Why should telcos create a more gender diverse environment?

Why should telcos create a more gender diverse environment?

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“Achieving gender equality is about disrupting the status quo - not negotiating it," - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Organisations with the most gender diversity outperform those with less diversity. Credit Suisse reported in 2016 that companies with women representing more than 15% of executives have been 50% more profitable than companies where women make up less than 10%. McKinsey and UN’s reports show similar trends: businesses with more diversity in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organisational effectiveness.

Why do women remain underrepresented in executive positions in the telco industry? Indeed, when I attend industry events, and my female colleagues concur, it is not out of the ordinary to see a poor ratio of women in attendance and the ratio gets even lower when focusing on the senior management levels.

Gender diversity, a basic concept that seems very difficult to implement, requires an environment that recognises and promotes gender equality, which is a matter of culture and education. 

I believe that creating gender parity and diversity needs to be handled at different levels, which are not necessarily evolving at a similar pace:

  1. Education and public policies to support gender equality;

  2. Business organisations to create the right environment and promote the right culture that does not penalise women;

  3. Women themselves.

Education and public policies that support gender parity

I think that in the long-run, it is only through education and ad hoc public policies that we will achieve gender equality.

It is our role as mothers, fathers and citizens to ensure all boys and girls grow with the same opportunities and receive the same values. Promoting STEM fields to boys and girls equally may help increase employment quotas for women in these areas and equalise pays across genders.

In addition, public policies have a key role to play in creating a society of gender parity. Laws allowing for similar maternity / paternity leave and flexible arrangements for parental leave may not only help enhance the family life balance by allowing men to be more present, if they wish to do so, but also helps create an understanding environment for women.

Some recently introduced European legislation has addressed the pay gap issue (e.g. Iceland and UK), which is necessary for women to develop their careers.

Business organisation need to create the right environment.

Gender diversity, including senior management, also brings non-financial benefits to the organisations. These include an improved company reputation, better performance, supporting the growth of the individual, higher engagement, as well as creating an environment and a company culture ready for the future.

Structural changes may be needed in some cases to create a company culture and company policy that is centred on parity. For example, allowing flexibility in the workspace to create a balance between private and work life, identifying the right resources for each role, setting the right framework for merit-based promotions, creating programs to develop women specifically i.e. one-on-one sessions and mentoring programs, publicising the existing parity and working towards its evolution.

A cultural change also implies that organisations should prioritise, organise and reduce some activities that penalise women (unexpected late day meetings) who remain, in general, tied to family obligations and tend to work remotely more often. These help create a culture that is not favourable to women.

Some telcos such as Zayo Group and Ciena for example, have already reached a 50% share of women in their executive team.

Others are setting clear goals to increase the share of women in their leadership positions: Oath, the Media division ofVerizon division that owns Huffington Post, TechCruch, Tumblr, AOL and Yahoo, aims for 50% by 2020 and Virgin Media aims at a 50-50 split across the whole organisation by the year 2025.

Indeed, setting clear ambitions and deadlines create positive dynamics that can help trigger a change throughout the organisation.

In reality, finding the right experience and level of expertise in the telecom industry may be a challenge and even more so if we wish to keep a good gender balance.

In the long run, telcos need to actively help their local authorities promote STEM activties to young people by organising school visits, creating training programs, etc. Only by doing so will we see a favorable change in the future. One company already actively doing this is, Proximus in Belgium, which  has specific trainee programs for young university graduates and also carries out yearly sessions with schools and universities to promote the telco industry with very good results.

Women to change their attitude

Women can do a lot to improve their own position, both in the workplace and in the private sphere. Men should encourage this, instead of often criticising.

McKinsey did a study a few years ago, that showed that when a new position is open, many men applying for the job only match 50%-60% of the requirements. On the contrary, the women applying for the position are in general fewer, but match 100% to 120% of the requirements.

We definitely need to learn to believe in ourselves and be more assertive. Talk clearly when facing unfair circumstances and fight to grow within and for the benefit of the organisation. This not only helps the individual, but also adds to the gender parity cause.

As I mentioned before, education is the key and women have an important role to play in educating the upcoming generation by bringing the same equal values to both boys and girls and leading by example.

I recognise that I am lucky to live in Belgium where women are respected and, despite the fact that the gender and pay gap remains and only a minority of women reach higher-level positions in telco organisations (go-go-go Dominique Leroy, CEO Proximus Group), we live in a privileged space. While travelling to other regions in the world I am sometimes surprised about how much still remains undone to have women be as respected and as well represented in senior management positions as men are.

Some strides have been made to advance women in the telecom industry in Europe and I believe we are on the right track, but more needs to be done.

Together, we can, and we will.

Capacity will be hosting its Women in Subsea workshop during Subsea EMEA, 09-10 July 2019 in Marseille. To register your interest or take part, please email: emily.charles@capacitymedia.com 

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