Women can power ahead by harnessing new technologies. That matters, because at current rates, it will take 169 years to close the global pay gap between men and women* – and at present females only hold 5% of technology leadership roles.
These are the thought-provoking findings from the world’s first Female Futures Forum, convened by global consultancy The Future Laboratory**.
In its resulting Female Futures Report, The Future Laboratory looks at how women can capitalise on new technologies and ways of working to get ahead in business; for example, through better technology, education, investment, and focusing on what needs to change to help females be their best.
If we don’t do that, the report warns in a hypothetical scenario that the picture in 10 years’ time is very bleak indeed.
“At The Future Laboratory we know where tomorrow starts – inside each of our minds,” the report says.
“Our individual hopes, fears and aspirations will come together to shape the political, economic and social policies of the decades ahead and decide jjust what sort of female future our daughters and granddaughters inherit.
“Starting with that premise, we staged a workshop with a group of successful, inspirational and creative women and asked them to imagine, debate and map out the initiatives, decisions, triumphs and disasters that might lead to 2027 – and three very different female futures.”
SPA+CLINIC looks at once such scenario, Female Dystopia, in which The Future Laboratory fast forwards to 2027 and “speaks to one of the last female CEOs of a FTSE 100 company about what went wrong, and why”:
A decade ago, the march of women towards boardroom and pay parity seemed unstoppable. But progress towards gender equality faltered amid educational failures and funding shortages, leaving female entrepreneurs and business leaders with few champions or role models in a male-dominated landscape. How would you describe female entrepreneurialism in 2027?
In a nutshell, deeply depressing. As one of the last female business leaders, I try to motivate the next generation of women but I’m largely met by disillusionment and despair.
The system failed to deliver on the promise that their hard work would be rewarded, and many are retreating into old-fashioned but secure notions of housekeeping and childcare.
Their initial spirited fight for equal pay and opportunities has given way to apathy as a male-led business world refused to accept the positives that women bring to the boardroom even in the face of research proving it was great for the bottom line.
With fewer and fewer women in positions of power, old survival of the fittest competitiveness rules, leaving little room for diversity and no support for the idea that collaboration or emotional intelligence are the route to higher profit margins.
Flexible working has largely died out too, further disadvantaging women who feel they have no choice but to sacrifice their careers to look after their children. There is very little empathy in the boardroom these days.
With fewer and fewer women in positions of power, old survival of the fittest competitiveness rules.
We need to move away from the heavy reliance on male-centric digital technologies in business.
How did we get here?
Talk about female-friendly social and work initiatives in the last decade never turned into action.
Just as in 2015, women are less likely than men to be shown ads for highly paid jobs during a Google search, and technology hubs all over the world are run by men, for men.
Reports of sexism and harassment in these companies – where the majority of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities are to be found these days – mean that women are far less likely to apply for jobs with them. A vicious circle has been created.
Education has let down girls too. While 90% of teenage boys study coding or other technology-related subjects, just 40% of teenage girls do.
Promises that these vital skills would be made compulsory to ensure a level playing field for both genders have fallen by the wayside.
Finally, venture capital funding for female-led businesses has fallen.
Ten years ago, women received less than 10% of that funding, and less than 3% of the CEO is female. Those numbers have now decreased to 7% and 2%, respectively.
What obstacles and challenges do women still face?
Female entrepreneurship and leadership has a mountain to climb. A decade of rising inequality in education, pay and recruitment was made worse by the impact of a new wave of automation on women in the workplace.
Women were hit the hardest by the rise of the machines. By 2020, men had gained one job for every three lost to a machine, but women only gained one job for every five lost to a machine.
This lack of females in many workplaces led to the ladder to the boardroom being almost dismantled for more than half of the world’s population.
There are now almost no female role models to look up to and, since 2012, the proportion of working age women engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity has continued to fall from 6.3% to just 3.2%.
What can turn this situation around for the next generation of female entrepreneurs?
We need our grandparents to step up as mentors. They are a generation of game-changers and rule-breakers who began the struggle for female equality and power. They lost their way at the end of the last decade, but we need them to inspire us – and more importantly, the next generation – to believe that we can be empowered at home and at work.
We need to move away from the heavy reliance on male-centric digital technologies in business. Encouraging more face-to-face interactions will increase emotional intelligence and empathy, and build networks that enable women to support each other and excel.
All is not lost. We can step outside of the echo chamber of female-only conversations and use our skills to re-invent business and entrepreneurialism to work for women as well as for men.
* The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2016.
**ABOUT THE FUTURE LABORATORY
Since it was founded in 2001, The Future Laboratory has grown to become one of the world’s most renowned futures consultancies, and has worked with more than 1,000 brands in 37 countries from of offices in London, Melbourne and New York. Its strategy, innovation and creative teams help clients to explore probable, possible and preferable futures to harness market trends, understand and adapt to emerging consumer needs, position their businesses for success and keep them ahead of their competitors.