Vodafone announced two major initiatives designed to increase opportunities for women in the workplace and enhance life prospects for women in emerging markets.
The Vodafone ReConnect programme is designed to attract talented women who have left the workplace for several years (in most cases to raise a family) who would like to return to work on a full-time or flexible basis but are struggling to make the professional connections needed or refresh the skills required. The programme will operate across 26 countries - with a target of 1,000 ReConnect recruits within three years - and will complement other Vodafone global initiatives focused on encouraging and supporting women in the workplace including the Group’s global maternity policy announced in March 2015.
The 26 countries where Vodafone has an operating business are: Albania, Australia, the Czech Republic, the DRC, Egypt, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lesotho, Malta, Mozambique, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Turkey and the UK.
Vodafone is committed to increasing the proportion of women in management and leadership roles. Under the ReConnect programme, up to 500 women on career breaks will be recruited into management roles over the next three years, accounting for around 10% of all Vodafone external management hires over that period. In addition, Vodafone will recruit up to 500 women on career breaks into a range of frontline roles.
Economic research commissioned by Vodafone from KPMG indicates that there are an estimated 96 million skilled women aged 30-54 on career breaks worldwide, of whom an estimated 55 million have experience at middle-manager level and above. The KPMG research also indicates the potential economic benefits associated with bringing back into the workplace all women on a career break with experience at middle manager-level and above. If all such women worldwide were able to secure manager-level employment (and on the assumption that their recruitment did not lead to the displacement of other employees), the associated value of the additional economic activity generated (in terms of Gross Value Added) could be in the region of £151 billion per year and the cumulative financial boost for those women’s households, in terms of earnings, could be approximately £419 billion a year.
Separately, in a survey for Vodafone by GfK among around 500 women who are currently or were once on career breaks across five countries, more than 80% of respondents said that more support is needed for women who want to return to the workplace following a career break and for working women with family and care responsibilities. Many women said they wanted the option to work flexibly (61%) or part time (51%).
The ReConnect programme will include:
- recruitment outreach activities to make contact with, and raise awareness among, women on career breaks;
- training and induction programmes to refresh and enhance professional skills and help women prepare for re-entry to the workplace;
- unconscious bias training for hiring managers; and
- employment terms designed to reflect the competing pressures on working women’s lives include flexible working options and a phased return to work (for example, a four-day week for the first six months).
Burcu Erdur is now a senior manager with Vodafone Turkey who took part in the pilot ReConnect programme after a three-year career break: “I felt like my career break wiped clean all of my previous career achievements; it was as if I had never worked. It is very hard being a working mum but it is manageable with the right support. ReConnect gave me this.”
Vodafone Group Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said: “We are committed to ensuring that our employees are drawn from diverse communities and societies. Our ambition to be one of the best employers for women in the world is central to that commitment. Companies often struggle to recruit and retain women in management and leadership roles. Innovations such as our global maternity policy and now our new ReConnect programme can make a real difference to women who work for us today and who will work for us in the future.”
Transforming women’s lives in emerging markets
Vodafone has also announced a range of new commercial initiatives designed to help women in low-income and remote communities in emerging markets - particularly in India and Africa - benefit from mobile. Access to mobile - even the most basic voice and SMS services using low-cost 2G mobile phones - has already had a transformative effect for hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets. Mobile connectivity plays a key role in many areas of daily life, from education, healthcare and business creation to greater financial inclusion through access to mobile money services such as Vodafone’s M-Pesa. However, women in emerging market economies are, on average, 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men - a mobile ‘gender gap’ far greater than that in countries in the developed world.
Vodafone has analysed the root causes of this gender gap, country by country, and has developed new commercial programmes designed to address the economic and cultural barriers that prevent women from using mobile to improve their lives and livelihoods. The Group intends to bring mobile to an additional 50 million women by 2025, overcoming those barriers to achieve significantly positive socio-economic outcomes within what are often relatively remote (and in some cases marginalised) communities.
Those programmes will build on existing initiatives such as the Vodafone Turkey Women First programme which connects more than 640,000 women entrepreneurs and small business owners - many of them in rural areas - with markets and customers. Vodafone's M-Pesa mobile money service - launched 10 years ago this month - is already used by more than 11 million women (who would otherwise be excluded from conventional banking services) for a wide range of transactions, micro-loans and savings and insurance products.
Vodafone Group Chief Commercial Operations and Strategy Officer Serpil Timuray said: “When you put a mobile phone in a woman’s hand for the first time, you change her life forever. Mobile enables women to learn about the world around them, build a business, help educate themselves and their children, get access to healthcare advice and support and achieve financial security in countries with limited conventional banking services. We believe Vodafone has a powerful role to play in helping women everywhere achieve their full potential.”