11 Trends Shaping the Future of Work for Women
“What is impossible today but if it could be done would fundamentally change your business?” asked Pete Dulcamara, Kimberly-Clark’s Technical VP and Chief Scientist.
This was one of many provocative questions raised at Catalyst’s Women and the Future of Work Symposium, an event held December 2-4 and hosted by Catalyst Supporter Lockheed Martin.
An invitation-only conference, it gathered 130 attendees to examine the challenges, risks, and opportunities of the future of work for women. The event kicked off with a conversation between Catalyst President and CEO Lorraine Hariton and Lockheed Chairman, President, and CEO Marillyn Hewson (who is also Chair of the Catalyst Board of Directors). The two addressed the “why” –discussing why this work is so important. Day 2 featured panel discussions and Ted-like talks by industry leaders and academics focused on the “what”: What are the big challenges and opportunities? The third day continued with ideas and insights into the “how” – providing participants with a full agenda for their organizations. “Companies that are going to be successful are adapting now. Technology is changing and enabling us to get the best talent,” said Hariton.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
1. The war for talent means companies need to adapt. As demographics change, it’s essential for organizations to ensure gender and inclusion are at the forefront of their talent strategies. Giorgio Siracusa, Vice President, HR, Europe, Procter & Gamble, stressed, “The people on the street look different from the people in the office, and that should ring alarm bells for companies.” Comparing employees to fish and workplace culture to the water they swim in, Liz Fealy, People Advisory Services, EY, advised, “Invest in the water as much as you invest in the fish.”
2. Organizations have an opportunity to address income inequality. Many speakers noted the growing gap between haves and have-nots in both countries and companies. “We have an opportunity to do something different. What are all of the trends, policies, and practices that have created inequality and how do we disrupt them? Who are the marginalized populations and how do we include them?” said Allison Scott, Chief Research Officer, Kapor Center.
3. An intersectional lens is key. Women, and especially women of color, have special challenges and opportunities that companies need to take into account. As Kanika Raney, Global Head of Equity Programs, Google, noted, “It wasn’t until we started looking at the data from an intersectional standpoint that we started finding solutions. And we’re going beyond U.S. thinking and providing a global perspective.”
4. Artificial intelligence can free up humans to do more interesting work. As AI is exploding, organizations are already beginning to see humans working with machines in new ways. “We find that as AI comes into the workplace, the interaction with what humans do help us to provide a better product,” Hewson said. “It allows the work to be less redundant and more exciting. Routine tasks go to the machines, and people get more value-added opportunities.” And as technology continues to play an even bigger role, Jieun Choi, Senior Economist, World Bank, Africa Region, noted, “It’s important to note that robots will take up tasks—they won’t necessarily take up jobs.”
5. Still, it’s on organizations to ensure AI doesn’t bake in bias. They must take steps to ensure that we are creating equitable AI and not inadvertently perpetuating bias or stereotypes, noted Miriam Vogel, Executive Director, EqualAI, a nonprofit focused on correcting bias in AI. “We need to interrogate our AI products to make sure we’re not doubling down on biases,” she said. “Decades of fighting for equality have been unwritten in a few lines of code. AI is a mirror reflecting and magnifying the bias in our society. We are at a fork in the road: we can alter the course of our current trajectory.”
6. Augmented reality is a powerful new tool for learning. Dr. Helen Papagiannis, author of Augmented Human, gave a riveting keynote about how augmented reality—digital images superimposed on a real-world background—is changing how individuals learn and has many practical applications. “Three things AR does well are visualization, annotation, and storytelling,” she said.
7. Inclusive communication is a required skill. With more geographically diverse and dispersed teams, everyone needs to know how to reach out across race, gender, and nationality. Tell your personal stories about what makes you unique, said Obed Louissaint, Vice President, People & Culture, IBM. “Storytelling brings others along and influences behavior.” Young Ji Kim, Assistant Professor, Organizational Communication, UC Santa Barbara, identified three components to inclusive communication:
- Equal turn-taking. Ask questions that naturally invite others to take a turn.
- Show genuine curiosity.
- This is counterintuitive, but choose modes of communication with fewer social cues.
8. Empathy is an “organizational superpower.” In his keynote, Jamil Zaki, a Stanford University psychology professor and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, explained that empathic teams are more effective in collaboration and have better morale and less stress. People can develop and deepen their empathy, he noted. “Because empathy is a skill—not a fixed trait—we have a responsibility to build it up.”
9. Remote collaboration will become more common—and it can help women. Traditionally, organizations needed the right people at the right time in the right place. When employers remove the “right place” as an essential element, they expand the talent pool. “With remote collaboration, you get flexibility. You can get the right resources at the right time. And, women can get more meaningfully involved in the workforce,” said Gianni Giacomelli, Chief Innovation Officer, Genpact. Patrick Felder, VP Human Resources, Dell, discussed that building a culture that supports virtual careers requires a deep commitment from the top, with continuous reinforcement.
10. Reskilling and upskilling will be mandatory. There are four components of a corporate reskilling strategy, according to Meghan Scanlon, of General Assembly, a for-profit tech training and education firm:
- Marketing to create employee awareness, probe interest, and find internal champions.
- Admissions assessments to gauge readiness.
- Training through paired programming and company-specific projects.
- Redeployment through apprenticeship programs, alumni communities, and ongoing mentorships.
11. The future is not just about technology. If employers keep “hammering the digital thing as just technology,” organizations risk excluding many people, especially women, who tend not to be in coding and STEM-related fields, said Gianni Giacomell of Genpact. The future also needs people “who can speak the language of technology and the language of change.”
Catalyst researchers will be using the symposium to help inform future areas of inquiry.
More highlights here: