After the Summer School for Female Leadership in the Digital Age, Huawei returned with a new initiative to promote greater gender balance in the industry: the Huawei Summer Camp 4 Her, in Cascais. After three days of debates, workshops, masterclasses and even surf and yoga classes, the goal was achieved: to introduce 15 young participants to the reality of the tech world and “the career possibilities in ICT [Information and Communication Technologies],” says Afke Schaart, senior vice president of global government affairs and chief global impact officer at Huawei, to ECO.
From the “very green and innovative” city of Shenzhen, in China, Afke Schaart leads the area of Global Impact in social initiatives, which involves topics such as sustainability, ethics, gender equality and digital inclusion. She sees herself as a “corporate diplomat” and says she is living proof that you don’t need to be an engineer to have a career in tech.
Prior to joining Huawei in 2020, Afke Schaart worked in tech in different companies such as the industry body GSMA, the Alliance of European Telecoms and Automotive (EATA), and she was a former member of Parliament in the Netherlands where she worked on legislation on all tech related issues.
“I consider myself a corporate diplomat. International companies like Huawei are very much involved in issues around climate, education and wellbeing and these are areas where governments, private sector, international organisations and NGOs should work together. Building bridges between these world is what I enjoy the most. I have studied International Relations and European Law and am the proof that you don’t need to be an engineer to have a career in tech”, said the senior vice president of global government affairs and chief global impact officer at Huawei.
In Portugal to participate in Huawei Summer Camp 4 Her, Afke Schaart highlights the initiative has an example to follow globally. “This Summer Camp is a local initiative, but there is a culture of sharing good internal practices, so I am sure that this project will be made known to other geographies and perhaps inspire new initiatives in other markets,” she adds.
Afke Schaart also highlights the scholarship programme launched by the tech company in Portugal. One of the a priori rules was that half of the scholarships would be attributed to women. “It has become a reference and is another example of the quality of the local team,” she says.
Cascais hosted the first edition of Summer Camp 4 Her, a Portuguese initiative. Does it make sense to replicate it in other markets where Huawei is?
This project is an original idea of Huawei Portugal, aligned with Huawei’s global vision for female empowerment. Huawei, together with its partners, has been exploring the social value of technology, for example through the use of the internet and digital technologies to improve women’s well-being. We are committed to attracting more women to ICT, giving them the opportunity to unleash their potential and achieve leadership positions.
And our team in Portugal is an example of proactivity and capacity in the development of projects in this area. Last year, it was in Portugal that the first edition of the Summer School for Female Leadership in the Digital Age, a European project of the company, took place.
This Summer Camp is a local initiative, but there is a culture of sharing good internal practices, so I am sure that this project will be made known to other geographies and perhaps inspire new initiatives in other markets.
Could it be a potential ‘recruitment field’ for Huawei to renew its young talent?
The 15 women selected for Huawei Summer Camp 4 Her are very young and all still undergraduate students, note that the age of these girls is concentrated between 18 and 21 years.
The objective is primarily to introduce them to the reality of the tech world and the career possibilities in ICT. The Portuguese team has structured a program around three key pillars: technology, sustainability and personal development. We hope that this Summer Camp will be an incentive for them to invest in their training, deepen their knowledge and absorb as much as possible of all the sharing that is taking place here.
We also hope, of course, that it will be possible to maintain contact with the young women selected, because we believe in the talent and skills that brought them to the Summer Camp, but even more we are focused on the transmission of knowledge about the reality of the world of work in the technological sector. We hope that the participants end these days with both more knowledge and desire to deepen what they have learned about each of the topics.
In the tech industry in particular, gender discrepancies are still notable. In 2021, almost 9 million people in the EU worked as ICT specialists. Not even 21 percent were women. How and with what kind of measures can we eliminate the gender gap? And what can companies do to reduce this gap?
Companies play a key role in this issue and we at Huawei strongly invest on its resolution, hence the focus on women students at this event, because we realize the need to promote a greater gender balance in the ICT industry.
In addition, this initiative shows another point that we think is of note: the proximity between the organizations to the academic world. This is a relationship that allows clear advantages for all parties involved. For Huawei and other organizations to follow the same principles, because it allows contact with young students and professionals starting careers, and for the academy itself by integrating the reality of the world of work in universities.
In Portugal, when they launched the university scholarship programme, they decided that half of the scholarships would be awarded to women. Is this a policy followed globally in the company? Could it come to be?
Good ideas and best practices should always be shared and leveraged internally. But we have, all over the world, several initiatives in this area, with formats that vary depending on geography and what makes sense at each moment. The scholarship programme in Portugal has become a reference and is another example of the quality of the local team. We have other similar programmes, for example in Ireland, or in Iceland where we develop the Women Innovators Incubator together with a local NGO. But I can also talk about programs in countries like Ghana or South Korea, not to mention of the fantastic European program that is the European Leadership Academy, with its Summer/Winter Schools for Female Leadership in the Digital Age.
Companies have been betting on gender parity policies, but data from the UN indicate that only in 60 years we will be able to talk about equality in the professions. Do you agree with this estimate? How much time do you think we will still need to achieve gender parity in ICT?
Looking at the data, it is factual that women are underrepresented in this area. According to Eurostat, women currently represent only 14.4% of the ICT workforce in Portugal, a figure that is below the European average.
As for the estimates, we know that they are fluctuating as a result of macroeconomic, political and social reality. Therefore, I cannot say how much time we will need to achieve parity, I can say that at Huawei we make an effort to close this gap as soon as possible through initiatives like this one, which aim to show women the reality of the world of work in the technology sector.
How is Huawei ‘tackling’ this issue? What are the goals at the level of % of women in the company and in leadership positions and in how many years? And what is the current starting point?
As a technology company, we don’t escape the reality of the industry. Data from 2021 shows that we have slightly more than 20% female employees. And of course, we should improve these figures. And that is one of the reasons why we promote these programs, to attract more women to ICT, so that we can have a better gender balance among the professionals who join us.
Studies indicate that with the pandemic many women have left the labor market. How do you recover more than 50% of the workforce?
Focus on attracting and retaining people. We know that there is currently a great competitiveness in attracting talent and a consequent difficulty in retention. Thus, companies must stand out as employers and, for this, there must be a work focused both on new talent – those who are now joining the company – and on those who are already part of the teams.
It is also necessary that there be in organizations awareness about the needs and wants of the workforce, which we know are volatile and different, for example, from generation to generation. In addition, once again, we believe that companies should approach those who are possible future employees, that is, young people.
ICT is a sector where diversity — gender, minorities, LGBTI+ — also has a path ahead. What is Huawei doing in this field? What concrete initiatives are they taking?
As a global company, Huawei values diversity and is committed to creating an inclusive workplace where all employees can have equal opportunities. We are a company with 200,000 employees, present in 170 countries and regions, so diversity is a must. We are a company that combines different cultures with a strong focus on research and innovation. Half of our employees are working in the exciting area of Research & Development.
By principle, when it comes to recruitment, promotion, and compensation, we do not discriminate against anyone based on nationality age, pregnancy, gender, or disability.
Huawei Portugal is a good example of concrete initiatives being carried out to promote greater diversity. At the beginning of the year the company joined the Alliance for ICT Equality. Initiatives such as the aforementioned Huawei Summer Camp 4 Her or the Summer School For Female Leadership In The Digital Age, as well as the company’s participation in the most recent International Day of Girls in ICT, in the scope of the Engineers for a Day Project are also examples of these initiatives.
Is there any cases that you consider to be a model to follow in other markets?
I really like the scholarship program that was developed locally by Huawei Portugal. The way the local team structured a program that involves several quarters of society and that truly makes a difference is something that inspires us all. But we have several examples, most of which are available on our global website.