22 April 2021

On 22 April, EIF organised a virtual debate on “Diversity in Tech”, focusing on the need to enhance diversity and inclusion, key drivers for innovation, non-linear thinking, growth and success.
The debate, hosted by MEP and EIF Steering Committee member Maria da Graça Carvalho, was moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini and featured the following panel of experts:

  • Monika Ladmanova, Adviser to the Vice-President Jourova, European Commission
  • Angelique de Vries-Schipperijn, Executive Vice President & CEO Northern Europe, Salesforce
  • Belinda Exelby, Chair of EQUALS Steering Committee and Head of International Relations, GSMA
  • Mechtild Walser-Ertel, Global Head of Human Resources and Corporate Social Responsibility, Orange Business Services
  • Petra Kotuliakova, Member of CEPIS Diversity team
  • As First respondent: Eke Vermeer, Vice President Public Policy, Liberty Global
Diversity in Tech

Maria da Graça Carvalho stressed the principle that diversity brings excellence: there is scientific evidence that diverse teams lead to greater creativity and success and it is out of a mix of different backgrounds that usually the best ideas come out.

In the field of AI, for example, we need to be particularly attentive to the question of diversity, said the MEP: the algorithms based and created without a diversity principle in mind can reproduce stereotypes and bias. Because of the lack of women in ICT, MEP Carvalho proposed last year an initiative report in the FEMM Committee with recommendations on how European institutions, Member States and society can address these problems, contributing in this way to the competitiveness and well-being of Europe.

Monika Ladmanova confirmed the strong commitment of the European Commission to diversity and gender equality, a core value for the EU and a priority of the VDL Commission. Two very recent initiatives, complementing the treaties and many legislative instruments, are the 'Directive on work-life balance of working parents and carers' and the Proposal on pay transparency.

Nevertheless, legislation is not enough when promoting diversity: the EU platform of Diversity Charters is a special tool for organisations to actively implement measures promoting diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace. The benefits of diversity and inclusion are clear and proved by many studies, but they are not possible without the commitment from the leadership; at the same time, they cannot be just simple HR policy or HR strategy, but need to be included into the company’s business and strategy.

Diversity and inclusion, stated Angelique de Vries-Schipperijn, is one of Salesforce’s four core values, committed to work towards a workplace that reflects society and where everybody feels empowered to succeed. The statistics are clear and Salesforce actively recognises the value of a diverse workforce through their equality program.

The focus also goes on growing diverse talents and leaders of the future and this year Salesforce launched an all-managers training that includes bias awareness. Salesforce, reiterated Ms. De Vries-Schipperijn, is very much committed to equal pay for equal work, undergoing paid audits regularly and investing more than 16.2 million dollars to adjust salaries globally.

Belinda Exelby made clear that also for both GSMA and EQUALS, the topic of gender diversity in tech is a key pillar. Even if the mobile industry knows the economic and social benefits that increasing female leadership and representation in the ICT industry can deliver, many challenges remain before we can fully realise this goal.

In the #MeToo era, the current statistics speak to the growing need for really bold and decisive action to bridge the digital gender divide in tech, which is of great concern to the private sector. Companies are well-suited to apply creativity, innovation and resources to deploy connectivity solutions and services on the global scale to help bridge the digital gender gap.

Mechtild Walser-Ertel stated that diversity is one of the main resources of innovation; because diversity enables this non-linear thinking and the adaptability that innovation requires. At Orange, said Ms. Walser-Ertel, diversity and innovation are two main commitments made within the strategic plan 'Engage 2025'.

Diversity is key in the sector, and we are still far from gender equality; Ms. Walser-Ertel thinks that we are also seeing a disturbing trend in Europe with declining numbers in women pursuing their education in STEM; this emphasises the need to encourage women to explore options in those areas, stated Ms. Walser-Ertel.

Petra Kotuliakova thinks that technology is the most equitable and fair sector in our economy: it provides everyone with opportunities for their professional and personal growth, to earn money and to develop their work-life balance. Unfortunately, she remarked, the dominance of women in the discussions and the dominance of talks over the real results show that more action and less talk is needed; only 17% of women are working in the ICT sector.

To fight this issue, CEPIS has developed the DiversIT Charter for women in technology and STEM fields with the aim of having a rising number of women in tech, because diversity in tech is something we need for the next generations as well.

As a first respondent, Eke Vermeer reiterated the importance of diversity. In the past year, we have seen a shift in the way we work and the pandemic has accelerated the changes already underway: hopefully, the future of work will be more about balance, inclusion and diversity.

Liberty Global has recently created the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, an initiative led from the top and looking at all aspects of diversity and inclusion both within the company and towards the customers, trying to incorporate this vision in everything they do. Over the last years, Liberty Global has launched several projects aimed at bridging the digital divide not only in gender, Ms. Vermeer concluded.


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