The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could hurt women’s careers and widen the gender gap. This main headline from last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) presents a challenging road ahead on our mission to accelerate gender balanced leadership. Let’s collectively change that paradigm. Let’s turn this rapidly evolving digital society into an enabler of female leadership. We believe in the opportunities for women in the digital economy.
Gender parity again was on the agenda in Davos but perhaps less prominently than in previous years. Mercer took the lead and celebrated their 5th anniversary of When Women Thrive. While the latest Global Gender Gap report from WEF might paint a disturbing picture of gender equality having stalled, Pat Milligan of Mercer claims this Fourth Industrial Revolution gives women renewed opportunity. And we agree when she says diversity and inclusion has moved from a tangential discussion confined to HR, or Employee or Business Resource Groups, to an essential discussion among business leaders defining and building their workforce for the future.
Increasingly we are seeing that organizations are yielding results, because gender diversity is on the strategic agenda, and because the digital economy provides potential to develop and implement bespoke solutions. The shift to ‘bespoke’ is one that is encouraging, as it takes us away from the rather naïve notion of a ‘one size fits all’ solution to gender inequality, and it shows the real commitment of business leaders to get it right.
And when done well, the results are remarkable. Sodexo is well known for its enormous commitment to ‘getting it right’. Their latest insights show how bespoke the effort needs to be to reap business potential. They have shown in their case management teams need to have between 40 and 60% women, no more, no less. When they do hit the right number, all metrics go up significantly. For instance: 8% higher operating margins, 9% higher client retention rates, 14% higher employee satisfaction compared to those management teams that are gender balanced. These insights would not have been possible without digital technology.
Digital therefore can be an enabler of gender balanced leadership for business. If we are aware of and aim to fix the biases in Artificial Intelligence (AI) – as WEF cautions us: with the significantly higher percentage of men in tech roles, there is bias in programming – we can use data and digital tools to improve recruitment, retention and talent management. And let’s not forget how technology is also helping women themselves in having a better work-life balance, allowing for more flexibility, more effective time management and therefore higher productivity.
Female ambition and business culture are increasingly becoming two sides of the same coin, and particularly when we use digital technology to deliver on bespoke solutions. And the good news is that we see many men who want to play a part in supporting women and gender balanced leadership in the digital era. At WEF it was JP Morgan’s chief Jamie Dimon who stood up and addressed men’s reluctance to directly engage with women. “If you are a leader, you cannot do that”, he said passionately. We know a growing number of male leaders who share this thinking and are eagerly anticipating the positive road forward.
Sonya Richardson, Partner Spark for Growth and President Professional Women’s Network Global