From rights to equal pay, equal access in education and the workplace, to harassment and #metoo, women are succeeding in spotlighting issues and arguing for their rights. Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Helena Calle of Fast Future say that although ensuring a truly equal future for women has risen up the agenda of global challenges, indicators suggest that globally, the actual gap is growing.
Drawing on insights from their recent book – The Future Reinvented – Reimagining, Life, Society and Business they explore how business and society can adjust to provide a more positive future for women.
Looking at the forces shaping our world, it is clear that society could benefit significantly from the increased participation of women. Taking technology development as an 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.
Increased participation of women could contribute significantly to developing more female-oriented products. For example, Natural Cycles, created by a woman, is an effective contraceptive app giving women a natural choice over family planning, without the pill’s hormonal side effects.
A more human workplace
In some domains and countries, the evolving role of women in the workplace is engendering a more confident and empowering attitude. A variety of studies, for example, suggest that women’s confidence when asking for promotion or a raise is increasing year on year.
In a future where much work will be automated our customer offerings could become increasingly commoditized. A more human focus 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 e.g. collaboration, relationship development, and empathy.
Societal pressure to “have it all,” may be taking a new shape. 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 for personal fulfillment.
Women professionals face the challenge of establishing new relationships with the men in their lives. Men, as 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 partnership.
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.
Taking on challenges
Is society responsible for preparing women for the risks and challenges of the future? Perhaps the best way to do this is to increase the participation in and completion of post-secondary education by women worldwide.
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. Rather, we are all capable of developing these risk-taking capacities depending on the experiences we have had and the situations we face.
Will the man-woman divide persist?
The World Economic Forum estimated in 2017 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.
However, as with many norms that become unacceptable a gradual erosion of alpha male domination looks set to take place. Society through the empowerment of women, supported by the increasing enlightenment among men, could help to accelerate the agenda for equality, aided by the power of technologies such as social media as 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.
The five year view
In five years we hope to see: better legal protection for women’s health including greater priority given to bringing maternal and infant mortality rates down to near zero.
We hope to see legislation protecting women’s full access to education; more countries introducing gender-blind wage policies and women participating in at least half the leadership roles in politics and business. Let’s be optimistic about a five year horizon where half of all major democracies are led by a woman with gender-balanced legislatures.
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