Connected Women in Telco: Leading the Charge in Diversity

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In the digital era, telecommunications companies are transforming themselves like never before and diversity is more important than ever. Studies have shown that companies that are more diverse, perform better in the market. Connected women in the industry are making strides towards greater representation in executive roles but there is still work to do. In this article, we take a look at how the industry is doing and how we can take advantage of the opportunities that diversity brings for companies that embrace it.

For women who have been in the technology or telecommunications industry for several years, things are different – but yet, they still are not different enough.

Telecommunications is all about innovation, with no barriers, and opportunities to make a difference, say women that are now in the field. These women want to advance quickly, and broadly, in an industry that is changing rapidly. And these women feel like they can help things change for the better.

But the question is: Will they be given the opportunity?

An RCRWireless report entitled “Women in wireless” cites a study by United States Federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on diversity in the telecommunications industry in 2012. The study found that out of more than half a million workers in the telecommunications industry, 58% are men and 80% of these men are in senior executive roles and 63% in mid-level management roles. That means that only 20% of women have executive roles, and only 37% have mid-level management roles. What about the rest of them? Sixty-seven percent hold the more traditional positions of office and clerical workers.

Are these 2012 numbers changing? Certainly. In fact, for the last five years, FierceTelecom has been honoring top women executives who are shaping the telecom industry – and the list is full of strong, powerful women. And they are not the only ones who are making a difference in this industry. Others include telecom leaders such as Chua Sock Koong, CEO, Singtel; Elisabeth Medon, CEO, Orange Cameroon; Lucy Quist, CEO, Airtel Ghana; and Anusha Rahman Ahmad Khan, Minister of State for Information Technology & Telecom, Pakistan.

There is also other evidence that the telecom industry is taking steps towards greater diversity in respect to women. For instance, AT&T has created a Women of AT&T employee research group that encourages women to achieve their personal and profession goals. The group also helps women develop and demonstrate their leadership abilities. SAP created a similar initiative, called “Women in Telco,” as part of the SAP Global Business Women’s Network. This is an employee-driven network that enables the sharing of professional insights, best practices, education, and experience to help women develop skills and career advancing opportunities to drive company success.

Why diversity is so important

Studies have shown that diverse teams lead to greater innovation, higher productivity, and better business results. However, current data from SAP’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Office shows that most industries – including the telecommunications industry – are missing out on the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Diversity is also important in the telecom industry because it matters to women in the industry, as a recent SAP survey discovered. Eighty-four percent of the women surveyed value diversity in the workplace, with 77% of them saying they work for organizations that make diversity in the workplace a priority.

It is not yet a best practice in the industry

While there is proof of its importance to business and of its value to women, diversity is still not common place in the industry. Of the women in the above survey, only 42% of all those surveyed work for a company with an official diversity program. And 53% of them feel that the state of women in the telecom industry is worse than other industries.

And as to management opportunities, that is lagging too, with 87% of the respondents feeling that the representation of women at the management level in the telecom industry is somewhere between fair and very poor.

The industry must do more

I am lucky enough to work for a company that values both diversity and women in management. Here at SAP, we have made an overall commitment that by 2017, we will have 25% of women occupying executive positions. We are already close, with 23% of female employees now in leadership positions. And we have key performance indicators (KPIs), which are supported by top management, in place to ensure we reach this goal.

How about you? Are you a woman in telecom? Do you work for a company that values diversity and empowering women? Share your thoughts below or join the conversation by visiting www.sap.com/women-in-telco.

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