Empowering women in the telecom sector

The future will bring improvements.  This is the message that we get from women in the telecoms sector when talking about female empowerment in the region.  However, addressing gender imbalance in telecoms is still at an early stage, with government and industry only just starting to show commitment to including half of the global population in the sector.

UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, highlighted the need for greater involvement of women at higher levels in the telecoms sector: “The more women are missing as producers and leaders within a critical sector in shaping society, shaping innovation and shaping avenues for income generation, the more they are absent from directing their own futures, the more they are side-lined in critical debates and progress, and the less they can counter negative stereotypes and practices online.  Women cannot be left behind or out of the corridors of power,” said the organisation.

Isabelle Mauro, head of Middle East and Africa at GSMA, supports the statement from UN Women and added: “We need to make women in mobile and ICT the norm rather than the exception and also encourage those that are on the path not to abandon it.”

In particular, the telecommunications sector is dominated by men, with only 4.1% of firms with a female top manager in the MENA region and 15.8% firms, in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.  Mauro reinforces the idea that the sector is “still heavily” cornered by males, while women tend to be in positions that are either at the bottom end of management, working in certain functions or in administrative roles.  She also provides a positive side and comments that more women are being employed in the public policy and legal side of telecoms, which can only be a positive step forward for our industry as a whole, she said.

Hala Badri, executive vice president, Brand and Communications at du (Emirates Integrated Communications Company), believes that there are still improvements to be made to give women the chance to participate in the sector.

“Women have the skills, the education and the training, but they also need the chance to work on this sector,” she said.

Mauro outlines some plans on what the industry needs to do to welcome more women into senior positions.  “We need to address the entire mobile ecosystem.  It starts with mobilising the stakeholders involved (policy makers and educators, mobile operators, manufacturers and suppliers) and extends to women themselves recognising the myriad opportunities for their talents in the mobile and ICT industry.”

UN Women also delivered some guidelines on how to address this inequality and in order to empower women.  “It is important to take considerations and adopt policies such as identifying hidden gender bias, motivate to draft job descriptions that are gender friendly, bring men on board to bringing more women on board and in senior positions and keep women engaged in ICT when they are facing barriers.”

Mauro also provides a list of women that have achieved these goals like Cynthia Gordon; Group CCO, Ooredoo; Elisabeth Medou Badang, CEO, Orange Cameroon; Ghada Gebara, CEO, Korek Telecom Iraq; and Marwa El Ayouti, CFO, Vodafone Egypt. “They are certainly flying the flag for female leadership in telecoms in the region.  While there is no denying that they are still very much in the minority right now, they are paving the way for many more in the future,” she commented.

Badri expects improvements in the next five years and believes that women will have more job opportunities in the sector.

The UN Women organisation also believes that there will be change, in part driven by consumption of ICT services: “As technology consumers, women are important market influencers and can stimulate successful uptake and demand for ICT’s.  Their leadership in industry should therefore lead to products and services more relevant to a larger segment of the population.”

The entity has a few related initiatives including co-chairing the work of the Broadband Commission Gender Working Group, the Knowledge Gateway on Women’s Economic Empowerment which addresses women in the ICT sector and the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), initiatives that are developed globally.