By Fateme Banishoeib
Technology, automation, virtual reality and innovation are shaking the world of business more than in any previous industrial revolution. Machines have been taking our jobs for centuries. Yet, today, we assist to a faster pace at which machines increasingly replace humans in performing tasks in and outside the workplace. Data show that 47% of the US labor force could be replaced by robots in the next 20 years. China has already overtaken Japan as the world’s biggest consumer of robots with 37,000 units sold only on the Chinese market in 2014.
It feels like experiencing a scenario from a Sci-Fi film where the march of technology and artificial intelligence becomes more powerful than humans, seeking to assert control over mankind. Today it is no longer fiction, as companies increasingly use robots on production lines or algorithms to optimize and carry out core business functions.
There are people who argue that this is just another industrial revolution that could allow society to be more productive and give employees in the workplace the opportunity to really fulfill their potential and do more exciting, creative and satisfying work. Tolerance, inclusion and embracing diversity will all take on fresh meaning as new policies, guidelines, values, behaviors and ways of working develop.
We need to shift away from the gender stereotypes (e.g. men working and women staying at home in certain societies). When we think of effective innovation we visualize communities with high levels of connectivity, communication, and collaborative sharing. Those are stereotypical feminine traits. So, let me ask: “Is the AI revolution the era of the feminine?”
The current culture favors the masculine traits in leadership simply because the world of business has been designed by men indeed. As a result, we recognize and reward masculine leadership and marginalize the contributions of feminine leadership. Advocating for women to “lean in” a “man’s world” hasn’t helped to completely close the gender gap, rather it has come at a high psychological and physiological cost. Many women drop out of the leadership track or start their own businesses where they can dictate their own terms. And even in these circumstances, those women who have pursued the leadership track face significant bias (both conscious and unconscious).
“Femininity is the operating system of twenty-first century progress. Women—and the men who can think like them—are creating a future we’ll all want to inhabit” John Gezerma.
We live in a global, interconnected and interdependent world. This requires increasingly long term solutions, collaborative strategies and creativity. When it comes to thinking clearly about the skills future generations must prioritize and cultivate to stay relevant, this is what data show:
- Empathy: Being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
- Vulnerability: Showing and owning up to one’s limitations and asking for help.
- Humility: Seeking to serve others and to share credit.
These skills not only are unique to the human species (they differentiate us from robots) but are also the traits people report to admire the most in leaders who have inspired them. And these are also typically associated to feminine. Labeling traits as masculine or feminine reflects popular perception rather than evidence-based fact.
As women we have trained for centuries in seamlessly keeping and balancing family household and businesses. They manage crisis and change and are turnaround experts. For one moment I ask you to forget about the number of women on your team, and instead go talk to them about feminine traits in leadership. Are you comfortable discussing this? Are these women comfortable talking about it, and do they give their definition of what feminine traits looks like in the workplace?
I do not think we can close the gender gap by counting how many female CEOs there are in the world. There is only one way to reach equality and that is inclusion – inclusion of both feminine and male traits into a business model that values those traits as equally important and necessary in a leader, regardless of gender.
I believe that the strategic advantage of the organizations of the future is in humanizing business. While there is no clear road map for what lies ahead of us the most critical next step in our pursuit of the future of business is to agree on an ethical and empathetic framework for its design.
My take away is simple: whatever the work is, do it with authenticity and integrity. After all it means embracing both the feminine and masculine within us. It might seem stating the obvious but it must be stated again and again. We all hold in our hands this responsibility.
Fateme Banishoeib is a strategic leadership consultant for teams and organizations seeking transformational change. Her specialty is creating cultures of innovation and inclusion. She understands corporate environments from having spent years leading them as a Fortune 500 executive. Fateme is the founder of ReNEWBusiness a think tank and consulting firm that helps leaders architect their organizations for innovation, inclusivity and integrity. A published poet, her latest book “The Whisper”, charts the journey from leadership of self to leadership of others.
Twitter: @ReNEwBusiness & @FBANISHOEIB