How can the telecommunications industry build true diversity?

How can the telecommunications industry build sustainable metrics for true diversity?
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Attracting more women to the telecommunications industry, particularly to jobs requiring technical qualifications, has been an ongoing challenge. Progress has been made within this space to hire and support more women, however, the disruption caused by COVID-19 threatens to undo the positive steps taken.

That being said, tech skills are in constant high demand, and this is only set to increase, post-COVID-19. The number of technology job vacancies rose by 36% between early June and early August this year, highlighting the appetite for data scientists and engineers to help businesses thrive and navigate this new normal.

The current state of play

On the cusp of game-changing networks, telecommunications companies in particular are under pressure to deliver next-generation network services but are challenged with sourcing the right talent, whether in-house or externally.

As businesses now plan to build back better, this industry now has a chance to rethink and reshape the image of a traditionally male-dominated industry. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle bias and close the digital skills gap. By educating, upskilling and inspiring women, companies can realize their true potential, which opens the door to more employability opportunities. Those that get this right, and build a diverse and inclusive workplace for women, will thrive.

Policymakers and educational institutions also have a critical role to play in supporting initiatives to attract female employees who are highly skilled in STEM, to ensure companies have a varied workforce, with differing viewpoints and opinions.

Too often in the past, diversity and inclusion have been part of one-off campaigns - instead it requires businesses to be continuously proactive in employing top female talent, both internally as well as partnering with external organizations like Code First Girls, to help support their efforts. This is critical to the economic success of any forward thinking technology organization.

Change is needed

Many telecommunications companies have been guilty of addressing talent too late, which can disrupt the flow of progression within the organization, as well as leaving gender gaps at C-Suite level. As such, companies that start early will give themselves the best chance of rebalancing their gender-diversity structure.

Education and training must equally be viewed as a vital component in managing the gender balance throughout a company. It is commonly recognized that women approach topics such as career progression, self-promotion and managing a team, differently to their male counterparts. Therefore training exercises should be tailored to gender instead of a one-size fits all approach.

Companies including business phone provider Vodafone have gone even further to help reduce the skills gap by offering tailored coding courses which drive talent acquisition and empower current employees to upskill. Code First Girls worked with Vodafone to create a global ‘Train the Trainer’ program, collaborating with their teams across 22 markets. We licensed their curriculum and trained Vodafone employees to deliver their materials in local communities. To date, over 3,000 girls and young women have been trained by Vodafone’s employees on their flagship #codelikeagirl program.

What is becoming very clear is that companies within the telecommunications industry need vision and strategies that are both long-term and frequently readjusted. This will allow them to pivot and adapt swiftly, along with having an overarching goal of ensuring gender balance, from those starting their careers to others in senior positions of responsibility.

The future

A recent report by Mckinsey Global Institute estimates that women make up almost two-fifths of the global labor force but have suffered more than half of total job losses from the COVID-19 crisis. We cannot continue to let this happen.

The industry must be more systematic and robust in sharing best practices, working alongside governments to encourage women with degrees in STEM subjects and other relevant qualifications to apply and work within this space.

The telecommunications sector has exploded over the last decade, with the rise in smartphones and increasing access to broadband, which has led to huge growth and with it a number of digital and engineering challenges.

As we restart the economy post pandemic, this growth must act as the catalyst for a more diverse recruitment drive, and for companies to remain dynamic and forward thinking in an ever changing telecommunications industry.

  • Anna Brailsford, CEO of Code First Girls and Board Member for the Institute of Coding.
Anna Brailsford

Anna Brailsford is CEO of Code First Girls and Board Member for the Institute of Coding.