Diversity and inclusion in telecoms: Understanding the industry landscape and need for change

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is no longer simply a moral imperative; it is now becoming critical to the future growth of the telecoms industry. In this article we explore how diversity and inclusion can bring value to the industry and assess the state of DE&I in telecoms

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) have become critical priorities for organisations across various industries, and the telecoms sector is no exception. The telecoms industry plays a pivotal role in connecting people and businesses globally. However, the state of diversity and inclusion within this sector has been an ongoing challenge. To foster innovation, creativity and sustainable growth, telcos must recognise the importance of diversity and take proactive steps to create an inclusive environment. In this article we explore the importance of DE&I and consider the state of the telecoms industry.

By embracing DE&I, telcos can attract top talent, enhance decision-making and build a positive reputation

Embracing diversity and fostering inclusion is no longer just a moral imperative but a strategic advantage for telcos. Some of the ways that greater DE&I can benefit telcos include:

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Despite progress in recent years, the telecoms industry still faces significant diversity gaps

It’s no question that telcos that are able to drive change and increase DE&I have a lot to gain. However, conversations around sustainability within telecoms tend to focus on the environmental and carbon emissions aspect of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), while the social aspect is often neglected. This is reflected in the state of the industry, where there is a significant dominance of men and a lack of representation from minority groups.

To take a closer look at the issue we referred to STL Partners’ sustainability scorecard, in which we benchmarked the performance of 70 telecoms and technology companies globally against seven sustainability-related criteria, one of which is diversity and inclusion.

Our research showed that 17% of companies are severely lagging within this space – they don’t report publicly on any diversity metrics, they haven’t set targets to work towards, and they don’t have public information about the initiatives they have in place to improve inclusivity.

Almost half the companies we assessed sit in the category above. This means they do pay reference to DE&I in their annual report, but still don’t outline any tangible initiatives or report on diversity metrics. It’s clear to see that there are still huge steps to be taken to embed diversity and inclusion into company strategies.

However, some companies are making progress. We charted the workforce make-up of the companies performing top in DE&I in the scorecard to see what the industry leaders have achieved.

Workforce make-up, 2021 (%)

Diversity in senior leadership, 2021 (%)

The charts show that for these six companies, gender representation is significantly better than the industry average of 19% women in a company. However, the balance is still far from the 50-50 split we have in society, showing that even those that are more active in DE&I still have a lot of progress to make to reach gender parity.

Racial and ethnic diversity within the industry also remains a challenge. This is reported on even less consistently than gender so it’s hard to paint an accurate picture, but the data that is available shows a lack of representation of ethnic minorities in the workforce and highlights the room for improvement, particularly within senior leadership and executive roles.

The discussion around disabilities in the workforce is much more nascent than discussions around gender or race, so there is limited visibility and attention given to its inclusion and few of even the top companies report on it. Some companies are taking proactive steps to address this, such as Telefónica which set a positive example for the industry by committing to doubling the number of employees with disabilities over the next two years, but this is sadly not reflective of the broader industry’s attitudes.

On the whole, it’s evident that more effort needs to be made to prioritise and amplify the value of driving change around diversity, to promote greater inclusion for underrepresented groups. This is important not just for more prominent discussions around race and gender, but also disability, age, LGBTQIA+ and other underrepresented groups.

The need for change is clear, so what needs to happen?

There are various challenges that need to be tackled, including:

  • Improving communication on the business benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion (so companies are not just focused on compliance)
  • Overcoming the stigma of self-reporting disabilities or other underrepresented identities
  • Integrating DE&I requirements into supplier codes, alongside human rights and environmental credentials
  • Recruiting more diverse talent (e.g. recruiting women at entry level engineering, security and STEM positions to ensure equal representation in leadership positions beyond CSR, HR and communications)

Below we explore some successful DE&I initiatives that telcos are driving in an attempt to address some of these challenges.

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DE&I Initiatives

1. Targeted Recruitment and Hiring Practices: Leading telcos have revamped their recruitment strategies to attract diverse talent, actively seeking candidates from underrepresented groups through partnerships with diverse organisations, participation in minority-focused career fairs, and expanded outreach to universities with diverse student populations.

– E.g. AT&T has collaborated with organisations such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), to help to equip future generations for success. To support workforce-readiness, it has partnered with programs like Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) and Year Up. It also has an EDGE Internship program that offers students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to experience working in different roles across the AT&T business.

2. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Telcos have established ERGs to provide a supportive and inclusive community for employees from various backgrounds (e.g. ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities). These groups serve as platforms for networking, mentorship, professional development, and collaboration with company leadership to drive diversity and inclusion initiatives.

–  E.g. Verizon has various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that support the professional development and engagement of its diverse workforce. Some of the ERGs include: Verizon ADVANCE (Advocates for Disability, Accessibility, Neurodiversity, and Caregiver Empowerment), Verizon BOLD (Black Originators Leaders and Doers), Verizon NAV (Native Americans of Verizon), Verizon PACE (Pan Asian Corporate Excellence) and Verizon PACT (Parents And Caregivers Together).

3. Leadership Development Programs: Some telcos have launched leadership development programs specifically designed for underrepresented groups. These programs provide mentorship, training, and exposure to senior leaders, empowering diverse employees to pursue leadership roles and contribute diverse perspectives.

– E.g. Bell has a Women at Bell program that provides women with access to networking, coaching and mentoring opportunities in order to help support their professional development and increase their visibility as leaders (both internally and externally).

4. Training and Awareness Programs: Telcos have implemented comprehensive training programs to increase awareness and understanding of unconscious bias, microaggressions, and inclusive practices, fostering a more inclusive culture through mandatory training sessions, workshops, and online modules.

– E.g. BT Group worked with external partners to deliver Inclusive recruitment training for their hiring managers to coach them on inclusive hiring best practises, including how to avoid unconscious bias when interviewing.

5. Supplier Diversity Programs: Telcos have established supplier diversity programs to ensure that their procurement processes promote diversity and inclusion. These programs aim to increase the representation of businesses owned by women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups in the supply chain, which supports inclusive economic growth and providing opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs.

– E.g. T-Mobile has had a Supplier Diversity Program in place since 2011. The program provides access, advocacy and awareness for its diverse suppliers, and support through measures such as reduced payment terms. T-Mobile also has a Tier 2 Program that monitors and measures its prime suppliers’ spending with diverse suppliers and recognises their achievements.

6. Transparent Reporting and Accountability: Telcos committed to D&I have embraced transparency by publicly reporting their diversity metrics and progress. They regularly publish diversity reports, highlighting their representation numbers, initiatives, and future goals. By setting measurable targets and sharing progress openly, these companies hold themselves accountable and encourage continuous improvement.

– E.g. Telefónica reports on metrics including gender (including gender pay gap and proportion of women in management positions, and on the board of directors), disability, nationality, and age. It set the target to achieve 33% female executives and a +/-1% of adjusted wage gap by 2024, that it achieved in 2022. It now aims to achieve gender parity in the company’s highest governance bodies by 2030.

Telcos can pave the way towards a more diverse and inclusive industry

Telcos that have successfully introduced DE&I initiatives are making significant strides in building more inclusive and equitable workplaces. Although change will be slow and measurable results will take time, the long-term impact of these new initiatives and ways of working has the potential to be huge. As these initiatives continue to evolve, it is essential for the entire industry to learn from their successes and collectively strive towards a more diverse and inclusive future.

To learn more about STL Partners’ sustainability scorecard, please visit https://stlpartners.com/tools/intro-to-the-sustainability-scorecard/ or reach out to Miran Gilmore at miran.gilmore@stlpartners.com

Miran Gilmore


Miran Gilmore

Senior Consultant

Miran Gilmore is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in edge computing and sustainability.

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