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New Intelligence: Can Robots Unlock Workplace Gender Imbalance?

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January may be grey, but February’s Tech Awards and Forum are bright lights to head for, as we finally start moving into spring. Since we started the everywoman in Tech Awards in 2011 and the everywoman Tech Forum in 2015, we have seen both of these pioneering events grow to resonate worldwide — bringing together inspirational women in business to celebrate, communicate and consider the issues.

It’s an expansion that has been mirrored by the technology industry itself — as the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ powers on. For us, what fuels that expansion is not just customer demand or tech leaders driven by competition and profit. It’s vast human energy — to innovate, excel, adapt and ultimately to change the world for the better. This, therefore, was our thinking behind 2018’s forum theme, Energising Tomorrow’s World.

Artificial intelligence is already changing lives, whether we see it or not, and not just in the HQs of the world’s tech giants, but in our homes, cities and workplaces. Even if you don’t know it, you’ve been assisted by it: it’s there, keeping your inbox free of spam, providing customer service as you shop online and talking you through unfamiliar driving routes. Around the world, robots are already delivering take-away food and checking-in hotel guests. Robot technology is happening right here, right now.

The big question for us as business leaders and employees, then, is: “Are we about to be handed our notice by technology?” And if so, how soon? We’re already seeing robots performing more and more of the routine tasks previously done by humans — and a survey of tech bosses reveals that skills such as negotiation and decision-making, all of which can now be done by machines, are becoming less and less important.

It’s a trend that is set to continue — just two years from now, it’s being reported that 35 percent of skills considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. That might seem scary but many see this shift as a huge opportunity. In his book, The Anticipatory Organisation, Daniel Burrus, one of the world’s leading futurists, spells out how the advancement of robots puts so many of the exclusively human competencies so desperately needed in the tech world, at a huge premium.

These are strengths such as emotionally intelligent leadership, strong communication, collaboration, adaptability and changeability, all of which we know women possess in abundance. If there is to be a premium on such skills, then women, who are responsible for 85 percent of consumer technology purchases, despite drastic underrepresentation in the sector for so long, have a huge opportunity to direct the wave of change. Not so many years ago, the idea of robots providing a solution to gender imbalance in the workplace would have read like a sci-fi blockbuster script. Now it may be a reality.

But we still need human input to make the leap. At everywoman, we recently undertook research over a cross-section of women and jobs in the tech sector to better understand how we could help eliminate technology’s woefully high drop-out rates of female talent.

The single most important factor cited to keep women in their jobs was being able to see more women in senior positions. And it’s true that technology still desperately needs more female role models at every level — particularly if the sector is to attract talented young women, who are currently far less likely than boys to opt to study STEM subjects at higher levels.

At everywoman, we know that when women are able to see what they can be, remarkable things can happen, and that’s why our global training and development programme addresses many of the critical skills so needed by the technology sector of tomorrow.

If technology is about disruption, it is also about vision. With more inspirational female role models and learning and development that paces the amazing opportunities we now see on the horizon, we can help to hardwire positive change in a fast-moving age.

 

The Founders' Blog

By Karen Gill MBE & Maxine Benson MBE