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Vodafone joins the EU in announcing major diversity initiative

Operator group Vodafone has decided to speak for the whole industry on diversity, while the EU is seeking to impose gender balance quotas on the whole bloc.

The Vodafone thing is called #changetheface because it strives to change the face of technology. That seems to refer primarily to sex as, apparently, the balance between men and women is wrong. Vodafone knows this because it commissioned a survey and, when asked to describe technology as a person, the majority of respondents answered that the person would be young, white, middle-class and mostly male.

“#ChangeTheFace is Vodafone’s commitment to improving our diversity and inclusion at Vodafone,” said Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group. “We are urging the technology industry to act now so we build a digital future that reflects society and works for everyone.” A special website urges people to make diversity pledges and even offers some suggestions in case people aren’t sure what the rules are, which you can see below.

The Vodafone announcement says Ericsson and Nokia have been among the first to get on board with this ‘industry-wide initiative’. Neither of them seem to have made separate announcements, however, with Ericsson preferring to talk about how committed to sustainability it is. There were no recent CSR press releases from Nokia that we could see at time of writing, so maybe it figured it ticked that box already with its recent ethics announcement.

Meanwhile, and perhaps not coincidentally, the European Commission has unveiled its gender equality strategy. As you would expect from the EU, it’s a wide-ranging set of positions and directives covering sexual equality in general, and specifically pay, opportunities and ‘gender-based violence’.

“Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality,” said EC President Ursula von der Leyen. “In business, politics and society as a whole, we can only reach our full potential if we use all of our talent and diversity. Using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough. With the gender equality strategy, we are pushing for more and faster progress to promote equality between men and women.”

“Europe is a good address for women, despite all shortcomings,” said VP for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová. “As our society is undergoing important transitions, be it green or digital, we must ensure that women and men have equal opportunities and that inequalities are not further exacerbated by change. On the contrary, we have to create conditions for women to be agents for a fair transition at work and in private.”

“The pursuit of equality does not require the shifting of anything from one basket to another,” said Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli. “Equality is an infinite resource, and there is enough of it for everyone. On the flipside, discrimination costs the individuals that suffer it and society as a whole dearly, in lack of personal recognition, lack of meritocracy and loss of talent and innovation.”

While not in any way shifting anything from one basket to another, the EC has implemented a number of ‘concrete actions’. The most remarkable of these is a push for ‘gender balance’ on the boards of all European companies. To lead by example, the Commission is aiming to reach gender balance of 50% at all levels of its management by the end of 2024.

The EC announcement also asserts that European women, on average, earn 16% less than men. It doesn’t specify whether this this is for the same job or just a broad average, but it clearly thinks this is a statistic that needs correcting regardless. Lastly there is a push to criminalise violence against women, the only surprising aspect of which is the inference that it’s not already.

These announcements are presumably timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, which takes place on Sunday 8 March and has the strapline ‘An equal world is an enabled world.’ There will presumably be other corporate initiatives of these kinds around the day as the pressure mounts on organizations of all kinds to show they’re doing their bit.


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