25 February, 2021

Deep Dive on Digital Upskilling Best Practices to increase gender diversity in the telecom workforce

On 25 February, the social partners from the EU telecom sector, ETNO and UNI Europa, organised a virtual round table conference: Deep Dive on Digital UpskillingBest Practices to increase gender diversity of telecom workforce.  

The meeting was part of a joint ETNO-UNI Europa social dialogue Project funded with the financial support of the EU commission. 52 representatives from 24 companies/organizations participated in the full day event and were joined by Mercer Consulting, who helped in the preparation and facilitation. The meeting was translated simultaneously from English into 4 languages (French, Portuguese, Polish and Spanish) by Oluseyi.

The aim of the round table was to discuss best practices and create recommended pathways for the digital upskilling and inclusion of the diversity group within the workforce of the European Telecoms sector. 37% of European Union workers have insufficient digital skills – evidence points that the gap is widening.[1]

Skills requirements in the Telecoms sector are rapidly changing due to constant technological innovation and market developments.  The number of vacancies for highly skilled ICT roles is increasing exponentially and the sector cannot meet this demand by recruiting from the traditional ICT talent pool alone. In order to bridge this skills gap, Telecommunication companies are seeking to upskill their existing workforce.

This virtual event gathered experts from the sector to share identified best practices that promote gender diversity along the employee journey in a company. Only, 12% of executives in leading telecom companies are female and the DESI 2020 report that shows that only 1 out of 6 ICT specialists are women. [2]

The full day event started at 10.00 CET with an introduction and welcome from Lise Fuhr president of ETNO, who introduced the project as well as highlighted the need for the industry’s commitment to upskilling and training the ICT workforce in the telco sector with a specific focus on improving gender balance across all levels, working with social partners.  

This was followed by a presentation from Lucye Provera and Lea Lonstead from Mercer on digital upskilling from the gender perspective. Sharing results from Mercer’s global 2020 When Women

Thrive, Let’s Get Real about Equality survey, Mercer examined the current state of gender representation in the technology industry and the best practices around improving gender diversity, using an evidenced based approach. An interactive poll of the participants asked what methods of upskilling were currently in use by the companies. The results showed majority of the organizations are working with a Build model – focusing on internal talent development.

Mercer highlighted key building blocks (drivers) of an effective gender upskilling strategy:

  • Review HR processes: de-bias HR processes such as recruiting, performance management and pay
  • Share expertise: activate mentorship programs with mentors both men and women and include this goal in their performance management process
  • Reinforce networking: promote women as role-models and professional networking groups internal and external the Company
  • Build the future: define target of % women in succession plan for creative and innovative ICT roles (not only for role of execution)
  • Make accessible: require a high number, such as 50%, of female participants in development/innovative/talent program
  • Back to work facilitation: propose technical upskilling/updating with flexible format aimed to women after long period out of work (e.g. maternity leaves)
  • Make women feel welcome: adapt physical office environments and build consistent flexible work policy (not-discriminatory)

The round table then progressed to examine the five best practices identified for the Digital Upskilling to increase gender Diversity. Presentations were made by:

  • Torkild Holmboe-Hay, Consultant at the Danish trade union 3F, who presented on the Hilfr Collective Agreement Online Platform  (link)
  • Kathryn Cullen, Programme Director at Technology Ireland Software Skillnet, who presented on their Women Reboot’s program (link)
  • Armand  Leblois, Regional Manager Corporate Affa2rs Europe North, South UK and Ireland, who presented on Cisco’s Network Academy (link)  
  • Aniela Unguresan, co-founder of the EDGE Certified Foundation, and Samira Tavares Kruth Verdade, Quality & Methodology Coordinator, Operations- Quality & Certifications, Capgemini Brazil, who led a joint presentation on Capgemini: Young Women In Tech Program (link)  
  • Vidya Krishan, Chief Learning Officer & Global Head of Learning & Development, who presented on Ericsson: Design Your Future Program (link)  

Upon the completion of the Best Practice, Mercer facilitated a benchmark of current Best Practices in the Telecom sector, examining Where companies on their “digital upskilling” journey? Participants

During the discussion that followed there were industry presentations by Deutsche Telekom, British Telecom and Telecom Italia (TIM).  British Telecom presented on Tech Women describing how they are supporting female employees progress in their roles by creating a 12 month global program. Deutsche Telekom described their Explorer Journey focused on three areas including Data Analytics, Digital Marketing and Software Development.

Tim added to the discussion by stating: “In TIM we are currently developing our “Women Project” whose goals are to reduce Gender Gap in the time frame of our next Strategic Plan acting on Gender Bias and on Women Empowerment. Our women colleagues are 32% of our people and our major focus is to boost the presence of STEM women both improving recruiting from the external and reskilling women actually working on other jobs to give them the opportunity to get the challenge to move to more technical jobs like telco technician.”

Birte Dedden, representing UNI Europa, asked the participants about how Social Partners are involve in the upskilling program development, if they are consulted to identify the required skills or merely informed. Carol Scheffer added that involvement in the unions is critical and she described an apprenticeship program she was working closely with a telecommunications company and suggested that this was a good area for unions to be involved. Within BT, there is a program called “Code first Girls” to bring young women to learn to code and have initial work experiences in technology. Unions are heavily involved in the program development as well as the board that monitors success. Within A1, unions are involved at a local level. In Austria there is an apprenticeship program which is being modernized with heavy involvement from the works council and unions in the design. Also in TIM, there is a requirement to sign agreement and involved in the development of their upskilling programs launched in 2021 as the training adjusted the work time of employee to allow for training courses.


Greg Gillet from ETNO closed the conference thanking the round table organizers, participants and speakers for their participation. Greg summarized the main points discussed as the following:

  • Digital empowerment starts with inclusion and diversity
  • It is critical for organizations to first work on inclusion (change company culture) and engagement
  • Diversity and Inclusion needs to be part of the business strategy
  • Digital diversity should not be taken for granted
  • It is necessary for companies to tap into the a vast reservoir of experience and talent by nurturing professional & technical skills
  • Organizations should align digital upskilling to market opportunities
  • Digital upskilling and diversity change should be seen as a journey of transformation
  • Notion of intrapreneur should be encouraged ( internal mobility, learning culture, engagement )
  • Telecommunications organizations to develop more multi-stakeholders’ partnership with education system, authorities, social partner and civil society

“We have met our objective to identify pathways, area of improvements for the implementation of Digital upskilling for genders. Roadblock will be further discussed at the final conference,” stated Greg Gillet.

The next steps for the DUFA! Project include the next round table conference on June 3rd focusing on Age Diversity and a final conference closing out the two year project in Fall 2021. More information about the project, including video highlights from the first round table can be found on the ETNO.eu website).

In conclusion, we would like to give a special thanks to the following for their contribution and participation in this event:

  • European commission
  • ETNO / UNI Europa – European Social partners & experts
  • Mercer
  • The interpretation team & technical team of Oluseyi


[1] The EU Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, Russell Reynolds research, The 100-Year LifeSurvey.

[2] The EU The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI)

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