April 27, 2016
Guest blog post by Afke Schaart, Vice President of Europe, GSMA.
Driving gender equality in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry and, in fact, across all industries is critical to Europe’s future development. It’s a symbiotic relationship because when women thrive, businesses, economies and societies prosper.
According to data from the European Commission, women account for just 18 per cent of ICT specialists in Europe1. This statistic should serve as a rallying cry for organisations to take greater action in supporting the education, recruitment and development of women in our modern workforce.
GSMA Europe’s office in Brussels bucks the wider trend; female staff outnumber male colleagues by 65 per cent to 35 per cent. Plus we have just recruited two young female and highly talented graduates from Macedonia and Albania, helping them to foster their technology careers in the EU.
Cultural and technological challenges
The ICT sector has grown tremendously over the past few decades, transforming the way we communicate and connecting the world in ways we didn’t think were previously possible.
While one could argue that pervasive gender gap issues should not exist in such a progressive sector, old stereotypes about the industry remain entrenched and the representation of women is concerning.
The proportion of female employees in the telecommunications workforce varies significantly, from company to company, ranging from 10 per cent to 52 per cent. A recent survey found that in three-quarters of telecommunications companies, women account for less than 40 per cent of the workforce2. Moreover, the majority of senior positions are held by men.
Women in regions around the world must overcome both cultural and technological challenges. In some regions, ICT careers are seen as taboo for women. In others, women are denied access to technology, or the opportunity to learn the digital skills. Many career opportunities – and not just those in technology or engineering – are therefore closed to them.
This scenario is particularly prevalent in low- and middle-income countries where 200 million fewer women own a mobile phone compared to men3. These numbers are staggering and have a direct impact on why so many young women do not consider a career in ICT, with any interest in technology left un-nurtured.
Opening up new opportunities
For women with aspirations to work in any industry – entertainment, hospitality, healthcare, to name but a few – having a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a strong competitive credential. In today’s fast-paced tech-centred world, employers are increasingly valuing technology-related skills.
Businesses and industry leaders need to take a stand. But change starts with cultural shifts, family education and unfettered access to technology.
If I had to give one piece of advice to parents, teachers and mentors, no matter where they live, it would be to take every possible opportunity to expose young children – girls and boys – to maths, science and technology and ensure they have the knowledge and skills to keep up with a dynamic technological landscape. These types of skills are vital for a career in the ICT sector and will become increasingly important for all jobs.
On Girls in ICT Day 2016, the GSMA is hosting a class of schoolgirls to share with them what the ICT sector has to offer. We will provide immersive experiences and introduce them to the women and men transforming the industry, including Louise Easterbrook, the GSMA’s Chief Financial Officer. The girls will have the opportunity to pitch their creative business ideas to a judging panel and also hear from other female technology innovators, to inspire and illustrate the many opportunities STEM learning can afford.
We must take a stand
The time has come to equalise the gender imbalance. This issue can no longer remain a side discussion. Telecom companies can and must do more and a holistic approach is required to change company culture and mindset. This includes integrating best practices into their organisations, by setting progressive diversity targets and introducing mechanisms that inject accountability and balance to recruitment panels.
Looking outside of company infrastructures, the sector must find more chances to engage with young people and women in different industries. This can include offering women ‘returnship’, programmes to support those looking to restart their careers after an extended absence from the workforce, and equipping young girls and women with skills and inspiration to help them pursue careers in ICT.
Finally, companies need to see initiatives through to the end, track progress and measure success, with a clear focus on accountability. The global telecoms and ICT sectors need to work together to drive large-scale, positive changes, deliver significant socioeconomic benefits and benefit from a more diverse, yet equal, workforce.
2Taken from a 2015 report by the GSMA. For more info see here: http://www.gsma.com/connectedwomen/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/CW-Accelerating-the-digital-economy-2015.pdf
3 IbidBlogactiv Team