Copying and distributing are prohibited without permission of the publisher
Courage and determination needed if women are to succeed in the industry
01 April 2008
Stephanie Liston of Ofcom and the organisation Women in Telecoms and Technology asks why there aren't more women making a contribution at a senior level in telecoms companies
Women in Telecoms and Technology
Stephanie Liston: why do so many talented females feel
forced out to go it alone?
The latest stark statistics from our industry make frightening
reading: fewer women than ever are entering the sector, we are
still subjected to unequal pay and board representation of
women is actually declining.
So, we need to ask, why are we where we are? What is going
wrong? And where do we go from here?
Despite the UK's Higgs Report in 2003 on non-executive
directors and growing evidence indicating that companies with
gender-balanced boards produce better financial results, we are
still not seeing any increase in women joining the board, or
senior management teams, of larger telecoms and IT
Why is this? Is it down to apathetic head hunters circulating
only the usual suspects? Is it because women don't do enough to
raise their profiles and make their names known?
A lack of confidence, perhaps? Is it the members of the board
preferring to recruit in their own image? Or simply the result
of a general shortage of women in the industry.
I suspect it is a complex mixture of all these factors. As
Women in Telecoms and Technology (www.wittgroup.org) enters its
eighth year, it is time to reflect and think carefully about
the choices being made by women and the reasons behind
Then we must craft — and, crucially, drive —
our futures within the sector. It's a time to be positive
— instead of bemoaning our apparent lack of progress;
we should be looking to celebrate our talents and what we have
And we should focus on making full use of our greatest
strengths and assets: each other.
The only sure pathway to success totally depends on us
working together as women, supporting and helping one another
and creating passionate female role models who can inspire,
motivate and mentor younger professionals.
I am delighted to have recently met six such visionary
females. Having been asked to judge a category of the 2008
BlackBerry Women in Technology Awards, I approached the task in
hand with a mixture of pride and a sense of discouragement
about our apparent lack of progress.
One morning spent meeting the shortlisted candidates
completely changed my perspective. I met six fantastic, highly
talented women who have started their own businesses, all
cleverly conceived and well executed.
Full marks to BlackBerry for celebrating these women with
their awards. And, with the UK government's announcement of
£12.5 million being made available to boost female
entrepreneurs, the spotlight has suddenly turned onto small and
medium sized businesses.
But this leads us to the difficult question of why women in
general have made relatively little progress in traditional
businesses and why so many talented females feel forced out to
go it alone and succeed on terms they find acceptable?
Women want to be in control of their working lives. They don't
just desire flexibility — it's an essential condition
of employment for many females juggling complex career and
family commitments. They want/need success on their own terms
along with limitless opportunities.
But, fewer and fewer women are finding what they seek in the
traditional big business culture and environment. Consequently,
we are seeing an ever increasing shift as women choose to leave
the mainstream career structure to create a new path.
This is a loss for big business. And bad news for women too. It
means that there is an alarming shortage of high-flying female
role models in our sector. And role models are critical to the
development of young female talent.
I believe it is fundamental that the gap at the top be filled.
To accomplish this requires more than a plaster or one or two
token women. The sector requires a rethink of what it is trying
The broadcasting sector has significant gender diversity. With
convergence a reality, I would think there is an excellent pool
of potential candidates.
It is also fundamental — and this, sadly, does not go
without saying — that women must help each other, be
kind and supportive to one another, and be open to changing the
way we work and the way businesses in the sector recruit and
Women's networking groups allow younger women to meet more
senior women in other organisations to share their concerns.
Informal cross-industry support is crucial as we build
confidence and move forward. The bar need not be lowered.
The spotlight needs to be brighter to find those talented women
who are reticent about putting themselves forward and are not
fortunate enough to have a mentor in the business who will
If we do not make progress in this way I think we must look to
the Norwegian model and consider quotas for company boards.
This strategy will, I suspect, eliminate the current level of
apathy about — or lip service paid to — the
desire for diversity.
We, as women, each have a responsibility to build confidence
— both in ourselves and our fellow females. It's time
to seize the moment — to be brave and bold and drive
As American artist Anne Brigman, who worked alongside Georgia
O'Keefe, astutely observed, "Fear is the great chain which
bonds women and prevents their development, and fear is the one
apparently big thing which has no foundation in life. Cast fear
out of the lives of women and they can and will take their
place in the scheme of mankind and in the plan of the universe
as the absolute equal to men."
I applaud the many talented women who are striking out on their
own to build new businesses. I applaud those women who are
working desperately hard to succeed in their careers in the
We are all, regardless of gender, juggling the demands of
business and domestic life. It is time our traditional business
structures changed to accommodate a diverse and sensible means
of creating corporate value while not selling our souls.
If senior business figures do not have the courage and
determination to effect this change in the near term, as our
sector is changing dramatically, different and more drastic
measures must be actively considered by government.
Stephanie Liston, a lawyer, is a director of Women in
Telecoms and Technology and until the end of March 2008 is a
non-executive director of Ofcom. Felicity Hawkins helped edit
To continue reading this article, please register for an extended free trial by going to the box below. If you are already a subscriber or a trialist, please log in...
Already have an account?
Subscribers have unlimited access to all current and archive content. Start your
subscription today - click on the button below.
Taking a free trial will give you access to all of Global Telecoms Business(possibly excluding some surveys and articles).
Registration is quick. Start your free extended trial today.