Diversity in 5G
As 5G develops and becomes embedded in society it will have a transformational impact. This common framing focuses on the downstream impacts created by 5G use cases. However, the societal benefits which 5G will bring are dependent on the tech sector being representative of society. This blogpost approaches 5G upstream, to consider how the technology is already embedded in society via those who design, develop, and deploy 5G, and what can be done to make the sector more diverse.
Importance of Diversity.
Diversity is important as it brings insights and experiences which aren’t homogenous. Examples of algorithmic biases and gender data gaps demonstrate the importance of the people who develop technologies being representative of society as their decisions influence how technologies work. To understand what society wants, those designing, developing, and deploying 5G need to be representative of society.
My PhD research data highlights a gender diversity issue within the 5G sector, for example, at one 5G conference approximately 15% of conference delegates were women. During my research interviews, leading figures in 5G repeatedly reflected that the number of women working in 5G is too low, which is impacting 5G development. This diversity issue is mirrored across the UK tech sector, where 25.5% are women, compared with 49.8% of the labour market. This situation isn’t confined to gender diversity as only 3% of London’s tech sector define as Black in comparison to 13% of London’s population.
So what can be done to address this issue?
Better representation at conferences is vital whereby organisers ensure panels are diverse. Women in 5G seeks to empower women, and create a talent pool of women working in 5G. Engaging with such initiatives is one way of supporting the sector and improving diversity.
Event registration fees which are hundreds of pounds can be a barrier for some SMEs and students. Replicating the good practice demonstrated by some conferences which provide fee waivers and concessions is important to make more events inclusive. Although events companies have to make a return, a balance can be struck with support from the State or sponsors. Similarly, it is important that, where possible, the core parts of events are held during times which are conducive to caring responsibilities. Even though recordings are often made available online, these do not replace engaging in live discussions. Considering event timings is beneficial not only for women, but for any primary carer.
An urgent priority for 5G and beyond is the digital skills gap. To successfully address the skills gap, people from underrepresented groups need to be encouraged to pursue tech careers. There are various initiatives in place including Stemettes and The Eniac Programme, which inspire and mentor girls and non-binary people in secondary schools and primary schools, respectively.
Another approach is to host a student on a placement. There are various schemes available, some of which are externally funded. I’ve recently completed a placement with 5G RuralDorset, hosted by Dave Happy (Managing Director, Telint Ltd), and funded by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). During my placement I supported 5G RuralDorset’s research areas; produced a report on collaboration in R&D programmes; assisted the UKTDTF (United Kingdom Telecoms Data Taskforce); and provided expert advice to DCMS/UK5G about the ‘Stop 5G’ community. I also discussed the importance of addressing the skills gap with Matt Warman, the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, and contributed to a Digital Leaders Week panel about tackling the skills gap whilst improving diversity in tech. Skills development isn’t just a one-way process of helping the student, as the student can add clear value to an organisation, and provide long-term benefit for the sector.
5G will have a significant impact, however, the extent of this is dependent on who designs, develops, and deploys the technology. A more diverse sector is a stronger, more resilient, and more successful sector. Ultimately, the 5G sector needs to represent society for the true potential of 5G to be realised.
 Importantly, without access to exact data on gender make-up this does not represent self-described gender identity.
Daisy is a PhD student at the University of Exeter researching 5G technology.