Nurturing female talent

A high profile campaigner for women in comms is Colt CEO Keri Gilder who is at the vanguard of breakthrough industry and company initiatives. Here, she shares insights into her current priorities and strategies to measure and drive sector-wide diversity and inclusion.

Female representation in the male dominated comms sector has been the subject of discussion for some time, with a particular focus on the low number of women in leadership positions. Yet businesses with higher levels of diversity at executive level are 25 per cent more likely to outperform others, according to McKinsey.

“Diverse businesses are more innovative, drive faster decision making, generate better engagement and retain and attract talent,” stated Gilder. “But gender disparity remains a huge issue across the industry. Unless we address this issue, as a sector our progress and growth will be limited.”

Gilder cited a study that found just 14 per cent of telecoms firms have majority female ownership. “Businesses must make it easier for women to succeed in senior roles,” she added. “Not just in terms of recruitment, but also providing support for women who face barriers in successfully carrying out these roles. For example, women over 50 are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace. At the same time, more than one in ten women have left their job due to unmanageable menopause symptoms. The topic is still taboo in far too many boardrooms and if we don’t do something about it we risk women being sidelined or unable to apply for top jobs.”

As a pioneer of the digital age it’s our duty to address the next big challenge – to make sure our people reflect the diversity of the markets we serve

With 44 per cent of women saying their ability to work has been impacted by the menopause Colt set about raising awareness through internal events and initiatives, from sharing experiences to inviting guest speakers and making available various resources.

“Just showing we’re there, we’re listening and we’re talking about this is important for women to feel supported and able to apply for senior roles,” commented Gilder. “I’m passionate about this, and I’m fortunate to be in a position to drive lasting, meaningful change.”

In her role as Chair of TM Forum’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, Gilder led the creation of an Inclusion and Diversity Score (IDS). To develop the IDS, TM Forum tracked insight from more than 11,000 professionals and 180,000 data points to establish a score which will measure inclusion across an entire organisation and for different groups of employees.

Companies taking part are provided insights on factors impacting a sense of inclusion as well as research-based insights on how to drive improvements. “It provides a transparent way for the comms sector to measure its inclusion and diversity performance, transparency and accountability, and sets a benchmark for change,” said Gilder. “The industry can adopt the IDS and we can set a baseline which is essential to closing the knowledge-to-action gap around inclusion and diversity.” 

Gilder is also President of the Global Telecom Women’s Network (GTWN) which offers a forum for women active across the industry. It aims to provide role models for younger women in telecoms and to evolve the global information society in a positive way. “As a pioneer of the digital age it’s our duty to address the next big challenge – to make sure our people reflect the diversity of the markets we serve,” added Gilder.

To that end Colt operates a flexible company culture and is committed to empowering and equipping women with the skills and support they need to thrive. “We set targets and hold ourselves accountable,” noted Gilder. “We invest in training and education, and we role model inclusive behaviours and values which drive psychological safety – the right to be yourself at work without fear of consequence. These factors, combined with our commitment to internal mobility, are helping us make inroads in addressing gender disparity and increasing female representation in senior roles.

We need to ensure that, as an industry, we’re attracting and keeping women in fulfilling roles

“We still have a way to go, but we are improving with initiatives such as communities and support networks, education and training, working to raise awareness of how bias can impact decision making, with mandatory Conscious Inclusion training for all employees – along with policy improvements to promote new ways of working that support an inclusive environment.”

Working with a coach or mentor especially can help build confidence and encourage women in less senior positions to speak up, believes Gilder. “Identifying skills gaps and taking ownership of training and education to fill these gaps will be helpful,” she added. “Asking for 360 degree feedback across all levels of a business can also be beneficial. And surrounding women with a strong support network is crucial, whether this is family, friends, colleagues or peers.

“We also need to ensure that, as an industry, we’re attracting and keeping women in fulfilling roles. Younger people entering the workplace are more socially and politically aware than previous generations, guided by a strong moral compass and sense of what is just and unjust. Values and purpose are not just nice to have, they are deciding factors for candidates seeking employment.” 

Research by recruitment platform Monster found that 83 per cent of candidates say that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when they’re choosing an employer. Therefore, noted Gilder, businesses must be transparent, open and authentic. “Participation in the Inclusion and Diversity Score drives transparency, holds businesses accountable and offers candidates and employees a window into a company’s values and culture,” she added. 

Research also found that the number of women accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses in the UK increased by more than 50 per cent. “As an industry we have a responsibility to progress the career paths of these undergraduates, to nurture and retain them. Doing so will benefit our businesses, our industry and our economic growth,” commented Gilder. 

As for the comms sector as a whole, progress has been made but there is still a long way to go. At the same time, the digital skills gap is widening. “It is estimated that the industry will need to fill three million digital roles by 2025,” said Gilder. “There is a fantastic opportunity for women to fill these roles and we must begin at grass roots level, encouraging, empowering and incentivising girls to participate in courses and subjects required by our industry. STEM subjects, for example.

“Of all industries, ours has had the greatest influence on the digital transformation we’re experiencing across society. Without the industry’s digital capabilities and technical expertise, the pace of change would progress at a steady rate, rather than the breakneck speed we have facilitated.”          

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