Women in work and society – current and future outlook

By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Helena Calle of Fast Future

As we look to the future, some fundamental questions arise: What is the future of women?  Are women’s futures different from men’s futures?  How do we proceed in the coming years to embed a gender equality mindset while accounting for the unique challenges women face?

From harassment and #metoo, #timesup and the rights to equal pay and equal access in education, the workplace, and the boardroom, women have been succeeding in spotlighting the issues and arguing for their rights.  This is in a situation where ensuring a truly equal future for women in society has risen up the agenda of global challenges.

This article draws on insights from our recent book – The Future Reinvented – Reimagining, Life, Society and Business to explore how business and society can adjust to ensure a more positive future for women, focusing on what we consider to be critical agenda issues. We conclude with our advice and dreams for the future of women.

Increased participation 

As we look to the forces shaping our world, it is clear that society as a whole could benefit significantly from the increased participation of women in the future of technology development, elected governmental roles, and higher education. For example, we need to better understand that even an algorithm can be racist or sexist before integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into our social systems and institutions. The new book by Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression, is a great example of the kind of critical thinking about its broader social implications that the technology sector needs.

More women in fields such as programming machine learning could help to create a gender balance within our intelligent technologies.

An increased participation of women in technology development could contribute significantly to the creation of more female-oriented products. For example, Natural Cycles, created by a woman, is an effective contraceptive app that gives women a natural choice over family planning, without the hormonal side effects of the pill. Many other clever technological solutions could be developed with an increased participation of women in technology.

Women’s roles at work

One view on the evolving role of women in the workplace is that men’s role is also evolving.  Work in general is changing because of the different economic and technological drivers in place, for example remote and gig working.  The evolution of work has cross-gender impacts.  Nations should look to follow Iceland’s fair pay example and eliminate the idea that women and men at work deserve different treatment in the first place.

In some domains and countries, the evolving role of women in the workplace is engendering a more confident and empowering attitude. Women are taking control of their own workplace situations and actively tackling inequalities. A variety of studies suggest that women’s confidence when asking for a raise or a promotion is growing year by year. Women are realizing that the first step to change starts from within and these small changes can have a major impact on their work environment.

The future, as currently envisaged by many, depicts a world where much of the work that goes into creating products and services will be automated. Hence, what we offer our customers and clients could become increasingly commoditized, so our new propositions will need to focus on something different. Being more human and focusing on the relationship between businesses and customers could become a critical differentiator. Hence, the focus might shift to building propositions on a foundation of competences and values that are typically thought of as feminine –  such as collaboration, relationship development, and empathy.

Significant challenges facing women professionals in the years to come

Women professionals continue to face the challenge of leading a household and maintaining a career.  Societal pressure to “have it all,” however, may be shifting. Women from the millennial generation have not married or reproduced at the same levels as their predecessors. Hence, a woman’s versatile balancing act across various personal and professional roles in the future may not necessarily be due to motherhood, but rather, a choice made for personal fulfillment.

Women professionals face the challenge of establishing a new relationship with the men in their lives. Men, as working colleagues or as relationship partners are used to the stereotypical idea of providing higher economic support and assuming leadership roles. The challenge now is to create new ways of relating to each other based on an authentic mutual partnership.

Will the man-woman divide persist in the next decade?  

In November 2017, The World Economic forum estimated that, at current rates, it will take 217 years to close the gap on pay and employment opportunities. Sadly, this estimate has risen by 47 years over figures calculated a year earlier. They also estimate that the broader gender gap – that takes account of factors such as healthcare, education, and participation in politics – has risen from 83 to 100 years over that same period.

If we define “the man-woman divide” as sexual dimorphism, e.g. that our differences extend beyond just our physical organs, then certainly it seems likely that this will continue. The man-woman divide will probably persist, although there is though some concern that male fertility in the West could be threatened by hormonal disruptions in the food chain and our natural ecosystems. However, the roles of each of the genders might become more similar. There could be fewer male or female-oriented services, products or roles. This might be the beginning of the next era where, in 20 years’ time, the man-woman divide might become much less perceptible.

A gradual erosion of alpha male domination looks set to take place. Society through the empowerment of women, supported by increasing enlightenment among men, could help accelerate the agenda for equality. This is likely to be aided by technologies such as social media providing platforms for campaigning and “outing unacceptable practices”. At another level, the dominance of strong male leaders of major economies such as Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin, suggests that traditional male hierarchies may be hard to dislodge.

Women’s ability to manage risks and challenges

It has been thought that men are more prone to taking risks and overcoming challenges than women. Psychological research has debunked this myth and now we know that these differences depend of the type of risky behaviors we include in the research questionnaires. It is not that one gender is more prone to risk taking than the other. Rather, we are all capable of developing these capacities depending on the experiences we have had and the situations we face.

Are there innate abilities that women have that can be nurtured through education, in work training, and coaching? Could these help raise women’s awareness of their own capabilities, whilst also allowing them to demonstrate competence in managing risks and challenges in leadership positions?

Advice for the future

In a world increasingly dominated by the hype and reality of technology, women need to adjust their expectations of this growing force in society.  Even though we encounter abundant conventional wisdom that says humans will be replaced by technology, this is a line pushed by the technoprogressives with a vested interest, and women, in particular, shouldn’t fall for it. The future, especially one highly imbued with AI, needs humanity, and especially women, more than ever.

The future is waiting for women to take on any leadership role where they feel they can contribute to society. The world as we know it is changing, and now is the time to evolve a new generation with higher expectations of what women can do. The critical challenge here is for women to believe in themselves and encourage other women to do so as well.

The key here is for women to focus on maximizing their potential as women. This means celebrating their natural skills and sense of the importance of relationships, empathy, collaboration, and caring. Ultimately these are the traits that could make the difference between a dystopian technology enabled world and a very human future.

The progress we hope for

In five years we hope to see better legislation to protect women’s health and access to education.  Hopefully more countries will adopt gender-blind wage policies like Iceland.  Also, we hope to see greater priority placed on bringing maternal and infant mortality rates down to near zero globally within five years, using strategies that empower women and make best use of local knowledge.

In five years, we truly hope that we will finally have zero tolerance of female genital mutilation globally. We hope that all women in the world have full access to education. And that women participate in at least half of the leadership roles in the corporate and political sectors with half of the

developed world’s major democracies are led by a woman with gender balanced parliaments.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

    

Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Helena Calle are from Fast Future which publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. The latest books from Fast Future are: ‘Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity’, and ‘The Future – Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society, and Business’. And their forthcoming book is ‘500 Futures’. See: www.fastfuture.com

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