Female under-representation in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) sector has been discussed often and the need to foster more female talent in the industry and technical roles in general is widely recognised. Until now, however, there have been few changes to the status quo and female talent remains by far in the minority. However, with recent positive moves by some of the major operators are we finally witnessing a TMT industry step change? Many would suggest it’s not a case of whether or not the balance can be redressed, but how.
Diversity for the sake of quotas is clearly not the answer, as it brings with it poisonous whispers that a seat was not earned on merit but by box ticking. Such an approach is one Rima Qureshi, senior vice president and head of CDMA, Ericsson, says the industry could be found guilty of, if it's not wary.
"I think diversity is good to have at all levels," Qureshi says. "In senior positions, though, it changes dynamics in management. It's not just about gender, it's about diversity in general, and we should be careful to ensure that it doesn't become tokenism."
She suggests companies should instead try to do away with any other factors which may influence their thinking when considering a candidate and ensure assessment is made only on their merits. Such an approach to hiring may well prompt mutterings of "obviously" in a good number of you, but research suggests it's not as ubiquitous as you'd think.
Take a recent worldwide survey of Guardian readers, for example. It revealed that, in the technology sector, almost three quarters of women respondents believe the industry to be sexist.
Note, too, that many of the 601 (non-representative, self-selected) individuals who filled out the questionnaire put their overall working environment at around 80-90% male.
It's not a case of women not being suited or attracted to jobs in the industry either, as some may claim. The disparity is more a result of women being routinely overlooked for promotion as male colleagues "would not respect a female boss", with some reporting that they felt patronised, undervalued and seen as less competent than their male counterparts.
One telecom firm that cannot be accused of not doing its bit, however, is Vodafone. It implements admirable diversity policies, which have resulted in a workforce comprising a 60-40 split (in favour of men). It also states that, as of 2013, 37 out of 112 (33%) senior management roles have a woman in the seat, which is nearly ten times as many as there were in 2010.
Vodafone points to a policy called "Plus One", implemented in its parent company, Vodafone Group, as one of the key things that has helped level the playing field. This requires the CEO and his team to try and add one additional female direct report each year if they have the opportunity. The company also has an ongoing target to fill 50% of senior vacancies with female candidates as opportunities arise.
Vodafone's good work should have paved the way for other companies to follow suit, but this hasn't been the case everywhere in the world. Take the Middle East, for example, where societal and cultural reasons are given as to why there are still low numbers of women operating at board level.
It's for this reason that groups such as Women in Telecoms and Technology (WITT) still need to exist. Set up in 2001 by a group of women executives all working in the communications and technology industries in the UK, it seeks to foster talent at grass roots level and provide a network for female talent to aid their progression in a male dominated industry.
They are not alone in their pursuits, with groups such as the Global Telecom Women's Network and Women in Telecommunications also provide networking platforms to assist with putting an end to the disproportions that still exist.
We're happy to report that here at RP International we continue to try and find ways to enrich our organisation with diversity. Through tailoring our offerings to attract more female applicants and encouraging networking opportunities with women, we currently have a 45:55% split, with women fast making up the ground on men. Not to mention the fact that our business currently boasts 20 different nationalities.
We have employed such an approach since our formation in 1998 and we're imploring others to see for themselves the benefits of adopting a diverse and female-friendly environment. Our client base is varied, ranging from start-ups through to MNCs in more than one hundred countries, so it has been very encouraging to witness over the course of 2014 a clear shift towards a fairer and more open minded approach, backed up by changes in company policies, culture and values. Skills, experience and cultural fit will always remain the key drivers for any successful appointment but innovative attitudes and approaches are levelling the playing field and welcoming a new dawn of diversity in the workplace.