Look within the tech industry, and at leadership roles across other sectors, and funnily enough, this story isn’t unusual – LadyGeek calculates that the number of UK technology jobs held by women actually dropped from 22 per cent in 2001 to 17 per cent by 2011. Only 22 per cent of MPs are women, and despite a drive following the Davies Inquiry to reach a pretty reasonable target of 25 per cent female directors in the FTSE 100, the number is stubbornly stuck around 17 per cent. Six of the FTSE 100 boards are still all male.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, and clearly one of the most powerful women in business, has caused a stir that even she says she hadn’t expected on the launch of her book, Lean In. Pragmatist and feminist, she argues that often women hold themselves back, uncomfortable with the decisions they make in their career. You cannot wait for the institutional barriers to fall down around you, she says.
A year ago, and before Sandberg’s book had even gone to press, Women in Wireless (WiW) London launched to promote and develop female leaders in the UK’s mobile and digital industry. The four founders, Jen Macrae, Rimma Perelmuter, Rhian Pamphilon and Jen Hiley, have a formidable combination of expertise, killer contact books, drive, vision and a bit of humour between them.
Today, the network has more than 700 members, and within its first year, hosted eight events across its Connect, Develop and Promote streams within its first year. The London branch was established after Macrae, who is currently working as VP, digital wallet market development, at MasterCard on the UK deployment of its Masterpass payments system, was approached by one of Women in Wireless’ global co-founders about setting it up. “Although there were many networking organisations, there was an opportunity to create something member-led, targeting career development needs, and serving to promote and support the development of women to more senior roles,” she says.
Things kicked off with a launch led by former Nokia CMO Jerri DeVard, followed by an entrepreneur debate hosted at Telefónica’s Wayra Academy, and then an international careers event with leading female executives at QTel and Microsoft. At the end of last year, WiW London commissioned its first (if not the first) survey into women working in wireless in the UK, with the help of Telefónica and Diffusion PR. The study sought to understand the barriers and opportunities for women in the industry, to raise awareness of diversity issues, and set priorities for their work. The survey garnered more than 600 responses.
Mobile is a young industry, with, the survey found, many younger women working in it. 43 per cent of those surveyed were aged 25 to 34 and a further 9 per cent are in the 18 to 24 age group. Just 14 per cent are 45 to 54 and only 2 per cent are 55 to 64. Not surprisingly, as stereotypes go, the most popular career for women in wireless is marketing – while just 5 per cent work in product development or innovation, 4 per cent are engineers, and only 2 per cent have financial roles.
While there are many initiatives to encourage more young women to get coding skills and take-up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, Jen Hiley, who is currently a senior consultant at Infosys Lodestone and social coordinator for WiW, says it is the myth of all tech jobs being “techy” that can deter women in the first place. “There is a mystique of it being a very technical field, whereas, in fact, there are so many non-engineering career paths in the industry,” she says. “Today’s marketplace for technology is no longer about meeting the internal needs of big business. It has shifted to meeting the ever-growing demands of the everyday consumer, which in turn is driving innovation and creativity, and opening up masses of new opportunities.”
Many of the women surveyed are yet to make it to senior roles – just 15 per cent currently hold one – fewer still – just 10 per cent – have directorships. Rimma Perelmuter, who has worked in mobile for 13 years and is now CEO of MEF and co-chair of the WiW development stream, believes it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the causes of why women are under-represented in senior industry roles. “The survey reveals some surprising results,” she says. “83 per cent of respondents between 35 and 54 believe that it is harder for women to succeed in their careers than it is for men, with 36 per cent identifying ‘a male dominating culture’ as the reason they are under-represented at senior levels. While culture is clearly a challenging issue to address, the survey is a wake-up call to the Industry to take action.”
“The survey shows a stark reality,” says Dereck McManus, COO of Telefónica in the UK and board lead for diversity and inclusion, who helped to analyse the results. “The majority of people we spoke to believe it is harder for women to succeed in their careers than men, and two thirds seeing culture as a barrier to the progress of women to senior positions. I believe that businesses have a responsibility to do more to ensure that women are represented at all levels in business. At Telefónica, we’ve launched a number of initiatives, including our Women in Leadership programme, to do exactly that. “One finding that I found interesting, but perhaps not that surprising, was the fact that flexible working was seen as one of the top ways companies can support women in their career. Just last year we ran the biggest ever flexible working pilot, with 3,000 of our people working remotely for a day. It sounds ambitious, but the pilot showed what’s possible when flexible working is done properly.”
While some businesses clearly see the benefits of helping employees manage their career and busy home lives – just 11 per cent of survey respondents said they have an excellent work/life balance – Yahoo’s first female CEO, Marissa Meyer, recently banned her staff from working at home. All of the WiW founders emphasise the need for personal initiative as a means to success – whether that’s finding mentors, sponsors, networking opportunities or going to educational events. 52 per cent of those asked said they had never tried to find a sponsor, while 41 per cent had not identified a mentor.
“At our inaugural event, inspirational speaker Jerri DeVard made a poignant remark that’s stuck with me: ‘We all stand on someone else’s shoulders’,” says Peremulter. “It speaks to the importance of going beyond ‘superficial’ networking to building relationships with mentors, sponsors and colleagues that you can learn from and that are there to support you.
“Equally, it is important to take the time to share your experience with others and give back. I’d like to see more leaders in our industry take the time to live up to this ideal regardless of whether they are women or men.”
It is natural networking abilities, Jen Hiley believes, that should bring success to younger women. “We are widely recognised to be more empathetic, task-orientated and extremely thorough. Women are born networkers, with the ability to forge strong and lasting relationships, seeking out opportunities and alliances. Creating groups like Women in Wireless will hopefully inspire more C-level women to share their extensive knowledge, whilst providing a forum for ladies who can feel comfortable asking for support.”
Self-belief and confidence was highlighted in the survey as one of the top enablers to support career progression. But what happens when that takes a knock? Jen Macrae says: “Our survey respondents have told us, and we have all experienced it, that when personal initiatives fail, it can have a negative impact on career opportunities and confidence. Our challenge now at Women in Wireless is to provide a support structure that helps those wanting to progress to overcome their own internal barriers.”
Telefónica’s McManus concludes: “As an industry, we need to do more to turn this around. Whether it’s running mentoring schemes to support women throughout their career, or using positive role models of successful women in the industry – all businesses can make a difference. If we don’t take action, we run the risk of missing out on the vital skills of a generation of women.”
Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and first published here: http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/it%E2%80%99s-girl-thing#KLXduxDsrktJQkfx.99