I started my career 18 years ago with a software house. The company was a university spin-off. It specialised in telecommunication network services. The company Director left a career in the university to found the company. He always had that nostalgia for academia, but kept the deep specialist knowledge that made him an expert in network planning. Because of that, he was often invited to events and workshops. Once, he took me with him. The event was held at Politecnico di Milano University. We entered the conference room. He went to sit with the other speakers. I found my seat among the audience. I looked around me. There were no women. Being an engineering student, I was used to the large number of men in the lecture rooms. But this audience was made up of managers and experts from companies, not students. I was expecting a different gender distribution. Certainly, I was naïve!
Today, I was invited to an event hosted by a very well-known and large technology company. I looked at the programme. The programme showcases a number of C-level speakers from a variety of telecoms and IoT companies. There are 18 speakers. There is not a single woman among the speakers. After 18 years of a career in telecoms, I am back at that day at the Politecnico di Milano!
Perhaps, I thought, it is just a coincidence. So, I took a look at the visitor guides for three IoT events I had attended recently, both as a member of the audience and as a speaker. I am not going to name the events, but here are the percentages of speakers that were women: 18%, 11%, 13%.
I thought we were addressing the gender unbalance of the telecoms/IoT industry. But I am obviously naïve, still so naïve after 18 years! Clearly, our industry has not moved far. The gender problem is there and it’s loud and clear. I’m aware of a number of initiatives, both private and public, that try to address the issue. But, it’s not just a matter of initiatives. It is also, and mostly, about changing culture in organisations. And, perhaps, it is also about “gently” nudging changes. Conferences are good places to show that change. What about “gently” nudging conference organisers to have at least a certain percentage of women in their programmes?
Most probably, conference organisers are already trying to involve more female speakers. There are not many female speakers to choose from. There may not be many female science and engineering students or specialists. Or perhaps there are, but, their journey towards the boardrooms encounters obstacles that men do not understand. The issue is not simple. Even the UK Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee is composed of only men! Yes, the problem is not simple and very far from a solution!