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How Three is improving gender balance in leadership and tech

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Image of Mark Remond, CPO at Three
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How Three is improving gender balance in leadership and tech

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Three is well on its way to achieving gender balance, but there is more work to be done, especially around getting more women into tech, its chief people officer tells Ashleigh Webber.

Like many employers in the tech sector, mobile network Three UK & Ireland is not immune to the challenges arising from the long-standing shortage of female STEM talent, nor is it unaware of the benefits that come from gender-diverse leadership.

But despite this shortage, and like any responsible employer, Three has ambitions to achieve gender balance across all levels. In 2023 it was named among The Times Top 50 employers for gender equality in recognition of its family-friendly policies and its approach to pay, progression and reward, which is a testament to the progress it has made.

Mark Redmond, chief people officer at Three UK & Ireland, is a firm believer in the notion of “what gets measured gets done”. As a result, the company has set itself a target of 50:50 male and female representation in its senior leadership team by 2030.

“We have a way to go on that, but it’s a key driver for us,” he says, noting that women currently represent 34% of its senior leadership team. “Everything we do, we approach through that lens, and that will by its nature have an impact on our gender pay gap.”

In April 2021 Three’s median gender pay gap was 18.7%, but by April 2022 this had fallen to 10.9%.

Redmond suggests this was largely down to embracing flexible and hybrid working. “The feedback we get from our people is that they benefit everybody, but they traditionally tend to benefit women more. Our policies give them flexibility around childcare, and we’re supportive of different start and finish times to enable people to manage life outside work,” he says.

Diverse candidate pools

The mobile and broadband service provider also encourages hiring managers to have equal numbers of men and women on shortlists at each stage of recruitment, but it does not have any diversity quotas in place.

“That’s really important because it’s ensuring we attract a good diverse blend of candidates for our roles,” he says. “If you look at our company at a macro level we will get equal numbers of males and females coming through.”

However, he admits that Three still faces some challenges in attracting women into tech roles, and is looking at how it can encourage more STEM graduates to consider a career at Three. In 2024 it is sponsoring an initiative to get more women into studying or teaching STEM subjects at UK and Irish universities.

“We’re also thinking about how we can get more women to apply for programmes like that in business, particularly young women as they are a valuable talent pipeline,“ he says.

Mentoring and development

Redmond is conscious of the need for female role models in the business and Three has various leadership and mentoring programmes in place to help elevate women’s careers.

Rather than the company defining a career path, we encourage individuals to shape their own.” – Mark Redmond, chief people officer

It has a mentoring platform that helps connect people who express an interest in mentoring others with colleagues seeking career support and guidance, as well as tools that prompt employees to outline where they would like to take their careers and suggest various development routes to help them get there.

Its learning offer varies from on-demand content to targeted interventions to help develop digital skills, including a digital skills ‘academy’ which offers training ranging from basic skills to degree-equivalent specialist programmes.

Last year it launched bite-sized leadership development programme, which is delivered via 90-minute drop-in sessions.

Careers don’t have to be linear

Three encourages employees to take ownership of their career development and facilitates internal career moves where possible. Redmond suggests the company is often able to fill skills gaps this way, and around 40% of roles are filled internally by promotions or role changes.

“We don’t have strict linear career paths, and we’ve had people who have come from a retail role into a head office role,” he says.

“Rather than the company defining a career path, we encourage individuals to shape their own. We provide the tools that prompt people to think about their own career. Do they want to go into a people leadership role? If they do, we have an aspiring managers programme they can join and they can learn the skills they need.

“Do they want to pivot their career and get involved in programme management? If so they can sign up for the programme management academy. If it’s a more general skills development desire because they want to become an expert in their field, they can use our Pluralsight programme to develop their skills or use LinkedIn Learning.”

Graduate schemes are also on offer in various functions, from roles in its people team to specialist financial roles where financial qualifications are required.

We expect people to work hard, but we like to ensure they are supported, especially if they are struggling at particular times in life.”

Supporting employees

Redmond says Three constantly strives to do better for its employees and regularly surveys staff to find out what it is doing well and where it could improve. This feedback has resulted in the launch of a competitive suite of employee benefits including a generous paternity package – it offers up to four weeks depending on length of service – to fertility leave comprising 10 days’ paid leave per year for the person undergoing the treatment and two days’ leave for their partners.

It also pays the recommended Living Wage rate, which has resulted in significant uplifts in pay for retail and some entry-level staff.

“We expect people to work hard, but we like to ensure they are supported, especially if they are struggling at particular times in life,” he explains.

He says that managers play a vital role in supporting its people. “To quote an old cliché; people don’t leave companies, they leave managers, and consistently the highest scores we get in our survey relate to trust in managers. We need people to be confident in their line manager, as well as the support they receive from the wider organisation and the policies we have in place,” says Redmond.

Thinking about the year ahead, Redmond says Three, like many organisations, will need to “peer around corners to find out the kind of skills people will need in the future”.

“If we think about AI for example, we need to understand the opportunities it can bring, but also the skills and policy requirements. I think that’s going to be a really interesting area in 2024,” he says.

Sustainability is also a major area of focus, and through its Sustainable Connections strategy, Three is working towards several goals that align with three pillars: our planet, our people and our business.

“An increased focus on sustainability is going to be really important as we go forward. We do a lot of work in that space, not just around environmental responsibility, but sustainability in its broader sense, and we’ll be continuing to focus on that,” Redmond says.

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