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WiC Panel: Societal Pressure Drives Diversity & Inclusion

Kelsey Kusterer Ziser

AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event – Societal pressure is mounting for companies across industries to make diversity and inclusion (D&I) a real priority in their digital transformations. And, while measuring success in D&I can be challenging, real change only comes with buy-in from top executives.

These were a few of the sentiments expressed by panelists at Light Reading's Women in Comms workshop ahead of this week's Big Communications Event (BCE).

"Society is forcing companies to do something, as opposed to companies doing something because they want to do it," said Micaela Giuhat, vice president of Product Management, Cloud Native Core for UK-based Metaswitch Networks .

(L to R) Sarah Thomas, Light Reading; Jennifer Kyriakakis, Matrixx; Suzanne McCormac, VMware; Heidi Westbrook, Fujitsu Network; Micaela Giuhat, Metaswitch.
(L to R) Sarah Thomas, Light Reading; Jennifer Kyriakakis, Matrixx; Suzanne McCormac, VMware; Heidi Westbrook, Fujitsu Network; Micaela Giuhat, Metaswitch.

She explained that new legislation in the UK is forcing companies to be transparent about their support of women in the workplace. As of April, employers in England, Wales and Scotland with 250 or more employees are required to publish data on the pay gap for men and women in their workforce. According to The Guardian, "Analysis of the 10,014 employers who submitted data in time revealed that almost eight out of 10 pay men more than women."

While new legislative requirements may push UK companies in the right direction for diversity, there's still a long way to go. Giuhat noted that Metaswitch is about 80% male, and of the 20% women, only 8% are engineers.

At VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), D&I initiatives are gaining success since they come from the top, said Suzanne McCormac, director of Global Market Development within VMware's Telco NFV Group. The mantra of the vendor's CEO is to "innovate in everything you do" and D&I is central to that, added McCormac.

The panelists agreed that measuring the success of D&I initiatives can be challenging. At Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Heidi Westbrook, director of ICP and North American Carrier Sales, said several women on the engineering team took on a grassroots effort -- called the Women's Innovative Network -- to identify measurable diversity objectives. They started by tracking graduation rates for women in computer science/information technology degrees at 18% nationally.

"Our objective at Fujitsu is to exceed that [rate of 18% in hiring] -- we're now at 22% so we're hiring at a greater rate than they are graduating," said Westbrook. "Those are the kinds of metrics we're watching as we bring in this next generation."

While quotas are one way to drive diversity, the panel was divided on whether they are the best approach. Quotas are necessary to shift the pendulum in favor of diversity, and can be discarded once change has been successful because companies won't need them anymore, said Giuhat.

Conversely, Fujitsu doesn't have a quota system, and Westbrook said she's not a fan of them -- company culture should change by motivation, not mandatory compliance, she said.

One audience member asked how women can gain corporate support at every step in their careers and how to break the glass ceiling of middle management -- a position where many woman leave the workforce or face difficulties moving higher up the ladder.

"My feeling is that sponsorship for women and inclusivity has only recently had a major groundswell, and by that I mean in the last ten years or less," said Westbrook. "In our company, we don't have a lot of women in very senior levels, but we're getting critical mass at the VP level and that's by design."

The need for work-life balance can become increasingly challenging for women as they move up in the workforce, but Jennifer Kyriakakis, founder and vice president of marketing at Matrixx Software Inc. , said advocacy programs and identifying colleagues as sponsors can address that issue.

"Formal advocacy programs can help so you don't worry about making trade-offs on work-life balance if you have that advocate in your pocket," said Kyriakakis.

The panel closed with advice to women looking to advance or companies looking to transform.

With new technologies on the horizon like 5G, it's an exciting time for the telecom industry so women can look forward to even more opportunities for career growth in the industry, explained McCormac.

On a personal note, she advised women to, "Always venture to be your authentic self. It's important to show up, be who you are, and not try to be something you're not."

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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