attending board meetings and aligning with other members of the exec team. My team and I put a lot of thought into how to best explain policy both internally and externally and how to enhance the customer experience on our digital and social channels.

Q. Any best practice tips for work/life balance?

“It’s critical to work a week ahead to manage diaries with my working husband and my two kids, aged 8 and 10. It’s only possible to do this if it’s a working partnership. It’s also very important to have a broader life i.e. date nights, yoga, gym and seeing friends.

I’m also getting ready to abseil down the London BT Tower in aid of the Royal Marines Charity. I saw the marines in action when working in Kosovo and Bosnia and am glad of the opportunity to do something for them.”

Q. Last but not least - what do you enjoy about working here?

“The can-do attitude in our work-place is fantastic! In my role, I need help and input from lots of people, all over the business - to develop my team, progress policy, fix problems, respond to media enquiries or host ministerial visits. I find our people everywhere are committed to showcasing Openreach and doing the best job for our customers. They are always willing to help. Without that, we couldn’t show stakeholders and journalists the great things we are doing. I also love working for a business with purpose at its heart. We have an extraordinary opportunity every day to make a difference, not only to individual people’s lives and businesses, but the UK as a whole. That is a rare and an amazing opportunity.”