Tackling the gender imbalance in the communications sector

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Brussels will host a "Girls in ICT" event on 25 April, co-organised by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the International Telecommunications Union. The event will seek ways of attracting women to ICT jobs, writes Anne Bouverot.

Anne Bouverot is director-general of the GSMA, representing mobile operators worldwide. GSMA's Connected Women programme works to attract more female talent to the mobile industry.

“The number of women in EU industry is currently a hot topic. Concerted efforts from the European Parliament and Commission towards legislation on gender equality in business leadership has led to a proposed directive, championed by Commissioner Reding, requiring the boards of listed companies to be at least 40% female. The high demand for tackling employment equality has even resulted in member states such as France, Italy and the Netherlands enacting comparable domestic laws before the directive would come into effect.

The rationale for this is rooted in economic reasoning and recovery. Women make approximately 70% of consumer spending decisions, so their input at a managerial level provides insights into consumer behaviour and market trends. Moreover, recent research indicates that companies with the most gender-diverse management teams greatly outperform the industry standard.

However initiatives to date have failed to shatter the glass ceiling and the number of women in ICT and technical roles has actually declined during this time. So the proposed quota is clearly a step in the right direction. Different industries have different needs, necessitating a range of initiatives to attract and retain female talent. Speaking on behalf of the ICT industry and the mobile telecoms community, I recognise there is a lack of understanding about what a career in this sector offers women.

That’s why events such as Girls in ICT, taking place this week in Brussels, are vital for providing much needed transparency. ICT is critical for raising standards in healthcare, education and female empowerment through entrepreneurship – particularly in emerging economies. As a case in point, the Cherie Blair Foundation found that 83% of women in Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East reported that their income increased once they had obtained a mobile phone.

Indeed, the ICT sector has been identified as an engine of growth for Europe, creating 120,000 jobs per year. Yet the Commission calculates that there will be a shortfall of up to 700,000 skilled ICT workers by 2015. Industry thrives on talent. Underutilising half the population in this area contributes to a drastic loss of European competitiveness, and perpetuates a technology divide between the sexes.

So what more can be done? Firstly, female role models in ICT must be given visibility in schools, workplaces and the media. Whilst Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and Meg Whitman (HP) are flying the flag for female leadership in ICT, the majority of women in ICT are often most concentrated in the lower level roles.

Secondly, I believe we need to place an emphasis on coordinating efforts. This means bringing together education providers, policymakers and community leaders to make women in ICT professions the norm rather than the exception. It means increasing the transparency of how women can access ICT jobs at any stage of their career. And it means the private sector fulfilling its responsibilities through providing mentoring, apprenticeships and training programmes to women from all strata of society to ensure they have the desired skills for the jobs of tomorrow.

I chose the ICT industry for my career as I believed it would constantly evolve and make a positive difference to society. Today this is truer than ever. I am committed to helping the current generation of women see the opportunities it presents.”

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