We have a chance to build the gender-equal workplaces of the future. Here’s how

Women office

(Adrien Olichon, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, Head of Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum


Will the workplace of the future be a model for gender parity, with women enjoying equal prospects to men in terms of seniority and salary? Or will it be or a worse proposition than the one women face today, where their levels of pay and ability to climb the career ladder remain limited?

Historical trends point to a slow improvement. Our Global Gender Gap Report has for all but one of the past 11 years seen the gap between men and women in the workplace narrow – but at a glacial pace that indicates parity will only be reached 200 years from now.

However, without pre-emptive action now, we may face a scenario in which these slow gains are instead reversed and the white-collar, high-skilled and high-paid gender gap increases. Here’s why: labour markets are undergoing fundamental transformations as technological breakthroughs shift the frontier between the work done by humans and machines.

And while these breakthroughs hold the promise of more, not less work for humans, a significant portion of the 75 million roles that are likely to be displaced are roles currently performed by women. These roles – including bookkeeping, accounting, customer service and administrative roles – have in the past provided middle-class livelihoods, expanded intergenerational mobility and enhanced women’s integration into the labour force. They are now dying out.

The changing jobs landscape is a huge opportunity for embedding gender parity into the workplace

In their place we see new roles such as data scientists, software developers and AI specialists coming to the fore. The challenge is that there are significant gender gaps already evident in many of these growing fields. For example, according to LinkedIn data featured in the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, female professionals make up 22% of professionals with AI skills globally. This is a low ratio, and even though the number of professionals with AI skills has increased, the gap has remained the same since 2015.

The fact that these gaps will not disappear of their own accord means we need wholly new strategies to address a potential future gender gap timebomb. The good news is that we can go a step further. We can in fact turn this moment of flux in labour markets into an opportunity to proactively hardwire gender equality into the future. Now is the perfect time to attempt this. Our 2018 Future of Jobs report found that 54% of employees in large companies will require significant re-and up-skilling. At the same time, companies are facing critical talent shortages as the skills needed to harness new technologies remain in short supply.

 Women are hugely under-represented in the ballooning AI sector

The scale of the changes required presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to design a future in which gender parity is the norm rather than the exception. So how do we build a talent pipeline to ensure female talent is as plentiful as male talent in emerging skills? Both the demand and supply of skills need to be taken into account.

In addition to our broader work on measuring and instilling gender parity globally, we will be developing a new initiative at the World Economic Forum to address the demand side of the equation when it comes to integrating women into the roles of the future. We will work with companies who are already leading the way on gender equality to develop a commitment framework for taking an accelerated, future-oriented approach to gender parity.

The framework proposes that companies analyse their highest growth roles of the future to ensure women are equally represented in all phases of the talent pipeline in these roles. We call on companies from a broad range of industries to commit to reaching parity in recruitment, promotion and retention for their top-five growing professions by 2022. While the challenge that the present and future of work poses to women is much broader than just these roles, this initiative is designed to create a new momentum to accelerate gender parity through a future-readiness lens.

 

We are excited to announce this proposal today on International Women’s Day 2019. Our aim is to bring 50 major multinational companies on board with this approach by International Women’s Day 2020.

But this is just a start, and the initiative is not limited to those who work with the Forum. We invite all organizations – SMEs, schools, universities, the public sector or NGOs – to apply the same approach in their talent pipelines of the future. Together, we can use the upcoming transformation of our workforces to raise our collective ambition level and take concrete steps to build a gender-equal future.

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