Women in Communications: Where Are We Headed?

By Susana Schwartz 

Efforts to educate, upskill, and reskill to keep pace with rapid technological and digital transformations are critical for women’s empowerment and well-being, but also that of global health because advancing equality adds trillions to GDP and global economies. This was one issue I discussed with Shirin Esfandiari last month upon her return from The Big 5G Event and her participation in the cloud track and related Women in Telecommunications workshop. It made me think about my own 20-year journey in telecoms and the acceleration of awareness and momentum in our industry.

Communications is a microcosm of the global whole, and it is clear that many operators, vendors, and industry organizations are working to understand and lift any barriers blocking pathways for women. Diversity and inclusion have become a major focal point for most operators, with VerizonAT&T, and others magnifying their own efforts, and even seeking out suppliers and partners that are working toward similar goals. Oracle, for example, has stepped up initiatives to cultivate female leadership through its Oracle Code One initiative, its Women in Technology Summit in San Francisco, as well as its Oracle Women’s Leadership momentum, with 400-plus events last year and more than 14,000 employees taking part.

The same energy is permeating communications-industry standards bodies, associations, and organizations in which carriers and vendors collaborate. One of the most active has been the GSMA’s Women4Tech Programwhich now has three tiers of initiatives for the advancement of women:

Each offshoot is designed to not only drive up representation in the technology industry but to also forge a path for more women in Board positions, as studies have shown that diversity at the top shatters groupthink and leads to more creativity and broader views.

As recently pointed out by US Cellular’s Vice President Courtland Madock during a recent keynote, part of these positive trends is the fact female leaders have helped “normalize” situations once stigmatized, for example inspiring acceptance that it is possible to balance parenting and career, or that it is possible to take time off and return to a career. This normalization is inspiring more flexibility and “returnships” that allow women to have the flexibility to work their own hours and to come back—all of which have triggered the new “bump” in employed women. According to recent NPR reports and articles in Light Reading’s “Women in Comms” and WiCipedia, the rate of growth for new job holders is currently higher for women, reversing a trend of the previous three years, where women were leaving the workforce at twice the rate of men.  

Removing Bias in Artificial Intelligence

Other than a focus on cultural progress, there must also be an assessment of what can be done with technology itself to further promote progress. For instance, the gender biases built into artificial intelligence models by what are currently predominantly male development teams (85%) will directly impact women through the consequent transformational technologies like ML, blockchain, and automation. In response to that realization, there are efforts to “upskill” women so that female representation goes into the models that will govern our increasingly digital society.

Another angle of that issue is the fact a majority of AI-threatened jobs are held by women, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimating 26 million female jobs across 30 countries are at risk of disappearing and that 180 million women’s jobs globally are at risk of displacement.

In all that is happening, it is clear we’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go. While the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2019 reveals we have closed the gender gap 68% worldwide—with improvements in women’s earned income and the presence of women among senior officials and technical workers—it will take 200 years to close the remaining 32% at the current pace. It’s good that even at this rate, the economic impact is significant. McKinsey & Company’s most recent annual study on the impact of advancement of women predicts global GDP could increase by $770 billion by 2025 by advancing equality even in just parts of the world.

The message here is to keep doing what we are doing, but perhaps with a little more speed and vigor. The GSMA recommends five key steps as a start:

  • Push representation of men and women on shortlists for all senior roles
  • Run job descriptions through gender bias decoding software
  • Invest in training and coaching programs
  • Support employees returning to work following parental leave, allowing for flexible working and check-ins with HR
  • Encourage all people to take advantage of learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas

To find out more about steps Oracle is taking, follow Oracle Women Lead (OWL) and attend the Oracle’s Women in Technology summits.

Susana Schwartz is a marcomms/PR specialist who creates content for the Communications Global Business Unit, with a focus on 5G, digital CX and engagement, monetization, cloud, AI, and IoT.

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