Laura Whelan the ex-grad who never thought she'd work here
Laura Whelan tells us about her journey from graduate to Regional Partnership Director in 5 years as part of our blog series for #BalanceforBetter, the International Women’s Day campaign.
"One thing that is always consistent day to day for me is the variety"
Q. Did you imagine working in this field when you were at school?
“Never! I studied English Literature at university. If you’d asked me when I was at school where I’d be now – I’d never have imagined learning and doing all the things I’ve done so far at Openreach.”
Q. What is your job role?
“I’ve just started a new role in the Strategic Infrastructure Development team as Regional Partnerships Director for the South. Previously, I ran our national Fibre Cities programme and before that, I worked as a Business Manager for one of our Managing Directors. My first job in Openreach was as a People Change and Engagement Manager.
I also do volunteering with my colleagues like cleaning Worthing beach and decorating a national trust property for Christmas events, I love that we get three days paid volunteering a year at Openreach.”
Q. How did you come to work in Openreach?
“I joined Openreach on the graduate scheme which gave me loads of opportunities to try different areas of the business and expand my learning.”
Q. What is a typical day for you?
“One thing that’s always consistent is the variety day to day. The people I meet can vary from senior execs and contract managers through to engineers and external partners across the South.
I also get out in the field sometimes with our engineering teams, to understand the challenges they face. It’s important that everyone is clear about what we’re doing as a business and why and more importantly, the role they play. I’ll often meet with a variety of colleagues to work on ideas to improve our fibre roll-out.”
Q. Would you say you’re typical of a female working in the technology sector?
“I’m not sure what typical is, and I don’t think it exists, so no. I’m lucky to be involved in some great networks of women across engineering, technology and business, for example, BT Tech Woman and the Women of the Future Alumni network. Everyone is very different – that’s the great thing about it.”
Q. This is still a male dominated industry – how have you found that?
“One thing that’s really important to me at Openreach is how we’re trying to improve diversity and inclusion at all levels. There’s no denying that there’s loads more to do across the industry and that’s why campaigns like #BalanceforBetter are important. I’ve had mixed experiences and it can make you question yourself sometimes, particularly as a relatively young person with no previous engineering experience. It can be tough to prove yourself - but I’ve built my credibility by delivering results with my teams. I also politely call people out on anything they do that isn’t acceptable (from a diversity perspective).”
“I feel lucky I see strong female role models at Openreach who operate at all levels from engineering to exec. I also have many male sponsors and role models who’ve supported my career and development. I also try to be that person for other people – that’s why I believe we’ll keep building a more diverse workplace of people that support each other.”
Q. Do you have any advice for others looking into a career at Openreach?
"Do it! Don’t be put off if you’ve not worked in this type of industry before. All of my roles have been about problem solving and finding ways around issues so I would say attitude is everything. If you want to learn you’ll be successful whatever your background.”
Q. What’s your career advice to others?
“My top tip is always to spend time on relationships. When people ask me how I’ve managed to build my career, I tell them I’ve delivered by working closely with people who are experts at what they do. Understand what people’s strengths are and what motivates them personally, and don’t underestimate spending time getting to know them. You can’t possibly know everything, nor should you want to, so you need to have strong relationships that you can build on and use when you’re not sure. People are very helpful when they believe in what we’re doing and believe you are genuine in your intentions. Also, if you’ve given somebody a job to do - let them get on with it! Don’t dilute their responsibility by trying to do it all yourself or trying to control things too much. Be ready to do whatever they need you to do if they ask for your help. Always make sure ideas are credited to the person who had them. Finally, if it doesn’t go as expected, don’t blame, just accept it didn’t work this time and take the learning for next time.”
Regional Partnership Director