Finding gender parity

How can companies across the channel support women to meet their potential? Elizabeth Sparrow, founder, Blabbermouth, shares her thoughts.

It’s been well reported that women are still underrepresented in many sectors across the UK, but the telecom industry is facing a particularly steep slope in terms of gender disparity.

Across the UK, the ITP found that on average less than 20 per cent of those working in telecom roles that involve technical expertise are women. In comparison, LinkedIn found that women dominate 60 per cent of marketing roles.

The knee jerk reaction to these statistics would be to create an ‘affirmative action’ style policy to shoehorn women into technical roles. But the topic needs more analysis.

What we should be evaluating are trends, developments in education, and generational differences to reach the root of the problem. Has there been an improvement and what can we expect for future generations?

There are without doubt gender biases when it comes to women in the workplace, but currents trends and social movements have already shown that Millennials and Gen Z, the younger generations currently making their way through the workforce and the generations considered to be the most tech savvy, care less about gender roles than their predecessors.

Millennials (1977 – 1995) and Generation Z (1996 – 2010) have matured with the internet, with the younger people in this group unable to remember a time before the internet and smart phones. Currently, 35 per cent STEM students in higher education are female, indicating a small growth in women preparing to enter the industry.

Generation X – born 1965 – 1976 – were brought up against a backdrop of women’s liberation but were encouraged to pursue female leaning professions. Gen X dominate the workforce with Millennials (35 per cent each), and in theory, should be graduating to positions of authority – manager and director roles – but as we have seen, Gen X women do not have an equal share of these roles.

Then there’s Generation Alpha. Born 2011 – 2025, this generation’s power is yet to be discovered, but as the first generation who do not remember a time before the internet, we can already predict that they will become the most tech savvy generation so far.

Nature versus nurture

However, there is a need for nurture as well as nature. Mentoring schemes and school initiatives are essential for showing women and girls what’s on offer in telecoms and technology.

TalkTalk has led the way in spearheading programmes for women and raising awareness of the issue through regular press and speaking opportunities at industry events. The TalkTalk North West Women in Tech Awards and work with Women in Tech have helped to recognise outstanding work by female leaders in tech and keep the conversation relevant.

But women in telecoms isn’t just about creating interest at educational level. It’s about finding ways to keep women in roles as they progress through their career and personal lives.

While many women who choose to have children go return to the workplace – the ONS showed that 75.6 per cent of mothers were employed in 2021 – maternity leave and family commitments have shown to hurt a women’s career progression.

An NCT study found that 26 per cent of men versus 13 per cent of women were promoted or upgraded their jobs within five years of having a child.

Hope for the future

Despite slow movement in women joining telecoms-based roles, there is a cause for hope.

Generation differences and technological advances go hand and hand, with Gen Z and Generation Alpha poised to become the most tech savvy of all the generations so far, indicating a natural progression for girls and women into the telecoms industry.

Initiatives taken by charities and telecoms businesses themselves, such as Women in Tech, demonstrate a push to encourage younger generations to join the industry. But there also needs to be more work to support women’s progression to senior roles after they return after having children.

Statistics around women in telecoms may be painting a sad picture right now, but there is cause for hope that future generations will benefit from the steps taken so far and work towards a better balance in the next 20 years.

Has the telecoms industry failed to connect with women? Ask us again in 2030.

This opinion piece appeared in our March 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.