Keeping the conversation going: Our International Women’s Day panel

A panel of six women sit on chairs under a large screen that says inspire inclusion. They are celebrating International Women's Day.

To mark International Women’s Day Freshwave hosted a panel of women working in telco and technology to share their experiences and insights. Michelle Riddick, Freshwave’s General Counsel, explores some of the areas discussed at the event.   

International Women’s Day happens only once a year but one of the messages from the panel we hosted was loud and clear: efforts towards diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) need to happen every day of the year and everyone has a role to play.

We convened a panel of inspiring women who shared their thoughts and experiences with the guests and Freshwavers in attendance at our event. Ada Lam, Senior Manager – Small Cells and OpenRAN at BT Group; Julia McNally, Founder at Iknaia; Evelyn Hogan, Business Development at Cordless Consultants; Tsvetelina Krumova, Delivery Manager at Virgin Media O2; and Marina Koytcheva, Research Director at STL Partners, all brought their unique perspectives to the discussion for which we’re grateful.

Inspire inclusion

The theme of the day was “Inspire Inclusion” and the panellists were all passionate about the benefits of DEI across the board; not just gender, but age, socioeconomic background, culture and more. It’s been well documented that more diverse organisations perform better than less diverse ones, whether that’s in financial performance, attracting talent, or innovation. As the telco industry looks to attract the best and brightest, often in competition with global technology companies, the group agreed it’s essential not to overlook those who might not seem like the “traditional” hire.

Helping each other and bringing other women with you was one of the routes to improving gender diversity our panel agreed on. Twenty years ago, one of our panellists was frequently faced with rooms full of men at construction networking events. So, she took the initiative to effect the change she so desperately wanted to see, and set up a regular lunch event for women new to the networking scene to connect with each other. It’s still going strong and is a great example of practical action to address a problem she identified.

Mentors were cited as a powerful resource for encouragement and advancement, with our panellists talking about the backing they’d received from both male and female mentors during their careers. Many spoke highly of the support and understanding they’ve had from men in the workplace, saying that modern men really understand the challenges facing women and the benefits of diversity, but they’ve inherited a broken system. However, people are working hard to fix it and we’re headed in the right direction.

International Women's Day

Avoid stereotypes

There was discussion about the ongoing challenges in attracting girls and women to science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM), with concern that there is still too much stereotyping at an early age with girls being told they’re more creative and boys steered more towards STEM. One panellist spoke of being at a careers fair with Raspberry Pis and processors on their stand. While boys would come over and pick them up and talk about how they’ve been coding in their bedroom, the girls would just walk by. So the panellist and her team had to be very proactive in engaging with the girls, asking them if they’re good at problem solving, or if they’re good at maths: “And as soon as they get an idea that they actually could do this they start to get interested.”

Finally, there was strong agreement that to make change happen, organisations need to dedicate time and resources as it needs a sustained effort. While diversity will hurt a little in the short term because the homogenous view will need to change, in the end it’s worth it. An organisation’s culture needs to be able to flex to accommodate increasing diversity but it’s for the benefit of everyone in the organisation and society as a whole.

International Women's Day