HR & Management

How can we ensure a truly equal future for women?

8 min read

08 May 2018

Ensuring a truly equal future for women has risen up the agenda of global challenges. Women have been succeeding in spotlighting the issues and arguing for their rights. However, at the same time, indicators suggest the actual gap is growing globally.

This article draws on insights from our recent book – “The Future Reinvented – Reimagining, Life, Society and Business” to explore how business and society can ensure a more positive future for women. We conclude with our dreams for the future.

Increased participation

Looking at the forces shaping our world, society could clearly 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.

More women in technology development could contribute significantly to creating 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 side effects of the pill. Many technological solutions could be developed with increased participation of women in technology.

The workplace

Work in general is changing due to economic and technological drivers, for example remote and gig working. The evolution of work has cross-gender impacts. Nations should seek to follow Iceland’s fair pay example and eliminate the idea that women and men deserve different treatment in the first place.

In some domains and countries, the women’s evolving role in the workplace is engendering a more confident and empowering attitude. Various studies suggest that women’s confidence when asking for a raise or a promotion is growing year by year.

In a future where much of the work in creating products and services will be automated what we offer customers and clients could become increasingly commoditised. Being more human and focusing on the relationship between businesses and customers could become a critical differentiator. The focus might shift to building propositions on competences and values typically thought of as feminine: collaboration, relationship development, and empathy.

Challenges facing women professionals

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 is to create new ways of relating based on an authentic mutual partnership.

Cultural norms vary significantly, but evidence on the rise of women in business and more prominent in society is clear in Asia, for example. And yet, even in the developed world, we still see institutional discrimination. The cultural and deep-rooted context for discrimination is only likely to change through active campaigning, legislative change, behavioural modification, and generational trends.

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. 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 over that same period.

As with many norms that become unacceptable, as our collective sense of right and wrong evolves, 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 to accelerate the agenda for equality, aided by technologies such as social media as platforms for campaigning and “outing unacceptable practices”. However, 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

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 to increase the participation in and completion of post-secondary education by women worldwide.

Are 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 behaviours 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.

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 saying humans will be replaced by technology, this is 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 is for women to believe in themselves and encourage other women to do so – focusing on maximising their potential as women.

Achievements in the progress of women

In five years we hope to see better legislation to protect women’s health and access to education and more countries adopting gender-blind wage policies, like Iceland. 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.

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

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”. Their forthcoming book is “500 Futures”. See: www.fastfuture.com