Women Leaders and the Future of Work
The Future of Work is here! We’ve heard people say this: sometimes, with excitement and positive anticipation; at other times, with a deer in the headlights expression that conveys apprehension and shock. Our own response to that clarion call may be varied but it begs the question: what does it actually mean? In this article, I shall attempt to unpack key components of the future of work and then, explore the opportunity it offers for women leaders to shape it.
Recently, on an ATD panel discussion with a group of accomplished women from the private and public sector, we had a freewheeling discussion on what the future of work looks like. Together, we came up with eight or ten different characteristics. To keep it simple, today, I shall focus on two of these-
The most obvious one is Digitisation – the conversion of text, sound, and video, into a digital format accessible on a computer and/or a mobile phone. It is digitisation that has facilitated the transformation of our financial services industry, contributing to an increasingly cashless economy; and digitisation that has enabled so many of us to move seamlessly to a productive remote working environment during the pandemic. Digitisation has also enhanced the quality of our data as digital data is easier to check and verify and can be more seamlessly converted into tangible information that can help us make decisions.
But there is a downside too. Digitisation has led to the manipulation of data into fake news, the abuse of private data for nefarious purposes, the facilitation of authoritarian regimes, and more. Suffice it to say digitisation is here to stay – if anything, its pace likely to accelerate. The real key is how we leverage it for our current and future wellbeing.
The second characteristic that describes the future of work relates to the changing nature of our Talent Pool. Gig (freelance) workers have become more pervasive. The highly skilled worker has more agency: s/he has a whole lot more choice on where s/he works, how s/he works, even how long s/he works! In fact, the rules of acquiring Talent have been almost upended. There is an urgent need to invent new models to attract, develop and retain talent – and additionally – to redefine what talent really looks like. Skills truly are the premier currency in the future of work. And the ability to acquire new skills (leveraging the digitisation mentioned earlier) has never been more accessible and less costly.
But even as digitisation has helped us reach hitherto untouched corners of the globe, so the same digitisation (or lack thereof) has cut off large swathes of the world’s population. Where opportunities are not equally distributed, skill-building platforms – digitized or otherwise – remain limited to a privileged minority. So, it is an understatement to say that there has been inequity in the changing nature of our Talent Pool.
Enter the Woman Leader. Two recent events have had a major impact in positioning women as leading protagonists in the Future of Work: the #MeToo movement and the Covid Pandemic. The #MeToo movement has severed the albatross of shame that once wound around her neck and made her gasp for air in the face of oppression. Finally, she can raise her voice against gender violence and harassment and know that, unlike the gaslighting of the past, allies will stand up to support her. Covid lockdowns across the globe have also, unwittingly, shone a spotlight on the invisible work women do in the home. That work can no longer be taken for granted; on the contrary, there is growing consensus that women’s financial empowerment will drive global growth and that we need to facilitate this process with supportive infrastructure in and outside the home.
We need a more collaborative approach to place the human being and Planet Earth, smack in the middle of our decision-making. We need to ensure the greatest number of people get access to the fruits of our scientific and technological advances – a more human-centered technology perspective. We need a more sustainable approach that considers how our actions today will impact our children tomorrow. We need less aggressive masculinity, more ‘WE’ vs ‘I’. There’s no better time for Women Leaders to take the helm.
The time is ripe for change but there are powerful forces fighting to maintain the status quo. So, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, I urge women to have the courage to stand up for values that will sustain us in the Future. Reject the dog-eat-dog path of competitive one-upmanship. And I appeal to men to be the wind beneath the wings of women who choose to take a stand.
With women leading from the front, I already feel more confident about the future of work!