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Gender Inequality in Telecom: What Can You Do?

Tina GravelBy Tina Gravel

Telecom is no longer a bastion of men willing and able to climb poles. Though many agree that the telecom, and cloud, channels started late in adding women at the top ranks, today our sector compares favorably with other technology segments when it comes to women in leadership positions.

How we got here is instructive. Programs fostering female engineers at Cisco, AT&T and other large suppliers mean we have more technical women to promote. In telecommunications firms, many women started in customer service and sales and came up through the ranks that way. Male business leaders play a role.

Regardless, while we can all agree that the glass house has cracks, there’s still room for improvement. The Channel Partners 2016 Compensation Survey was eye-opening. A Columbia Business School article says that the percentage of women in top management positions in all firms is still under 9 percent, while Fortune says just 30 percent of employees at tech companies are female, even as they make up nearly half of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Join us for a discussion about our Compensation Survey – including the gender gap – at Channel Partners Evolution. Not yet registered?

I am glad that we’re talking about the discrepancy. But what I really want to know is: What can those of us in the indirect channel do about it?

To get better, we have to understand the problem. Industry leaders largely agree on a stack of reasons for a lack of women in technology.

Gender Stereotypes Still Exist …

Even given so many programs, young women still study science, technology, engineering and math in lower numbers than men. At an April 2016 gathering at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, the Illinois Technology Association reported that being in a STEM field was the result of parents and family inspiring girls at a young age to reject the “girl” stereotypes that discourage pursuit of STEM topics. That’s one place we can help as parents and mentors.{ad}

Some schools are trying to work through this issue by cross training. The University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab, for example, encourages non-STEM majors to apply for their positions.

Still, if you work in a field, like cybersecurity, that has not been welcoming …

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… to women in the past and your pool of able candidates is small, even though you might be strongly encouraged to hire and promote women in your firm, the diversity of candidates is just not there.

… Which Then Result in a ‘Birds of a Feather’ Situation

If you are leading a company, you need to be confident that those you put in other leadership positions will be successful. That drives hiring of known people. But what if they all happen to look, sound, act and operate just like you? This provides a comfort level in stressful situation. But how do you become familiar with women at your company when you have only a few?

There are other issues, too. New research by the University of Maryland and Columbia Business School shows that, in firms that already have a women in a top management, the odds that another women will also have a top position are actually lower. A company under pressure to promote women may think the problem is “solved” once they have one female executive.{ad}

Working to change things isn’t just altruistic. Women-led firms do better. A Kauffman Foundation study shows that tech companies led by women are more capital-efficient and achieve, on average, a 35 percent higher return on investment than firms led by men.

Next Generation Recruitment reports that businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at first and last funding. At first funding they report 64 percent larger valuations, and at last funding, 49 percent higher.

Despite those statistics, Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School, discovered that 60 percent of the time venture capital firms favored investing in companies led by men — even when a woman pitched the same idea.

And, emotional intelligence, a touted advantage of women in business, can backfire. Many women will put their egos aside to get their dreams fulfilled. “Women more often will sublimate to the good of the company or the bigger idea,” says Pam Casale, managing partner of ASAP Marketing. “They can see the bigger picture. By detaching emotionally to the goal of being CEO and putting a man in their place, their company or idea will get funded sooner.”

To make a difference, let’s let people know that technology is a great way to earn a living. Discuss the creative aspects of systems design and how STEM fields can be rewarding. Dads and moms, tell your daughters about the exciting projects that we get involved in. Let’s knock those stereotypes on their …

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… sides and encourage girls to do anything they want.

Mentorship programs can help enormously with the “birds of a feather” issue. Jennifer Pinson, director of North American partner sales and alliances at Rackspace, described being part of her company’s Mentor Circle, where each mentor is given 10 mentees and provided tool kits to help. Mentoring is often done virtually, and nearly 140 people are enrolled in the program globally. Can you do something similar?

Lisa Miller, senior vice president of wholesale, indirect, inside and content sales channels at Level 3, says it helps to just be mindful about treating all employees equally. “I strive to do that today when I look at a team and foster equality across its members with regard to fairness and equal pay,” says Miller.{ad}

Encourage employees to join groups, like Women in the Channel and Cloud Girls, an organization whose mission statement includes “fostering the next wave of women in technology.” And do business with partners that are inclusive.

 “At Avant, we hire those that are not just the same people in similar roles throughout the telecom channel,” says Drew Lydecker, president of Avant. “We have been focused on hiring candidates that are smart and knowledgeable about business and training them on technology. That is working for us and at present we have more women than men in our company.”

Tina Gravel is senior vice president of strategic alliances for Cryptzone, a provider of dynamic, context-aware network, application and content security solutions. She has more than 25 years of IT experience, with expertise in security, outsourcing and cloud. Prior to Cryptzone, she held positions with Dimension Data, Nirvanix and Terremark. Gravel is a member of the Channel Partners Business Advisory Board.
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/tinagravel
Twitter: @tgravel


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