It's a good time to be a woman in technology, but also a challenging time.
Reading the headlines, seeing the statistics and hearing about the lawsuits and discrimination can make anyone feel pretty dismal about being a women in the technology industry, but the good news is there is progress being made -- and, at the least, the industry as a whole has stopped pretending gender imbalance is not a problem and started talking about what can be done.
This month, which also happens to be Women's History Month, has seen a number of telecom service providers rising to the challenge of making redressing the gender balance in our industry a priority. Chief among them is Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), which is instituting a mandatory minimum maternity leave policy that is one of the most progressive I've seen. The carrier said that across its 30 global operating companies, women will get 16 weeks paid maternity leave, as well as full pay for a 30-hour work week for the first six months after they return to work.
And, wouldn't you know, doing so might even save them money. A KPMG International study they commissioned indicated that global businesses could save around $19 billion annually by offering 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, because the cost of recruiting and training new employees to replace women who don't come back can be upwards of $47 billion per year. Giving them four months off at a cost of around $28 billion per year still saves a company money and makes it more likely women return to the workforce.
Given that a Center for Talent Innovation study found that women in science, engineering and technology are 45% more likely than men to leave the industry within the year, incentivizing them to come back should be an important priority for service providers.
Vodafone is just one example. This month alone, we've also seen High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) appoint a woman, co-founder Cher Wang, as CEO to replace Peter Chou; women at SXSW dominated headlines (including one most excellent call out during a panel on diversity with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt), and Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao is -- for better or worse -- bringing visibility to the issue with a lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield, for gender discrimination.
There is still so much work to be done, which is a theme that has come up at Light Reading's three recent Women in Telecom (now Women in Tech) breakfast events.(See Women in Telecom: Collaboration Critical to New IP, Pics: Women in Telecom Take London, New Skills Needed as Telecom, IT Collide, Light Reading's Women in Telecom Recap, Pics: LR's Women in Telecom Breakfast and The New IP Live!)
Women bring unique skill sets to the table that mesh well with how technology is changing. They think differently, and as Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) CEO Maggie Wilderotter best put it in a press release highlighting her company's efforts to promote women, "Diversity brings out the best in decision-making."
More women need to be in tech, stay in tech and occupy senior level positions, especially those with a profit-and-loss line associated with them.
Even with all the negativity, it's still a good thing women's issues are getting more visibility -- something we'd like to do more of on the digital pages of Light Reading as well. The atmosphere is changing in the tech industry. Women aren't keeping quiet anymore, and it's a trend that should go on long past Women's History Month.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading