To put this into perspective, 136 years ago was 1887. Humanity was yet to see the horrors of the First and Second World Wars, and we were still 107 years away from smartphones. Steam power was our main form of propulsion, and the first-ever car was just a year old.
It’s safe to say a lot has changed over the past 136 years but, in a fast-moving society with groundbreaking technology at our fingertips, it’s hard to comprehend why it will take so long to achieve the seemingly basic goal of gender parity.
Although some progress has been made in recent years, there’s still undoubtedly a long way to go.
Technology and gender equity
Technology is set to play a crucial role when it comes to advancing the standing of women over the coming years. As the world around us digitally transforms, technology has the potential to empower women by providing greater access to education, job opportunities and financial independence.
“One way technology has helped advance women is through increased access to education, learning and development,” explains Dr Kate Barker, Chief Future of Work Leader. “Online courses, coaching, mentoring and educational resources can be particularly beneficial for women living in areas with limited access to education, or to those who face barriers to attending traditional schools. This can help women gain the skills they need to enter high-demand fields and pursue careers that were previously closed to them.”
Technology has also been used as a tool to help women overcome barriers in the workplace, providing access to video technology that permits hybrid working models, while promoting a path to financial independence by providing new opportunities for entrepreneurship.
Kate explains: “E-commerce platforms and other digital marketplaces can allow women to start and grow their own businesses with lower overhead costs, while digital payment systems can help women overcome barriers to accessing traditional banking services.
“However, it's important to note that technology alone cannot solve all the challenges that women face. In order for technology to truly advance women, it must be accompanied by significant policies and cultural changes that promote gender equality and create a supportive environment for women to succeed.”
Elevating women to leadership roles
As the old saying goes, ‘seeing is believing’. A business landscape where more women take on and accept high-level positions will not only inspire others to follow suit but will also ensure increased diversity in decision-making positions.
Encouraging women to apply for leadership roles benefits businesses in a number of ways. In fact, gender diversity has actually been proven to increase profitability levels, as shown in a 2020 study by McKinsey and Company. The research found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. What’s more, companies with women in leadership positions were also more likely to perform better financially, suggesting that diverse teams benefit the company’s bottom lines.
“Increasing the number of female leaders also helps to expand the talent pool of organisations,” Kate explains. “Deloitte research found that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams in terms of decision-making, making better decisions 87% of the time.
“In addition, a 2019 study by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams had higher revenue from innovative products and services than companies with less diverse teams. Therefore, by promoting women to leadership roles, organisations can tap into a broader talent pool and gain access to diverse perspectives and experiences.”
It must be emphasised that DEI strategies shouldn’t just be used as window dressing by companies, but should also be a crucial pillar of organisational culture. This will allow businesses to not only recruit more women into their teams, but also inspire current employees to remain in their jobs – thus saving valuable time and money on recruitment costs.
In turn, this can lead to increasingly effective decision-making and problem-solving as women bring unique perspectives and experiences, which can lead to more creative and innovative solutions to complex problems.
“Elevating women in leadership roles is a crucial step towards promoting workplace equality and creating more inclusive organisations,” Kate asserts. “By prioritising gender diversity in leadership, organisations can improve their performance, expand their talent pool and create a more positive and supportive workplace culture.
“Likewise, automation and AI are likely to play a larger role in the workforce in the coming years, across all industries. While this may lead to job losses in some areas, it will create many new opportunities in exciting new industries, in roles that are yet to be invented.
Workplace trends here to stay
Cast your mind back three years ago – pre-pandemic – and you may recall the workplace looked distinctly different to that of 2023. Hybrid or remote working was for the few, not the many, and movements such as Black Lives Matter were catapulting racial equity to the top of many businesses’ priority lists.
These trends have had an unprecedented impact on gender equality in the workplace, allowing women to juggle their careers with family life and caretaking responsibilities. Marginalised women have also been able to step up, take centre stage and be heard.
And luckily for us, these trends are here to stay.
“Remote and flexible work arrangements are only set to increase in the future of work,” Kate says. “With advances in technology and the increasing need for companies to be more agile and responsive to changing market conditions, I see remote working shifting to ‘work from anywhere, anytime’, with changing organisational policies, starting with for expert and project-based roles and ultimately leading up to 40% of an organisations workforce. The workplace will shift from a place where traditional work is done to a meeting place to connect, collaborate and build deeper relationships with colleagues.
“With the rise of technology and remote working, employees are now able to work from anywhere, which can blur the lines between work and personal life. As a result, employers are likely to become more aware of the importance of work-life balance, and offer more flexible work arrangements to attract and retain top talent. It will be a market differentiator and important if companies want to stay competitive.”
Companies will also continue to place more value on employees who are able to bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the table. Kate explains: “This could involve things like valuing diversity in hiring practices, encouraging employees to be themselves at work and fostering an environment of open communication and collaboration. As a result, employees may feel more empowered to bring their authentic selves to work, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and better performance.”
What does the future of work look like?
Although we’ll have to wait for almost a century-and-a-half to experience a truly equitable workplace, progress is slowly but surely heading in the right direction.
Trends such as hybrid working models, technological advancements and encouraging women to take leadership and board positions will undoubtedly continue to shake up the workplace, enabling us to make leaps and bounds toward equality.
Businesses will also continue to push for DEI strategies in the workplace while striving to create more inclusive and equitable environments. Once this is achieved, we’re likely to see a ripple effect, promoting diverse hiring practices, inclusive training opportunities and equal pay for all.
Similar to DEI, there will also be a greater push for ESG strategies, with businesses prioritising net-zero and carbon-neutral goals.
“Many companies are recognising the importance of ESG considerations and are taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint, promote social equity and improve governance practices,” Kate adds. “Companies that prioritise sustainability and corporate social responsibility are likely to attract top talent and enjoy greater long-term success.
“The future of work is, continuing to be shaped by a combination of technological advances, changing workforce demographics and evolving organisational structures and ESG considerations and values. Companies that can adapt to these trends and prioritise sustainability, DEI, values-based leadership and ethical business practices are likely to be successful in the years ahead.”
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