Women at the Helm at CANTO
That was the title of a recent article and several similar articles I have seen about the accomplishments of women in the telecoms and tech sectors. It is true that there are high numbers of women employed in Telecoms but lets actually do something that is seldom done these days and that is to, review and analyse and test these statements for accuracy.
Those with a good enough memory would recall, that hundreds if not thousands of C&W employees were “retrenched” and these were predominantly men. Some the functions were outsourced and some of the former employees were assisted to set up companies to pull underground cables, not something there’s a great demand for everyday or by the majority of individuals or businesses.
Again we’ve seen the emergence and then the consolidation of Call Centres, and again these have relocated and rationalised and occasionally we reminded of the need to take a second language like Spanish perhaps!
I have read similar claims indicating that the telecoms sector in the region is one of the biggest employers of women or that they have perhaps parity or greater than parity in terms of gender balance. The long and the short of it is that this may well be true. But to suggest that these women are engaged in technology in my opinion is not just an oversimplification but quite frankly an insult to our intelligence. Most of what happens in the telecoms sector in the region is selling, finance and legal work. When did you see a woman install your PBX or come and set up the internet?
To hold up Digicel and LIME as champions of employers of women in Technology is dangerous or even reckless. What we need are more women employed and active in designing and developing software and systems. Assuming women make up half the planet, they might then make up anywhere between 30-70% of the users of all systems worldwide. But perhaps no more than 10% of the development teams who created them!
Why should that matter? Perhaps an example or illustration may better make my point. While employed by a venture capitalist, I was once engaged in training that exposed recent new starts to understand how the business operated and made money. The two day training drew a cross section of employees Accountants, Legal Staff, IT Staff and Secretarial staff. We were given a case study to work with; we had to turn around a failing toy maker that could sell all that they made, BUT there was a price point if exceeded the company would not sell anything.
Some teams spent a lot of time trying to calculate the magic price point. The men in my group had some fantastic ideas, we would sign an exclusivity deal, increase the price, have the supplier deliver the aluminium pre-cut and of course we sent some people home! And the effects were great, then the only woman in the group a secretary asked, “does the toy have to made from aluminium?” That ladies and gentlemen was the killer blow!
Imagine how much better some of the systems we have to work with or endure could be with the insight and perspective of more women? Let me give another example, perhaps one a little closer to home and that you might more easily be able to identify with. You go to the ATM, and having entered your PIN, you select your transaction and answer yes to the prompt do want a receipt; only to receive a message indicating that: there’s no paper, and there are no $10 notes so you can’t withdraw $130! Now I’m not saying that you need to be a woman to see that there are obvious improvements that can be made to the system here, but perhaps had the design team had some gender balance then the outcome might be a functioning system.
My hope is that when we talk about women and girls in technology we are talking about how, through supporting and incorporating initiatives such as Girls Code, Black Girls Code and so on, we have seen a positive increase in women and girls who are at the sharp end. Can you imagine an industry more male dominated than the Auto industry? Well I’m excluding Oil Exploration and perhaps Crab Fishing in the Baring Sea. But the person truly at the helm of GM is not only a woman, but more importantly, Mary Barra is a life long engineer at GM. That’s what we need to embrace, support and encourage.