MWC 2016: Closing the gender gap in high-tech careers

I recently participated in a panel discussion at Mobile World Congress focused on closing the gender gap and encouraging women to pursue and stay in technology jobs. While I’m proud of the strides we’ve made, it never ceases to amaze me that I’m often the only woman attending meetings and briefings throughout the week while at this event.

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If you’re sitting in an office right now, look around you. Chances are, at least half of your colleagues are women.

Unless you work in a technology company.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up 59 percent of the overall national workforce. But 2014 statistics from 11 of the world’s largest tech companies reveal that women comprise only 30 percent of the employees at those businesses. And the percentage usually is even lower for senior positions.

In today’s markets, diversity is almost synonymous with success. Our success as a business comes from a diverse workforce. We serve customers of all sizes and in every industry. In order to develop solutions and stay ahead of the competition, we need a diverse group of employees. Numerous studies have concluded that the varying perspectives offered by diverse teams can help solve problems faster and more creatively.

So what can the tech sector do to attract—and retain—more women? That’s been a hot topic in the industry recently, and it was front and center during Mobile World Congress last month in a panel discussion titled “Women, Leadership and the Digital Age.” It was one of several sessions on the gender gap presented by GSMA Connected Women.

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One of the points emphasized during the panel is one I also share with my team and others: Men and women need mentors for their personal development as well as their professional development. Individuals may need several different mentors throughout their careers. Mentors change as your professional and personal life changes. We look to mentors to help develop and encourage growth both on and off the job. As mentees, we need to take what we learn from our mentors and share that with others. It’s our job to give back and take the time to mentor. That’s the only way we’ll have enough mentors to continue growing our teams.

Changing women’s perspective of high-tech jobs may also help keep them in their careers. At AT&T, our Leadership Development Program lets participants rotate through different positions every 12 to 18 months. This helps them see that there’s more to a career in technology than just the job they started in, and gives them a much better understanding of how the company works and what opportunities are available to them.

It’s also critical we provide women and men tools and support so they can be successful. Developing and growing in one’s career is difficult; there’s no magic solution that makes it easier for one person than another. I learned early in my career I was going to have to make decisions and weigh the outcomes. I now have my non-negotiables at work and at home helping me as I make decisions. We need to show our teams they have the ability to define their own non-negotiables and make a plan that works for them.

We can all play a role in making a change. It starts by reaching out to newer members of our team and doing what we can to help them reach their career goals. But that’s only part of what it will take to help close the gender gap in high-tech jobs. What is your company doing to retain and advance female techies? Let us know in the comments section below.

And watch the Networking Exchange Blog in coming weeks as we spotlight some of the women in technology at AT&T.

Danessa Lambdin Vice President - Enterprise Mobility AT&T Business Solutions About Danessa