Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Helen Brett, BT

Supporting gender diversity and conversations to support the growth of women, David Phillips talks to Helen Brett, Senior Account Manager, BT.

Helen Brett, Senior Account Manager, BT | BTR News
Helen Brett, Senior Account Manager, BT.

Helen joined BT in 2007 on its graduate scheme, since then she has held various roles, including ten years in contract management, where she managed the customer relationship and Profit and Loss for connectivity services provided to large commercial clients. More recently, Helen moved into business development and sales roles, where today she works in BT Consumer and is a Senior Account Manager in the Connectivity team. Here, she focuses on working with developers, including in the Build to Rent sector, providing a new Wi-Fi product called Personal Wi-Fi, to buildings.

Have you ever struggled to progress in your career?

Yes – I’ve sometimes held myself back with my own attitudes, for example thinking I needed more experience to progress, or attributing my success to luck or other people’s hard work. In contract management, I could have applied for more senior roles earlier. After maternity leave, I found it hard to amalgamate my ‘old’ and ‘new’ lives and it took a while to get the two working. My definition of success has changed slightly: today I’m more focused on job satisfaction than things like career status.

Have you felt that being a woman has given you an advantage in the industry?

No. I’ve experienced gender bias at certain times. It’s a predominantly male industry and there can be microaggressions that are subtle and hard to call out, but make you feel like you’re being treated unfairly. I’ve found that it’s possible to call this out if it’s done in a constructive way. Overall though, I feel that if I keep doing what I do best, my success will be noticed, and I’ll make progress.

Given the industry’s gender gap in leadership, how did you reach your level of success?

Persistence is one of my qualities, also pushing outside my comfort zone. Working in sales for the first time at a senior level, my approach was to just go for it and not let negative thoughts hold me back. I think it’s important to capitalise on your strengths, to be yourself and not emulate others too much. Also, if something isn’t working, find something that does. If it’s not right for you, that’s fine.

What needs to change to inform the next generation of female leaders about the industry and the roles available to them? Do we need more support for women at school level to understand the opportunity?

Things are slowly moving in the right direction. But one thing that needs to change is government support for childcare. Because childcare is so expensive, and women are generally the lower earners, they are the ones who often drop out of the workforce. Narrowing the gender pay gap and encouraging women into higher-paid roles would of course help, too.

Research shows that as a general trend women have more of the mental and emotional load at home, so if men can individually evaluate if there is opportunity to support their partners more, it will help women to give more to their careers. At school, my experience was that we were only presented with traditional careers and roles: no-one talked about real estate or telecoms. So, making people aware of the possibilities, and getting women role models in to talk about them, would be very helpful.

What does the future look like for women in property and what advice would you give the next generation of female leaders joining the industry?

I’m hoping we see women getting into more senior positions. Women can often be more self-effacing than men, so my advice is to believe in yourself, and claim success – let people know what you’re achieving, rather than just getting on and doing it. This kind of behaviour is a predictor of promotion. Also, don’t be afraid to be yourself. There’s no need to copy the behaviour of others. Diverse organisations perform better because everyone is bringing their whole self to work.

Who inspired you/are your role models and who do you admire in the industry?

My family, who inspired me from a young age. I have an aunt who worked in journalism and politics and got a degree when it wasn’t the norm. Another aunt is a commercial fisherwoman, which is admirable in a male-dominated world. And my sister and I mutually support one another. In the industry, I’ve found Nick Biring from BTR News and Hannah Marsh from HomeViews to be very helpful.