'The best choice I ever made was giving up on my dream of being an Olympic athlete' - Q&A with BT Wholesale MD Alex Tempest

Josh Budd
clock • 5 min read
'The best choice I ever made was giving up on my dream of being an Olympic athlete' - Q&A with BT Wholesale MD Alex Tempest

Why do you support CRN's Women & Diversity in Channel campaign?

For too long, women and other diverse and marginalised groups have been left out of the design of our collective world. With tech spearheading innovation in almost every area of our lives, women need to be at the helm so they have sway over the direction of progress. Growing up I was fortunate enough that my parents had a clear view that nothing should stop me or my twin brother from doing what we wanted, and equality was central to that. I have kept this very close to my heart, which is why I have made it my personal goal to get more women into the male-dominated tech industry, and those already there into more senior positions.

CRN's Women & Diversity in Channel campaign is an incredibly important one because it holds the channel accountable to constantly improving and challenging the status quo. By highlighting those individuals and businesses who are going above and beyond for the cause, we can inspire the whole industry to step up.

How did you get into IT industry?

When I was younger, I dreamed of being an Olympian and trained as a Pentathlete until I was 20. That seemed like a clear-cut route to success, with a clear-cut prize: a gold medal.

The best choice I ever made was giving up on that dream and choosing to apply that energy to the tech industry - a field with a much less clear-cut but more impactful prize: changing the world. It is that prize that motivates me now. I was drawn to telecoms because of its integral role in connecting and assisting people all over the world.

How I initially fell into the IT industry was a great example of the power of networking. At the time, I was working for a hotel group as a Sales Manager. I always had an interest in technology and would frequently talk about the latest and greatest tech when I was at work. Through these discussions, I got to know the brother of a colleague who worked in IT, when he was approached by a recruiter who was looking for a salesperson to sell IT into hotels my name was the one he gave.

What you think is the main reason why the IT channel is mainly male, especially in technical roles and senior positions?

There's the fairly well-known stat that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100% of them. Women's leadership expert, Tara Mohr writes, "most of the time, [women] don't know their brilliance. They are more attuned to the ways they aren't qualified than to the ways that they are." This is something that really resonates with me. To make any progress at all, channel organisations need to address these pre-existing biases and make women feel like they are good enough.

Beyond increasing the number of women, if we are to create a truly diverse industry, we must address all biases, creating an environment that suits everyone regardless of gender, race, socio-economic background, disabilities, and more. The tech and telecoms industry remains behind the curve in terms of diversity. Four things are needed:

  1. Better recruitment policies: 39% of businesses in the industry do not have a policy to recruit diverse candidates. This could include anonymous applications, or reducing the list of mandatory requirements on applications so women are more likely to apply.
  2. Better training: Businesses should be providing anti-bias training to all staff, in particular senior leaders. More career development opportunities should be provided to diverse staff - currently missing in 49% of companies.
  3. Bottom-up understanding: For companies struggling to get women into senior roles, the best thing they can do is ask questions. This might be in the form of one-on-one conversations, collecting information anonymously, or reverse mentoring.
  4. An intersectional lens: If we focus on boosting women to the exclusion of other intersecting groups, we might achieve gender parity at the senior level, but it's likely to look very white, cis and straight. We must address all biases, working towards a fair workplace for all.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

Be curious, constantly. From exploring emerging technology to embracing new Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, by being open to learning, you can help yourself, your team and organisation stay ahead of the curve.

I am not the perfect mentor, because the perfect mentor doesn't exist. I will be the first to admit when there is room for improvement, but I will always strive to discover new things and plug the gap.

What are your three top tips for women looking to start a career in IT?

Get to know the sector and get excited by it. Listen to podcasts, read articles and immersive yourself in the IT world. It can be niche, but that's what makes it so interesting.

Network. The connections you make can open up so many doors. That's how I broke into the industry in the first place. And, as well as connecting with people inside the IT industry, network with people from other domains as you can learn a lot.

Finally, be yourself. Have confidence in your choices and trust your gut when embarking on a new career path or job. You know yourself better than anyone and this is your superpower.

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