Biggest 'Aha' Moment: Attending the Grace Hopper Conference in October was an eye opener for me as it was the first time in nearly ten years covering the industry that I went to a show where women were the majority. In fact, there were 12,000 of them -- qualified, hirable intelligent women making a difference in the computer science industry. If this was an "aha" moment for me, I can imagine how powerful it must've been for the few men who were there who couldn't even use their own restroom, since it was overrun with women. I heard from several that it was a new experience for them and good to realize how intimidating it can be. (See No Frat Party Here: 12,000 Computer Scientists Convene in Houston and Grace Hopper: Power to the Pipeline .)
Biggest Wins: This year saw a lot of progressive companies updating their parental leave policies, which sparked responses from their competitors and fellow tech companies. The US remains the least progressive country when it comes to parental leave policies -- while most countries offer paid time off ranging from months to up to a year, the US only requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave and that doesn't apply equally to all companies and employees. This past year has seen a number of companies, including Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), PayPal , Vodafone and others, improving their policies to be more friendly to new moms and dads. Family-friendly policies like these that employees actually feel able to take advantage of can improve the company culture and help companies retain good employees, which is ultimately -- again -- good for the bottom line. (See Netflix Ups the Ante on Parental Leave and Women in Tech Coming Into Focus.)
Wall of Shame Winners: Of course, the year had some setbacks for women as well, or at least a few individuals who weren't helpful to the cause. Two that stand out include IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)'s recent well-intentioned campaign that encouraged girls to "hack their hairdryers," elicited backlash from female engineers who found it patronizing. The "I look like an engineer campaign" also took a stand against sexism, showing that engineers come in all shapes and sizes -- and genders.
Biggest Challenge Going Into 2016: The telecom industry isn't exactly known for being fast-paced and good at change. That is starting to change with the move to the New IP and more agile networks, but often the people challenge is the biggest of all. That's why changing company cultures is one of the biggest challenges that large, legacy companies will face next year. Those with an authentic commitment to improving the diversity in the workplace will make it work, but it will take more than initiatives and lip service to implement lasting change.
Biggest Opportunity Going Into 2016: The issues surrounding women in tech are getting more attention than ever with news coverage, high-profile women making a difference and more attention on the disparity in the Valley than before. Inequality is no longer accepted as normal, and there's clearly an appetite to do more to redress the gender imbalance. That's why we are launching Women in Comms as a non-profit, and we're excited about the opportunity to turn our words into action next year and beyond.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading