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Some see barriers, others only see the goal

25 Nov 2019

Ex-RAF high flyer, Cheryl Burgess, who now works on Full Fibre broadband delivery, shares her story and career advice as part of our blog series for #BalanceforBetter - the International Women’s Day campaign.


I’ve always had goals…

At school, I was fascinated with aviation. Then, when I was seventeen, I applied for the RAF but was unsuccessful. They told me to go and get some life experience and come back. So, I did. I went to university, studied primary school teaching and volunteered with the air cadets. Then at 23, my application was successful.

A lot of people doubted that I’d get to where I did in the military – but if you have a goal in mind and are committed to it, you’ll get there. 

If you have a goal in mind, don’t let anything discourage you. If you work hard and you’re dedicated, you’ll get there”

Working in a male-dominated environment

I’ve been asked quite a bit about what’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated environment, both in the RAF and at Openreach. Personally, I’ve never found it a problem. When I joined the RAF there weren’t that many female navigators especially in my squadron – in my first seven months I was the only woman. I’ve never been treated any differently in the RAF or at Openreach. It’s about doing the job and performing, your ability and your hard work – not your gender.

I was used to a performance-based work environment. When you’re flying, you go out and you pass a number of objectives. How well you do is based solely on your performance.  

How I came to be at Openreach

A previous RAF manager of mine recommended working for Openreach after I left the RAF. I joined Openreach on its ‘Accelerated Leadership Programme’. Having researched the programme, I liked the idea of doing three different rotations that meant I could learn and sample different areas of the business.

I’m learning a whole new industry and I had no previous commercial experience. So don’t let that put you of applying! The transition from military has been a very positive experience. I find everyone supportive and Openreach people go out of their way to help you.

There are similarities between the RAF and Openreach. Both are large organisations and they have that structured element, team-work and team ethics.

A typical day

Every day is different for me, I travel quite a bit for my job. First thing, I drop off my two girls – one at nursery and one at breakfast club - for 8am. I then head into the office or travel to visit a local authority. During a typical day, I might be managing problems or dealing with multiple internal departments to create solutions. Last week, I was in Solihull on Monday, Leeds on Tuesday and Glasgow on Wednesday. This week I’m off to Salisbury and Barry Island.

Last year, I worked on a project in the ‘network health’ team, looking at testing and diagnostics. I also worked with the field teams, doing research. It was a behavioural change project, which we trialled in East Anglia and Blackwater, Hampshire. The project was educational, aimed at forming better work habits in engineering.

Now I’m working on the Fibre First programme. Day to day I work with the local authorities where we’re working hard to roll out Full Fibre as quickly as possible.

If you’re thinking of a new career in Openreach, I say go for it! Check out the latest opportunities here.

Cheryl Burgess

Accelerated Leadership Programme