Published on: 08/Mar/2019

Bridging the Gender Gap in Technology

As STEM programs are introduced as early as in kindergarten along with global initiatives such as Girls Who Code and volunteer supported programs such as Girls in Tech and 1Million Women, and the Multiplier Effect, the telecom industry is raising the bar when it comes to attracting women to technology careers. The gender gap is still prominent, and more resources are needed globally. In the UK for example, women account for only 15 percent of employees in STEM-related fields. In the US, statistics show that women make up less than 20 percent of tech jobs, even though they make up more than half of the US workforce.

We sat down with Kathleen Leach, Principal at Sprint and Deputy Chair of WAS at GSMA and Sanja Buterin, Marketing Director at Infobip, during the WAS#8 conference in Rovinj, to discuss what Infobip and GSMA are doing to attract more women to their organizations.
Kathleen and Sanja, what made you choose a career in technology?

K: I initially planned to work as a nurse and went to nursing school, and worked as a cancer nurse for ten years. My mother was a nurse, my father was a physicist and my entire family, my siblings all hold careers in science, and I truly believed I could combine healthcare and technology. The day I finished nursing school, I enrolled to get a degree in Computer Science. Growing up, my family had a significant impact on my choice of choosing a science-oriented career. It made a huge difference for me. Nothing about science was ever scary to me.

S: For me, technology chose me. I started working in the field of automotive marketing, where you gradually start building interest in how everything works and functions. Then I chose a career in Nokia, and I completely fell in love with technology, with the mobile world, with the mindset of disrupting. These were the days when Nokia was disrupting. Suddenly, I felt like I belonged. The rest is history, and now I feel very much at home at Infobip.
 
What do you think are the driving factors in attracting women to technology careers?

K: Exposure to the field is instrumental. That will take the fear away, particularly for younger girls. We seem to lose girls at the critical stage of puberty then leading into high school. It is crucial to ‘’catch’’ them before, and relate their interests, whether its design or dress-up, to technology and show how technology in fact influences that area of interest so they can make that connection. Our world is going to be driven by technology. If women, who are users of technology are not part of designing and making the products we are all using, then the products will not be up to our preferred standards either.  All of us have to be investing in technology. The other important factor is role models. Girls approaching college are lacking role models. That has to change.
 
S: I wholeheartedly agree with Kathleen, you have to enable an interest in science and technology at an early age. However, too many girls are raised to be perfect. When you are working in technology, you make mistakes, and that’s more than okay. We have to accept that trial and error is a normal process of developing and learning. However, the society somehow expects that girls should be perfect, and the strive for perfection could in many cases generate a loss of interest for the girl always aiming for perfection. It is okay to make mistakes; it means that we are learning.
 
What do your organizations do to attract more women?

K: I’m very excited to share the work we do within GSMA. GSMA maintains a Girls in Tech program in North America, where we quarterly bring in girls to teach them how to make a Google home device, for example. Where they get a product, and experience an end-result that can be used firsthand.  Girls in Tech takes place on weekends and is volunteer-based.  Also, our Operator Group at WAS got together to talk about the challenges and opportunities of attracting more women to join tech companies. As a result, a formal program was formed, where meetings are conducted three times a year together with the other technical regional groups, which are all the operators supporting the ecosystem including vendor and suppliers.

Guest speakers are frequently invited -  for example, Shari Slate, Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer from Cisco participated and showcased the Multiplier Effect, which is all about sponsoring women and diversity. Sponsoring is the key thing that has shown to make a difference in upward mobility for women and overall diversity in our industry. We also have an internship program called the Connected Women Program. Moreover, I work with 1Million Women which is a global mentoring program where my focus area is the US. 1Million Women is all about getting the training, becoming a mentor so that we reach the goal to mentor one million women.

I grew up in a house of women, I have a daughter, I have granddaughters, and I want to see the world change. I want to see girls seeking out technology careers and feel like they belong.

S: At Infobip we are blessed, as we have 37 percent of female talent globally, which is significantly higher than average, both worldwide and by European Union levels. We don’t offer gender-specific programs at Infobip: for us, it is vital that we offer equal opportunity for all. Diversity is part of our DNA. Infobip’s presence in 190 countries throughout 60 offices means that we adapt to local culture and the customers’ needs in each region. We also offer benefits programs, such as working from home, personal education budgets and flexible work hours.  My favorite program is Bippers Educate Bippers, which started as a knowledge sharing program where we have the aim to develop the program into a sponsorship-centric program.  We also work with several universities around the world, showcasing that a career in technology presents global opportunities for both women and men.

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