Why don’t women apply?
Conversations around gender diversity in telecoms can only occur if we get more women applying and through the door. Natalie Bannerman examines how we do it and why it wasn’t working before.
We’ve all heard the same claim. Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the requirements, women on the other hand only apply if they meet 100% of them.
As quoted in the likes of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, these findings come from an internal Hewlett Packard report.
Though we know this occurs across the board, telecoms and technology suffer from some of the biggest shortfalls in female applicants and Capacity has been exploring the reason why.
Speaking to Jane Farrell, co-founder and CEO of diversity and inclusion consultancy EW Group, she says it’s about starting off our girls at a young age and reinforcing the right stereotypes.
Everything down to the presents and toys that girls and boys received are different, and gendered, each having its own impact on shaping them as individuals.
“A photograph of a fancy-dress party for nine-year olds would remind us how it works,” says Farrell. “At a quick glance, you can usually spot Batman, nurse, princess, king, astronaut, Sleeping Beauty, Marvel Avengers’ Thor, Cinderella, and Tinker Bell.”
As a result, in school, girls and boys are influenced by the stereotypes they see and therefore the pattern is that more girls choose arts subjects and more boys choose science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, according to Farrell.
“It is not surprising therefore that women are still underrepresented in tech and telecoms as their early subject choices impact their preferences at college and university, and then ultimately the career paths they choose,” continues Farrell.
This is the exasperated by the fact that many women are offered lower pay than men after graduation and that is then compounded over the years. According to a 2019 Women in Technology survey, 78% of large organisations admit to having a gender pay gap in tech, with men earning more than women.
“Companies in the tech and telecoms sector do not have the best of reputations when it comes to tackling unconscious bias and ensuring that their organisational cultures and standards make it clear that sexual harassment is not acceptable,” adds Farrell.
As reported in Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF) Whitepaper Driving gender diversity and inclusion in the telecoms industry, “gender diversity makes business sense with clear rationale to leverage the potential of the full workforce and reflect diversity in the customer base.” As many as 85% of GLF member companies agree that improving gender diversity has a positive commercial impact.
Adding to this, according to Mithila Mahajan, head of customer success at pan-Asian data centre cluster, BDx, the perception that women aren’t good at tech leads to an unconscious bias to suggest that women are not suited for the tech and telecom industries. This is turn leads to other big reasons for the lack of female applicants.
One is the difference in salaries. “Women are not paid at the same levels as their male counterparts for the same roles. There is a lot of empirical evidence to support this,” says Mahajan.
The next is the issue around recruitment and the way vacancies are advertised.
“Most roles are written with a lot of jargon which is oriented towards men. Terms such as ‘ninja’ or ‘aggressive’ are not a true indicator of being gender inclusive,” continues Mahajan.
And the last is about maternity and childcare, and the perceived inconvenience this will cause.
“Women are perceived to be the primary caregiver to children. Also, there is a perception that maternity benefits create gaps in projects and as such there is a conscious bias in having women on the team,” adds Mahajan.
But enough with the pointing of fingers, what can telcos do about it? Well, speaking to Natalie Cramp, CEO of data science and marketing consultancy firm, Profusion, she says the answer lies in the pool which you’re hiring from.
“The main issue is the funnel of qualified applicants should be bigger,” says Cramp. “If businesses want to really address this problem, they need to proactively engage with schools to provide resources, knowledge, and training to teachers and young students.”
Suggestions include teaching how maths links to algorithms that link to how Netflix recommends TV series to youngsters, as well as actively engaging students by giving them the opportunity to learn first-hand how different tech companies work.
Hilary Mine, vice president and market unit leader of the Nordics, Baltics, and Benelux at Nokia, says we should go one step further and companies should actively invest in initiatives.
According to the GLF whitepaper:
“Initiatives to promote gender diversity can be clustered in three stages: acquisition, retention and return. Over 60% of surveyed organisations have initiatives in place for one or more of gender diverse hiring, mentoring and return to work. Implementation of gender diversity policies is not seen as conflicting with commercial performance.”
Mine says: “Companies should offer initiatives for inspiring future engineers and computer scientists either in partnership with existing education-related programmes like CODE2040 or Black Girls Code, or by developing their own programmes.”
Mine shares that over at Nokia Software they have a programme called IdTech, which combines leadership development of women leaders with mentoring of young women with interest in STEM and with socio-economic challenges.
“This enables our Nokia female employees to gain an education on what good mentoring looks like, how to transfer their knowledge to others in a digestible manner and how to support young women. They then use this knowledge to support other young women,” she says.
Mahajan also points to gender agnostic salary bands, blind CVs, diversity as a mandatory HR practice and gender neutral job postings, which according to a Vodafone study, found that rephrasing job listing increased the number of women applicants by 7% during a three-week trial.
But it’s not just encouraging more women to apply that these tactics can be used for, many translate to encourage applicants from a variety of socio-economic background.
A key takeaway, the GLF whitepaper states: “Diversity creates a virtuous cycle: female talent attracts female talent; GLF members acknowledge the impact of having a gender diverse workforce to attract talent and reflect their customer base.”
The same could be said for diversity as a whole, as surely diverse talent attracts diverse talent. “All the things that are done to encourage more women into the industry can also be used to promote greater diversity in relation to socio-economic factors too,” adds Farrell.
“It is also worth ensuring that companies collate and analyse the data on which groups of people apply — in terms of ethnicity, age, and religion, as well as gender. Sectors can, and do, influence who applies, and some groups need more encouragement than others because they do not currently see themselves as being well represented in the industry.”
Work also needs to be done to change the impression that only a set homogenous group works in this sector and that technical work is the only career path offered.
“There is a perception that coding and development work — an area that conjures up images of 20-something white males in hoodies — is the only way to get involved in the tech industry,” says Cramp. “The current lack of diversity can make it seem like a closed shop that isn’t relevant to young girls or people from ethnic minorities”
Addressing the multicoloured elephant in the room, Mahajan reminds us not to ignore the need to address unconscious bias in the workplace and the effect it has on company culture. “As they say, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. That is why I believe that if we need an organisation to be diverse, let’s start with the management team,” she says.
“Beyond recruitment, placing candidates in an environment where different cultures, backgrounds and experiences are appreciated is valued and makes them stay on.”
But it isn’t all doom and gloom, telcos are working hard to not only acknowledge but remedy the lack of gender diversity in the sector.
For example, in March, Vodafone launched its #ChangeTheFace initiative calling on technology leaders to join and make a pledge to increase diversity and equality in the sector. Nokia and Ericsson were the first to join Vodafone in making their pledges.
While during ITW 2020, Eric Cevis, president of wholesale at Verizon Partner Solutions and chair of the GLF diversity, inclusion and belonging working group, said that now the group has completed its gender report, “we’re going to take on specific activities on gender imbalance, including socialising the report within our respective companies to create a dialogue around the topic.
“We’re also looking to track the internal activities and measures those to see where we’re at in attracting, retaining and returning women to the workforce,” he added.
As the conversation wages on, let’s not overlook the fundamentals, as it all starts with us, “let’s get out of our biases and make the place where we spend a majority of our lifetime, our workspaces, a better place for humanity,” says Mahajan.