LONDON -- Sigma Systems CTO Catherine Michel admits she's tired of having to talk about women not getting the equal treatment they deserve in the technology field -- or any other field for that matter.
Speaking at Light Reading's Women in Communications luncheon here this week, Michel admitted frustration that there is still the need to push for diversity in the work force, whether it is for gender reasons or those of race or religion. In the digital world, there is a greater need for everyone to be engaged and involved, and little room for outdated thinking, she said.
Speaking on the topic "Why Male Allies Matter," Michel and three other panelists agreed it is well past time for diversity in hiring and promoting to just be accepted practice.
And that doesn't just mean men should be nicer to women, noted Oliver Cantor of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s business network and security solutions. As the only man on the panel, he admitted that having had a very strong mother, he was surprised to see how things were when he joined the workplace. The hurdle is, he noted, "that men don't see the problem much, if at all. The unconscious bias -- men don't see it."
That is what makes conversations such as the Women in Communications luncheon necessary, as even Michel agreed. The Sigma Systems exec sees progress in being accepted for her capabilities and her ability to back up her perspectives, but mostly because many of her colleagues are now younger men, who don't have the biases of older generations.
"There are still certain people who treat you differently beause you are a woman or you are black or you are Asian," she commented. "So there are certain practices you have to arbitrarily contrive to change that mindset. I think this is an equal opportunity, not just for women and minorities but for men as well, to realize we are all in this together, we all have similar capabilities and we all have a contribution to make."
Carolyn Dawson, managing director of global events for Informa's TMT and Knect365 divisions, says she's seen progress in the number of women attending and speaking at industry events but still occasionally finds herself as a tiny minority, as she did at a recent Broadband World Forum.
"I walked into the room and there were 700 people in a conference session and two women -- one on stage and one -- me -- in the back," Dawson said.
Carol Wilson, head of UK/Europe Communications, Media & Information Services for Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. , said she was fortunate to have always worked for large, modern global companies, with diversity programs in place, and to have had male allies who helped her along the way. But she admitted that even in a place as forward-thinking as Tata, there is an "extremely high rate" of young women who come into the company but don't stay, in part because the environment isn't "conducive to the capabilities and the skill sets younger women are bringing."
"I think in a place as traditional as the telco environment, we need to create new behavioral norms and then have zero-tolerance for those who don't accept the need for diversity of all types," she said.
As the Baby Boomer generation retires, attitudes are changing, Cantor said. He also encouraged women to make their arguments based on economic issues, which he believes they can, given the purchasing power of women and the statistics which show companies with more women leaders do better.
Michel also believes the time has come for zero-tolerance of bias.
"We don't have to stand for it anymore, a lot of people 30 and younger won't stand for it anymore," she said. "That's an improvement over ten years ago. Women don't have to sit back and be quiet about it, and tiptoe around the issue. If there is genuinely an issue where we are being put at a disadvantage because of gender, we just have to speak up about it."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading