Where are the black telecoms risk experts?
Eric Priezkalns asked this question in his June 2020 Commsrisk article of the same title. I found it interesting, but I refused to join in the conversation beyond liking his post on LinkedIn. In my interview on RAG TV in July, Eric asked a similar question and I struggled to respond to it. So, twice within a month, I have had the opportunity to lend my views to this topic, and each time I failed to give an adequate response. Admittedly, it is not one of my favourite topics, not because of a lack of interest in it, but because of the strong emotions I betray whenever I speak about it, so I attempted to sound conciliatory and logical in my response, but that failed too. The reason for my failed attempts at discussing this topic is that issues bordering on social justice are not cold and devoid of emotions. Nor are they solely about emotion and devoid of logic. An adequate response must be both emotive and logical. So, in this article, I will combine both emotion and logic in addressing this issue.
I will go on to examine the obstacles that are believed to be in the way of the telecoms risk professional of African descent.
This has been touted as one of the strongest arguments against the black telecoms professional. In organisations you tend to hear questions like is he/she ready? Does he/she have the requisite educational qualification and skills? The minimum qualification to get into a telco in most African markets is a bachelor’s degree. Telcos are among the top employers so they tend to attract the very intelligent from an highly competitive recruitment process. Writing specifically about the Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management (RAFM) unit, since RAFM as a discipline is not a university subject, you tend to get a mix of engineers, IT specialists, and accountants. University education and some technical skills make them eminently qualified to assume responsibilities in an RAFM unit, but what happens to their development thereafter is the total neglect of responsibility by telcos.
To put things in context, save for MTN and Econet, most telcos in sub-Saharan Africa are foreign owned. It is known across Africa that foreign investors tend to rely on local resources only where it is legislated or convenient – it is easier to invest in recruitment and development of locals for sales, marketing, legal, regulatory and customer experience jobs because local knowledge is essential to successfully function in these fields unlike a technical field like RAFM. Also, sales and marketing, being profit centres, tend to have a business case for training and development, which the foreign owners can relate with. Although in the long run, it is cheaper to train internal local resources, but those businesses are not thinking long term in Africa, so it is convenient for the business owners to import already trained foreign talents so they can maintain strategic control over operations through governance. The RAFM professional, seeing a ceiling in his aspiration, seeks better opportunities elsewhere. I can attest to this because I have seen many talented RAFM professionals leave for front-facing business units like marketing and sales due to limited development and growth opportunities in RAFM.
Despite the stated facts, there are still deeply knowledgeable and experienced black RAFM professionals managing RAFM functions across the continent with great efficiency and notable results.
Geography is another much-touted argument, where people have said due to limited access to industry events, which are mainly held in Europe and North America, the black telecoms professional cannot easily reach these events. These arguments would be true if the only place a black telecoms professional can be found is in Africa. Although distance might be a concern, many telecoms professionals from Africa, including myself, have participated in events hosted in Europe. There are many notable telecoms leaders and experts from Sub-Saharan Africa that are well known in the industry. So, it beggars belief that an international conference hosted online like the International Telecoms Week (ITW) which held in June 2020, gathered a panel of industry experts to speak about ‘Connectivity in Africa’ and the panel had just one black face on it.
With due respect to the non-black panelists, the panel could easily have passed for a group of the delegates to the Berlin Conference of 1884 where Africa was shared among the European powers. The organisers should be worried that in a panel of six, only one person represents over 80% of Africa, and the remaining five represent less than 5% of Africa’s racial demographics. Even more disturbing is the fact that only on the African panel did they have such an insensitive composition. The European panel was made up of Caucasians, the Asian panel was comprised of Asians, and the Middle East panel consisted of Arabs, so why was Africa’s different? There is no excuse for this. Africa is full of black CEOs, COOs, and CTOs of telcos, undersea cable companies, tower companies etc.
In my opinion, the organisers did not consider the optics of their panel selection and that is the most disturbing thing about the lack of diversity and inclusion. It is no longer excusable for international organisations to say that an oversight is their excuse for a lack of diversity in leadership or lack of inclusiveness in their actions. They should know better and they should act better. Such insensitivity shown by the organisers of the ITW is the cornerstone of more overt discrimination and racism because it sows a belief in the minds of some that blacks are incapable of leadership or unable to discuss matters that concern their countries and continent while also assuming that another race has been given the divine right to lead the rest of us. The thought process that leads to such blatant discrimination was not right in 1884 and it is definitely not acceptable in 2020.
I dare say that telecoms risk management has a worse record of representing black people than the telecoms industry in general.
Everyone has a role to play in bringing fairness to the industry, starting with the black telecoms risk professional. It is our responsibility to assert our rights within our respective organisations. We must call out injustice within our organisations, and the industry, whenever the opportunity arises. For the rest of the world, you asked the black professionals to step up and we have, it is now your turn to let go of those privileges you have accorded yourselves and seek a fairer representation in the workplace. International organisations, multi-national corporations, and their leaders must be circumspect in the decisions they make. They must assess how well they support diversity and the goal of inclusiveness. Just as discrimination against black people and the subjugation they have suffered has been deliberate, remediation of discriminatory practices must also be deliberate.
This article is for general information and a broad discourse on this issue. It is not offered as a specific solution to this problem.
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