Over the last year women have been succeeding in spotlighting issues and arguing for their rights: from harassment and #metoo, #timesup and the rights to equal pay and equal access in education, the workplace, and the boardroom. A focus on a truly equal future for women is now high on the list of global challenges.
This article on insights from our recent book – The Future Reinvented – Reimagining, Life, Society and Business to examine how business and society can adjust to ensure a more positive future for women, focusing on critical agenda issues as we see them.
Benefits of increased participation of women
Looking at the forces shaping our world, it is clear that society could benefit significantly from the increased participation of women in technology development, elected governmental roles, and higher education. To take one example before integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into our social systems and institutions we need a better understanding that even an algorithm can be racist or sexist. A new book Algorithms of Oppression, by Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble, provides critical thinking about the broader social implications of the technology sector.
If automated systems, including those powered by AI, are representations of those who created them, then maybe those systems need to represent the gender split in society. More women in fields such as programming machine learning could help create a gender balance within our intelligent technologies.
Evolving workplace roles
In the workplace one view is that both women and men’s roles are evolving. Work is changing because of the different economic and technological drivers, 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 some places the evolving role of women in the workplace is engendering a more confident, empowering attitude. Women are taking control of their workplace situations and actively tackling inequalities. A variety of studies suggest that women’s confidence when asking for a raise or promotion is growing steadily. Women are realizing that change starts from within and these small changes can have a major impact on their work environment.
Many envisage a future where much of the work of creating products and services will be automated. A more human approach focusing on relationships between businesses and customers could become a critical differentiator. Hence, the focus might shift to competences and values that are typically thought of as feminine e.g. collaboration, relationship development, and empathy.
Challenges for women professionals
Women professionals face the continuing challenge of leading a household and maintaining a career. Societal pressure to “have it all,” however, may be taking a new shape. Women from the millennial generation have not married or reproduced at the same levels as their predecessors. Hence, in the future a woman’s versatile balancing act across personal and professional roles may not necessarily be due to motherhood, but a choice made for personal fulfillment.
Cultural norms vary significantly across the world, but evidence on the rise of women in business and more prominent in society is clear, for example, in Asia. Yet, even in the developed world, we still see institutional discrimination. The cultural and deep-rooted context for discrimination is likely to take some time to clear and is only likely to change through a combination of active campaigning, legislative change, behavioural modification, and generational trends.
Will the man-woman divide persist?
The gap is a big one. In 2017, The World Economic forum estimated that, at current rates, it will take 217 years to close the gap on pay and employment opportunities. They also estimate that the broader gender gap - taking account of factors such as healthcare, education, and participation in politics – has risen from 83 to 100 years.
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 though the roles of each gender might become more similar. There could be fewer men or women-oriented services, products or roles. This might be the beginning of the next era where, in 20 years from now, the man-woman divide might become much less perceptible.
The ability to manage risks and challenges
Is society responsible for preparing women for the risks and challenges of the future? How should we help them respond to economic shocks, the failure of social institutions, and the challenge of adapting to the automation of work - potentially displacing many jobs? Perhaps the best way to do this is by increased participation in and completion of post-secondary education by women worldwide.
The myth that men are more prone to taking risks and overcoming challenges than women has been debunked by psychological research. We now know that these differences depend of the type of risky behaviors we include in the research questionnaires. We are all capable of developing these risk taking capacities depending on the experiences we have had and the situations we face.
Tackling the future
In a world increasingly dominated by 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.
In five years
In five years we hope more countries will adopt gender-blind wage policies like Iceland and we will see women participating in at least half of the leadership roles in the political and business worlds. We hope to see better legislation to protect women’s health and access to education.
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
Megan is a freelance writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. Her blog - Joyful, Brave & Awesome - chronicles her experience as a parent of a special needs child.