Lana Khachan is the Head of Communications & CSR, Vodafone Qatar
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the telecommunication industry in Qatar?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of the telecommunication industry to the fore like no other event in history. It has highlighted how crucial the sector is to not only keep individuals connected, but also businesses, governments and our societal infrastructure up and running.
People are relying on telecommunications more than ever before, and there has been a huge surge in demand for networking and connectivity technologies to facilitate what our reality now looks like. The increased trends for working from home, remote learning and socially distanced workplaces have all been made possible by the telecoms industry.
But with the increased reliance comes increased scrutiny and pressure on the sector too. Customer experience must match high customer expectations and networks must be sufficiently robust and reliable to keep up with the increased demand.
Do you think the pandemic has affected career opportunities for females? If yes, how?
Gender equality in the workplace is still a goal that we, as a global community, need to actively work towards and the pandemic has been a bump in the road to achieving this goal. Several reports have shown that the pandemic and its economic fallout are having a disproportionate impact on women and their careers; McKinsey calculated that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s, for example. There are many reasons why this is happening, for instance due to higher levels of unpaid care falling to women over men. But whatever the reason, this is an issue which should be proactively managed and not just observed or ignored.
We believe that technology, in particular network connectivity, has a large part to play in redressing this setback. This might be through facilitating remote access to work and education, to enable mothers and fathers to work from home whilst their children are being home-schooled via digital platforms, as just one example.
How do you promote gender diversity and equality in your organisation?
We seek to be a company whose workforce reflects the customers we serve and the broader societies within which we operate. We believe that achieving greater gender parity will strengthen our company significantly through understanding the needs of the women, men, families and businesses who rely on our networks and services.
At Vodafone Qatar we’re proud to be able to say that we employ women across all areas of our business, including in leadership positions, and we ensure that female team members are paid equally to their male counterparts.
Do you think the recovery from COVID-19 will happen in the next 1-2 years or will it take longer?
Every business has been affected by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic in some way or another, but just in the way that everyone’s experience of it has been different, their recovery journey will be different too. Some sectors will naturally recover quicker than others, and the pandemic has also brought unexpected growth to some areas as customer demands and behaviors have changed.
We’re optimistic that, aided by vaccine rollouts and sustained safety measures, we’ll see large sections of our economy recover over the next two years, but inevitably there will be longer-lasting effects that must be acknowledged and addressed.
We’re also confident of the role that technology can play in our economic and societal recovery. We’ve seen that businesses that are already using digital technologies have been able to adapt more quickly to market challenges and that the pandemic has created waves of adoption that signify years’ worth of digital transformation in mere months.
The trends for remote working and learning are here to stay and rely on strong network connectivity and digital platforms. The Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and fibre broadband are all examples of technologies that will continue to enable businesses – SMEs and enterprises alike – to achieve and maintain a ‘business as usual’ status in our ‘new normal’.
How has technology helped your industry during last year?
The accelerated digitalization that followed the pandemic is thought to be conducive for women empowerment and may potentially become a catalyst for gender diversity in the workplace. What’s your view on that? And does this apply to women in Qatar?
The events of last year have shown everybody both how important connectivity is, and how technologies like 5G and IoT benefit all areas of our day to day lives – from keeping in touch with friends and family to operating a socially-distanced workplace.
The pandemic presents an opportunity for governments and society to address the structural issues facing women, which should be reflected in the economic and social programs that are currently being put together. We need to ensure that we are empowering women to be able to fulfil the new jobs that are being created by the shift to a digitalized society, and increased access to education via remote channels is a good example of one way in which we can make this happen.
In Qatar, we are in a fortunate position in that we already have a high proportion of women participating in further education, particularly in STEM subjects. In recent years, 67% of overall graduates have been female and this is a trend that we’d like to see convert into the workplace.