Empowering Change: Women Driving the ICT Sector Forward

This post was originally shared on on December 9, 2023.

Women in ICT

The role of women in the ICT sector has been gaining momentum, and a panel of inspiring industry leaders recently came together to discuss their experiences, the value women bring to the table, gender equality in telecom and ICT fields, and the importance of diversity and inclusion at the 17th edition of the Telecom Review Leaders’ Summit.

Panelist Contributors

  • Gina Perini, Chair of the Board of Directors and CEO, Somos
  • Dr. Lidia Stępińska-Ustasiak, Public Affairs Advisor, Polish Chamber of Commerce for Electronics and Telecommunications
  • Wafa Alobaidat, Founder and CEO, PLAYBOOK
  • Dr. Nadine Akkari, Associate Professor, Jeddah international college, KSA
  • Hanan Ahmad, Chief Regulatory Affairs and Risk Officer, du
  • May Li, Huawei Middle East & Central Asia Carrier Business Group, Solution and Marketing VP

All the contributors unanimously agreed that women have a significant role to play in shaping the ICT sector.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Women

“Transformation is happening everyday within our personal and professional lives… There’s a need for agility and creativity, innovation, and decision-making that creates impact,” said Gina Perini, CEO of Somos.

She emphasized the crucial role of women in achieving improved results, which in turn benefits businesses. In fact, studies show that females outperform their peers by 25%, and teams with gender-neutral and diverse compositions record a 19% higher revenue. “We want to see more women welcomed at the table,” she remarked. This can be done by creating an inviting environment where women can feel wanted. “We need to captivate women to be part of this world… Not only women, but also underrepresented people— Let’s ensure those voices are at the table.”

Dr. Lidia Stępińska-Ustasiak’s view is that there is still ongoing “cultural and stereotypical thinking,” and suggested that “encouraging little girls to be brave” starts at home.

According to her, achieving full gender inclusion is projected to take 107 years, a considerable timeframe. However, she remains optimistic, stating that the increasing percentage of women in ICT could potentially expedite the timeline for achieving this goal.

As an entrepreneur, Wafa Alobaidat, CEO of PLAYBOOK, shared that “now more than ever, there is an abundance of accelerators for women, and the ecosystem is very exciting.” From her perspective, there needs to be more women participating within investment committees. In Series-A funding rounds, “women are non-existent.”

Qualities such as being nurturing and having empathy can “make a really powerful business women.” Creating an ecosystem with incredible solutions where women help women navigate in other spaces is the goal of PLAYBOOK’s masterclass contents.

Dr. Nadine Akkari, Associate Professor at Jeddah International College, happily shared that the number of students enrolled in ICT are getting higher, and women faculty members have also increased. “We are working hard to get more women involved in the ICT sector, whether it be in society, organizations or governments.” Courses are being offered to expose and raise awareness among students about ICT, encompassing coding programs and competitions.

From Hanan Ahmad's regional perspective as Chief Regulatory Affairs and Risk Officer at du, the UAE has implemented a comprehensive approach, involving major programs geared towards establishing a "gender-neutral workforce." Ahmad highlighted the government's mandate for 50% representation in the workplace, fostering support and empowerment for women across both the public and private sectors.

Bias in Technology

With a new era of challenges, Dr. Stępińska-Ustasiak analyzed how generative AI learns from it users, and yet, only 34% of women use generative AI networks. If this doesn’t change soon, “the future created by GenAI will become biased.” Sharing the same observation, Dr. Akkari  said that “We [women] should be inside the system.”

Words of Encouragement

As a call to action, Perini encouraged the audience by saying that, “You have the ability to not only bring women into, but also elevate their presence within the industry.”

According to the du spokesperson, gender equality in the UAE is still a work in progress, though there has been significant advancement. “We need to work on it in the long run as it requires a more holistic approach.” The mindset needs to undergo a change, commencing from home and instilling in girls the belief that "future leaders have no boundaries."

In reality, women are “over mentored and underfunded,” and Alobaidat expressed that this should be changed. “We need to look at women and see the same color, etc., and this is why we are creating spaces for women to be more visible and share their story.”

With over three decades in the telecom industry, May Li has elevated her position and proven that she can excel in a sea of male engineers and professionals. She emphasized that “having great attention to detail, being more organized and being empathetic,” are an asset within the industry. Her advice to women is "don't be afraid" and she urges them to persistently pursue their passions.

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