Robots at work before gender equality
Last week I spoke at Accenture’s International Woman’s Day conference. It was a great event, with a bunch of really interesting speakers. I’d been asked to speak on disruption, in particular the disruption that technology causes in business (I wrote in an earlier blog about the emergence of disruptive business giants).
While I was planning what to say, one of the organisers said to me “we’ll have robots in the workplace before we have gender equality”. Well, we haven’t got gender equality yet but we already have plenty of robots in the workplace, probably far more than most of the audience realised. They do audit, they write legal documents, they write press releases, they supervise people, they drive cars.
There’s even a Hong Kong VC company, Deep Knowledge Ventures, that has appointed an algorithm to its board with an equal vote. Intelligent automation is taking over many of the jobs that we currently regard as being only possible to be done by trained and intelligent people; the jobs of lawyers, of accountants, of architects and of doctors. Most companies are “automating everything they can automate” yet are still following the organisational and hiring policies that they used in the old world. Technology is already disrupting business in ways that people do not understand and are certainly not planning for.
Does gender equality matter in disrupted businesses?
So in this new emerging world does gender equality really matter?
Well I think it does, probably more than ever. However, I also think that the debate needs to move on. There is far too much declaiming that we need women in senior and junior roles in business without any real explanation or understanding of why that is a good thing.
If you ask the “why?”question, you often get a very blank look and the reasons often come down to “it’s fair” or “it’s a good thing”.
While fairness is important we need sound business reasons to back up the argument. The real reason that we need more diversity in the workplace is that it improves performance. There are plenty of studies now that show that the more diversity there is in a team the better that team performs. McKinsey’s recent report The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth.
But we are now in a place where the debate needs to move on beyond the need to have more women in the workplace. The 2015 Women on Boards Lord Davies report was a five year review and showed that the number of women on boards in the UK had doubled to 26% in the five year period. However, the majority of these are white, middle-aged women. They bring some diversity of thinking to the boards of white middle-aged men but still nothing like enough.
A workplace where robots do 50% of professional jobs will be a very different workplace. New jobs will be created but they will be very different from today’s jobs and will need different skills, different thinking, different approaches to innovation. As the workplace changes we need a mix of skills more than ever, to get those we need diversity at all levels.
We need diversity of gender because women do see the world differently from men; we need ethnic diversity because different heritages can bring different perspectives; we need diversity of nationality because we live in a global world and teams need to be as global as possible to understand the markets they operate in; and especially we need diversity of age because the young grasp technology change the fastest.
Yes, we need diversity because it is fair and fairness is important but above all we need diversity because diverse thinking delivers competitive edge and in the end, more profitable businesses.