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Tech Leaders: Gender Diversity Could Add Billions to Economy

Iain Morris

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2017 -- Technology players need to think more innovatively about increasing diversity within their organizations and attracting women to roles that are still dominated by men, attendees heard at the inaugural Women4Tech Summit hosted at this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC).

Introducing the event, Mats Granryd, the director general of the GSM Association (GSMA) , said a major goal of the association's new Women4Tech program was to address the huge gender imbalance that still exists within the technology sector.

Granryd told delegates the industry could even be foregoing billions of dollars in profits because of the shortage of women in senior roles. According to a report from the Peterson Institute, a research company, there is a strong correlation between gender diversity and profitability, he said.

Unfortunately, the imbalance is still pronounced within companies that have attached considerable importance to the issue of equal opportunities. Social networking giant Facebook , for instance, says only 17% of its engineering positions are occupied by women, while at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) the figure is just 19%.

Bob Sell, who heads up the telecom and media practice for Accenture , and is a passionate advocate of gender diversity in the technology workplace, blames the use of "tired old approaches" for earlier failures to make significant progress on creating a more diverse environment.

The communications, media and technology practice at Accenture has subsequently become something of an example to the rest of the business, according to Sell. "The first thing we did as a laggard was to say we need to rotate to being a leader and not based on traditional measures but on changing the rules of the game and looking at diversity and opportunity in different ways," he said.

"What about performance proportionality and promotion proportionality, say?" he explained. "If 30% of men got promoted, did the same thing happen with women? That is not a quota system but a question about how you are running your business."

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Nicola Mendelsohn, the vice president of Facebook's EMEA business and one of the most powerful women in the British technology sector, said that diversity was not just a moral cause but one that could deliver a huge boost to global economic performance.

"One study has shown that tackling gender inequality could add $12 trillion to annual global GDP over the next decade," she said. "When women do well, economies do well also."

Mendelsohn believes the problems often start at a very early age when attitudes crystallize about the sort of roles that are open and closed to women. When a group of primary school children including boys and girls was recently asked to draw pictures of an astronaut, a doctor and a fighter pilot, all produced images of men, she says, and were stunned when the teacher then invited three women in those occupations into the classroom. "The impact that role models have starts at a really early age," says Mendelsohn.

Another high-flyer in the Internet world is Fuencisla Clemares, who recently became Google's country manager for both Spain and Portugal.

Clemares says that Google is trying to address its own gender imbalance by reaching out to schools and universities it has previously ignored. "We've built an internship program to expose students from different backgrounds to what life is like in a tech company," she says. "We have also made changes to the recruiting process, making sure there is always a woman on the interview panel, for instance."

Toward a More Diverse Workplace
Fuencisla Clemares, Google's country manager for Spain and Portugal, says the web giant is working with marketing specialists on making engineering roles sound more appealing to women.
Fuencisla Clemares, Google's country manager for Spain and Portugal, says the web giant is working with marketing specialists on making engineering roles sound more appealing to women.

Other steps the search engine giant has taken include working with marketing specialists to make engineering look like a more appealing job option for women.

But ensuring that women can move up the career ladder remains a big concern for other women in the industry. According to research conducted by the UK's Cranfield University, the so-called "glass ceiling" is most prominent at the middle management layer, which happens to be where most people are managed, says Dr Patricia Fletcher of software company SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP).

"Women leave technology at twice the rate of men," says Fletcher. "We need to look not just at promoting women but at understanding how their road from start to finish is different from a man's."

Fletcher is also interested in the possibility of using machine learning and artificial intelligence to see whether certain phrases that appear in job descriptions put women off applying for particular roles.

Despite the scale of the task that lies ahead, there are some encouraging signs, with a number of women now occupying senior leadership roles in some of the world's biggest technology companies.

Strikingly, the Spanish businesses of Google, Facebook, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) are today all led by women.

Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
3/4/2017 | 4:16:40 PM
Re: What are the new rules?
For anyone who has lived in Silicon Valley, the problem is indeed acute. 

It all starts with education. More diversity is needed in computer science. I remember when I was in school my technical classes were full of men. That's got to change in order to unlock what is clearly a massive opportunity. 
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
3/3/2017 | 2:38:26 PM
What are the new rules?
Sounds like a really interesting panel discussion. Thanks for covering it, Iain! I'd love to hear more about what Accenture is doing to level the playing field. I agree that it takes more than "tired old approaches," as Bob Sell mentions, or I'd add lip service -- programs and policies that are solely for good PR, to make a true change. His suggestion of changing the rules of the game is great, but what exactly does it mean, and how does that play out?
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