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  • Writer's pictureMartina Dodić

Women in tech: What does MWC19 bring?

One of Women4Tech sessions at Mobile World Congress 2018, Laura Abasolo of Telefonica Group speaking

Mobile and tech still struggle with many aspects of gender and diversity. With MWC19 around the corner, it's interesting to look at what world's most influential tech event brings in this area. And whether more decisive actions - aimed at closing the gender gap - will be seen on and off MWC stages in the upcoming year.

First off, a number of influential women have been announced as MWC19 keynote speakers. Among them Blythe Masters (CEO, Digital Asset Holdings), Cher Wang (founder and CEO, HTC), Anastasia Leng (founder and CEO, Picasso Labs), Vivian Chan (co-founder and CEO, Sparrho) and Anjali Sud (CEO, Vimeo). While this is certainly great news in terms of visibility of women leaders, it can't be taken to indicate that things have improved for women in tech in general.

In 2015, only 18% of Mobile World Congress visitors were women. By 2018, the number has grown to 24%, only 1% up from 2017, according to GSMA. Nonprofit organization Girls Who Code says that in 1995, around 37% of computer scientists were women, and nowadays the number stands at only 24%. In ten years from now, the number of women in computing could decrease to 22%.

Women4Tech, grown out of earlier GSMA programs aimed at connecting women in technology, seems to be gaining momentum and could have a more profound impact at MWC19, promoting best practices and solutions to enable more women to join and stay in technology jobs. And advance to senior leadership positions.

Almost two decades into the 21st century, gender disproportion remains huge in senior and leadership positions in tech. While there are notable exceptions, top corporate levels are still largely men's clubs.

Vicky Sleight, founder of Perfect Ltd. and Vicki MacLeod, Secretary General at Global Telecoms Women Network (GTWN), have been advocating for diversity and inclusion as major contributing factors to building better technology, and sparking innovation.

-Europe and Australia have an opportunity to lead the way in making diversity and inclusion key principles in technology making. There are strong business reasons for that. In 2017 and 2018 we've seen examples of robots and digital products designed by a homogenous group of people in one part of the world, and simply delivered for use to other, very different parts of the world. Copy-paste-and-ship-overseas method is no longer adequate for the super-connected world we live in. With AI, IoT, smart homes and self-driving cars, technology touches the lives of billions around the world deeper than ever before. Our understanding of that needs to evolve quickly, says Vicki MacLeod.

Global Telecoms Women Network will hold their traditional reception at MWC19, focusing their program around the new digital culture.

Vicky Sleight: ICT workforce needs to be a reflection of the broader society at large.

In a recent interview, Vicky Sleight pointed out that retention of women who join ICT is a challenge. And that comes back to culture. "This is why there is a relatively small number of women in senior levels. The industry need to understand that we need a diversity of perspectives, talents and inputs in order to succeed in the digital age. ICT is a platform for the whole of the economy and society and we therefore don't just need network engineers in the sector - we need health and education experts, social scientists, anthropologists, lawyers and policy makers. When viewed in this way, the ICT workforce needs to be a reflection of the broader society at large."

As we move forward, lack of diversity could lead to workforce and performance challenges for tech companies. According to Forbes, in the next 2 years job market will lack 1 million computer science employees in USA only. In tech jobs, women are currently outnumbered by men 4:1, and they leave them at a 45% higher rate than men. Broadening the pool of talent from which to recruit future employees in tech makes a lot of business sense, and this is only one reason for fostering diversity.

The success of IT heavily depends on new ideas and fresh perspectives. Which are far more likely to come from a diverse workforce. Tech giants seem to have realized that, and are trying to working to that end. A 2018 article by Big Think suggests that in 2016 only 31% of Google employees were women. It was pretty much the same at Apple (32%), Facebook (33%) and YouTube (30%). In many of these companies, the percentage of black employees stood at only 2%, which shows other gaps yet to be addressed in the tech workforce.

Some of the successful global tech companies have almost 40% percent of female employees, and are more diverse in terms of ethnicities and other groups they employ. This comes from a particular nature of their business operations, built from scratch in local offices and departments across the globe. One of the best examples is Infobip, whose workforce of 1400 is spread across 60 offices in more than 50 countries of the world. It largely consists of local experts, and has different perspectives, backgrounds and ethnicities represented across departments, which is a major source of their competitive advantage.


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