Report on women in the telecommunication sector: Status quo and good practices

GSMA, the International association of mobile operators, has released a snapshot report on women in the ITC industry. The document, ‘Accelerating the Digital Economy: Gender Diversity in the Telecommunications Sector’, aims at providing a baseline for workforce evolution, sharing best practices and supporting the industry in shaping workplaces that take full advantage of gender diversity. It succeeds on the first objective as it focuses on female representation and (numeric) gap analysis. Beyond this, the report provides anecdotal practices that are widespread in various sectors and little impetus for going beyond.

With its latest report, the GSMA rides the big wave of public Gender discourse and tries to spread enthusiasm in the mobile Industry. While the proclaimed need is to look at gender diversity in a sector-specific way, the analysis shows numeric gaps of female representation between workforce and top management (including career progression) or between market and companies. With a global scope, the report finds a big variety of situations:

  • Female participation in the telecommunications workforce varies widely, ranging from 10 per cent to 52 per cent amongst companies sampled
  • In three-quarters of telecommunications companies surveyed, women accounted for less than 40 per cent of the workforce;
  • There are notable regional differences among sampled companies. And we learn once more, that the Americas ‘outperforms’ (sic) other regions.

We do not find a root cause analysis for the big variety or a description of the vastly differing contexts from which the numbers originate. Instead, a limited number of carefully selected studies provide a general impression of the business case. For even in the business case section, we are told about statistics, penetration and participation, rather than the value-chain of gender diversity. Consequently, the report offers ideas how to move towards more ‘equitable gender balance’ – with a 100% focus on the traditional HR value-chain from attraction to retention.

In this section, Telstra’s “All Roles Flex initiative” describes a consistent approach to mainstream flexibility in everyday corporate culture (in Australia). It is one of the very few examples the document provides, pointing to an earlier practice survey. At the same time, industry-wide collaboration and transparency, through mechanisms such as annual indexing and sharing of best practices is recommended. In the light of this ambition, readers may be surprised to find a practice that clearly follows the ‘fixing the women’, with self-discovery, one-on-one coaching and all-female mentoring. “Exclusionary women development programmes send two messages that are not helpful”, comments Diversity expert Michael Stuber this practice, “they show men that women need specific development and they create a separation leading to competition and envy rather than understanding and collaboration”.

Since ten years, Corporate culture has been confirmed to be the critical mediating factor for both success and progress in Diversity management. The GMSA report talks about ‘promoting a gender diversity mindset’. With a generic model from Awareness to Realisation and Motivation, A. T. Kearney provides a good baseline for the wider discussion. However, vision and leadership is by far not enough to address the complexity of the various layers and dynamics of corporate cultures in a male-dominated, hi-tech Industry.

Eight years ago, the sister (or rather cousin) association of GSMA, ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association), published a report on Diversity at Work, on the occasion of the European Year for Equal Opportunities for All. It did not (yet) go into some of the quota-related analysis nor did it address unwritten rules or other deep-rooted aspects of corporate culture. But it provided a helpful inspiration for the Industry and beyond, how to make the most of differences.

“We see a lot of disconnect these days between those looking only at numbers, suggesting that an even spread was the actual goal”, Stuber explains, “while the business agenda is mostly about growth, innovation, productivity and similar issues. D&I can propel this agenda of corporate leaders. But we clearly need to bring the different approaches and discussion levels together.” From having worked with global clients for 18 years, Stuber observes a growing gap between a focus at statistics on the one hand and broader programmes that cover all the aspects required to systematically create value from difference. “We must re-establish a D&I agenda that defines business benefits as objectives and numbers as the part of the progress measurement”, Stuber concludes.

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