Women and future of work: Lessons from Davos 2018

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Women are relatively under-represented when it comes to jobs

Aurra Kawanzaruwa
Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, has been the home of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting for the past three decades, and for the first time in the forum’s history, the 2018 cast of seven co-chairs presiding over the conference are all women.

The forum’s themes have changed over time, but one trait has persisted over the years: Davos is dominated by men. So much so that the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s nickname for the global elite, coined in 2004 and still widely used, is “Davos Man”.

It’s interesting to note then that, following a weekend of women’s rallies in the U.S. and around the world against the gender pay gap and other issues, the forum sees its first all-women leadership team take centre stage. There’s a union boss, a nuclear physicist, two company heads, a financial organisation leader, an economist and the prime minister of Norway.

Sadly, the gender transformation at the top of the conference does little to improve its overall ratio. According to the forum, just 21 percent of the roughly 3 000 participants this year are women. That’s a slight increase from 20 percent in 2017, 18 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2015. It is still a sizeable improvement from the 9 percent representation of women at Davos in 2002.

The overarching theme this year is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” and many of the panels evolve around the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, how to equip and adjust businesses and their workers to the advent of automation and artificial intelligence that comes with it. Creating a shared future also includes involving more women in world-shifting decision making.

Thankfully, in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa as a whole, we are beginning to emerge out from the lower rankings of women’s participation in the lobar market, according to a 2017 report by the International Labor Organisation (ILO), World Employment Social Outcome. Zimbabwe’s President E. D. Mnangagwa’s reinforced stance to rebuild the country’s economy also provides a platform for women in business to excel in a better playing field.

Singing the gospel of women empowerment at full volume at Davos this year was the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, saying: “It’s time to put women first. I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women,” he said.

“Not because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”

The Canadian prime minister also cited research by McKinsey that shows that there’s firm evidence that women make companies — and countries — more profitable.

Treading backwards a little, Trudeau’s speech resonates with words spoken by the President of Mauritius, Gurib-Fakim, who said at a women’s forum last year that “Eliminating gender inequality and empowering women could raise the productive potential of one billion Africans, delivering a huge boost to the continent’s development potential.”

However, a WEF study revealed that female talent remains one of the most underutilised business resources, either lost through lack of progression or untapped from the onset. Although women are, on average, more educated than men globally and now participate more fully in professional and technical occupations than 10 years ago, their chances to rise to positions of leadership are only 28 percent of those of men globally.

The future of work will rely heavily on STEM professions. Unfortunately, women are relatively under-represented when it comes to jobs that are expected to have the most growth in the next five years; for example, the Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering job families. Millennials and Generation Z women stand a better chance of survival in the future of the global economic playing field.

The advantages of growing up with technology cannot be denied and these groups of women stand a better chance of success as organizations go through reskilling and job transitioning exercises.

In Zimbabwe’s case, a serious focus needs to be applied to advancing the country’s e-readiness and technology adoption in order to rise to the occasion from an economic footing.

Monetary value no longer lies in just coins and notes, but in binary digits, data and code. Technology trends globally are being driven more and more by EQ intelligence as the goal becomes to retain connection rather than numbers. Science has long argued that women are emotionally intelligent than men, and so there is a hidden advantage they have in this Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Zimbabwe and the rest of the world is at a tipping point, where the future of work and life face a very different way of doing things, and women may be at an advantage to utilise their innate ability to adjust, to change, to expand and to grow.

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