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By Berta Herrero, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Huawei Europe
When I first knocked on my boss’s door with the idea of building (from scratch) an academy to train women to become the leaders this digital era needs, I was pretty sure the pitch was not going to last more than one minute.
I was convinced that he would listen politely at first, nod, and then kindly say: “This is a very nice idea, but we cannot go for it now; perhaps next year.” But despite last-minute nerves, I was convinced that I had a great project in my hands – one that could change people’s lives, both within and outside the company.
As I left his office, I smiled at the realization that my conviction had turned out to be correct: this was a great project – in fact, the very project that both the company and women in Europe needed as the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to shape a new world, where digitalization was to play a much bigger role.
During our meeting, my boss had not only approved my idea, but had said: “Drop everything you are doing and focus on this. Women are the future of technology, and we will be here to support them.”
Nearly 18 months have passed since that conversation. Within this relatively short time, we have already held three sessions of our Schools for Female Leadership in the Digital Age, plus an additional session dedicated to closing the divide affecting remote and depopulated regions, The Women’s Academy for Rural Innovation.
These programs have become flagship CSR initiatives of Huawei in Europe, providing talented women with full scholarships to embark on a life-changing series of masterclasses, workshops, and debates guided by world-class experts and renowned mentors. Through these courses, women acquire the skills and tools they need to lead in the digital age – everything from coding and AI ethics to sustainability, global collaboration, and innovation against gender-based violence.
With more than 6,000 applicants since the first course was launched in 2021, this program has empowered Europe’s next generation of female leaders to speak up, strive for more, and reach ever-greater heights.
One of our students, previously unsure of her potential, is now a rising star within Europe’s aviation industry, making flying safer, more efficient and less environmentally impactful. Another, formerly a language teacher, discovered her passion for global collaboration and is now on track to become a respected diplomat committed to inspire young minds to build a more inclusive digital transition. A third alumna is using her expertise in AI and carbon accounting to provide the construction industry with next-generation climate intelligence solutions, charting a path to smarter and greener buildings.
Like them, many bright female minds are overcoming limits and shaping the upcoming phase of the digital revolution – one where “Tech for Good” will be the common theme, and the end goal will be to make sure no one is left behind.
The program has had a catalyzing effect on Huawei’s work culture and our own employees. I have noticed that now, fellow female colleagues are listened to more in meetings, and are being further invited to participate in events and debates.
Diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) have always been important to the company. Now, these values are being taken into consideration in a way that contributes to equal opportunities within society and enables an inclusive approach to leadership, innovation, and growth.
At our Schools, we not only mentor students, but listen to them actively to find new ways to improve the situation of women at the workplace, within the tech industry, and in the digital economy as a whole. Active listening brings about small actions that can lead to big advances. As one female journalist who reported on the students’ progress once put it, “You are not only changing their lives. You are making us all believe that we have a place in the tech revolution, and that the future is ours to shape.”
This beautiful journey has not just led me to believe that change is possible. It has demonstrated that it can happen quickly and successfully if leaders can spot high-potential proposals fast, empower employees to effectively match their vision with the company’s mission, and be willing to walk the talk.
One thing is clear: this dream has become reality because of preexisting corporate values that have enabled its smooth rollout. The Schools that are changing lives in Europe exist because the Huawei culture says that deserving and committed individuals should be supported in their development and growth, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, age, or a disability.
Developing this project has not always been easy, but we have made it happen, and the lives of the many women and men impacted by our programs will never be the same. Every former participant now listens more, understands better the role of technology in today’s world, and feels empowered to shape the digital transition in a way that helps make it fair and beneficial for everyone.
That is why it matters so much.
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