Mobile World Congress was an excellent gathering for mobile industry leaders from around the globe. Numerous deals were signed in order to keep on developing and implementing new technology. The success of the congress was undeniable, but there is an issue that the telecommunications industry globally is still failing to address.
Take a look at the pictures of the deals, MoUs and agreements signed at MWC and there is one thing that stands out – the lack of women. Now seems like an apt time to bring the gender issue back to the fore, as the International Women Day was celebrated just after MWC.
The telecommunications sector in particular is male dominated. Indeed, only 4.1% of firms in MENA have a female top manager and in Sub-Saharan Africa the figure just under 16% firms, according to the World Bank. The UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, highlights that women are needed in top positions for the simple reason that the industry is ignoring half of the population and is therefore missing out on a huge pool of skills and talent. “As technology consumers, women are important market influencers and can stimulate successful uptake and demand for ICTs,” the organisation said.
During MWC in Barcelona, the GSMA discussed the topic of women in telecoms and held a modest award ceremony to recognise the work that operators and other mobile industry leaders have done in terms of hiring and promoting women in the workplace.
But it’s not just the topic of women in the telecoms industry that needs attention. There is also evidence that women in many countries may be missing out on the benefits of mobile technology itself. During the awards, the GSMA also released a research stating that women globally are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men.
This report examines how many women in low and middle-income countries own mobile phones, how intensively they use them, and the barriers to mobile phone adoption and use compared to men, providing insights and recommendations to overcome these barriers. (See page 48 for more details).
During the presentation of the research, Ann Mei Chang, executive director at US Global Development Lab, discussed the relevance of targeting women and set them as a new market opportunity for operators.
The potential benefits for operators are clear. Ensuring women own phones, and ensuring all women who own phones in low and middle income countries increase their use of phones, could unlock an estimated $170 billion market opportunity for the mobile industry in the next five years, according to the GSMA.
If the market is there, what is stopping operators from tapping this potentially huge market? Maybe we need more women in top positions to drive this change.
UN Women provided some guidelines on how to address this inequality and to empower women. “It is important to take considerations and adopt policies such as identifying hidden gender bias, motivate to draft job descriptions that are gender friendly, bring men on board to bringing more women on board and in senior positions and keep women engaged in ICT”, it stated.
Wise words. Let’s hope the operators were listening.