It was a case of tomorrow arriving today at Chicago Booth’s London campus this month as it hosted the third annual Women’s Conference in partnership with BritishAmerican Business (BAB). From the role of AI to the jobs of the future, ageism to female empowerment, the Tomorrow’s World, Tomorrow’s People event featured an agenda as jam-packed as the audience of students, alumni and business leaders in attendance.
At the helm was moderator Iain Anderson, executive chairman of communications and market research firm Cicero and a longtime champion of diversity. And while the topics covered were fascinatingly varied, a common theme burned brightly throughout: How do organisations prepare themselves for the workplace of the future?
Of course, much will rely on their ability to embrace the myriad modern technologies currently driving change more rapidly than at any other time in history. Yet alongside this tech revolution, what about the people? As we heard throughout the conference, a diverse and digitally-savvy workplace requires an equally diverse and digitally-savvy workforce. For Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, the first Asian chief executive of a FTSE 250 company, building it requires action, not just words.
“Businesses and governments are very good at talking about supporting diversity and inclusion, but they need to actually do something too,” she explained. “A great place to start is hiring policy. Recruiters should demand diverse shortlists and seek candidates who are different, not people who ‘fit.’”
It was a point picked up by Linda Jojo, executive vice president, technology, and chief digital officer at United Airlines. “Diversity isn’t only what you see,” she reminded us. “It’s about a mix of backgrounds, skills, and ideas. That’s how you drive innovation and create better experiences for employees and customers alike.”
Indeed, here, consensus was broad. To create a multiskilled workforce able to succeed in tomorrow’s world, we must first tackle existing biases around age, disability, race, and gender—right down to ensuring such factors don’t affect how we “train” AI technologies to augment our work.
As for who should be driving the change, both Julie Morton, associate dean of career services and corporate relations at Chicago Booth, and Mary Bright, senior manager in the office of the CEO, at insurance provider Aviva UK, agreed it’s all about collective responsibility.
“The main duty lies with leadership to be open and progressive, but employees need to raise their hands and be part of the solution too,” said Morton. “That might be through practices like reverse-mentoring or by having the confidence to take a risk and go for roles they want.”
For women, this advice is especially pertinent. As we heard during the panel discussion, female candidates tend to apply for a job only if they meet at least 95 percent of the qualifications required, while men happily apply with just 50 percent, assuming they will gain the rest along the way. Overcoming this requires a mindset shift among women themselves. As Steve Lewis, head of global strategic accounts, search, staffing, and RPO EMEA for business networking platform LinkedIn, put it: “Keep yourself in permanent beta, always ready to learn and move on to what’s next.” Meanwhile for businesses, it’s about giving every employee the conditions needed to arrive and thrive.
“Don’t recruit a safe choice,” counselled Bright. “And instead of hiring jobs for one person, think in terms of full-time employment roles that could be filled by multiple people working part time.”
It’s one of many ideas we heard that, when put like that, sound like a no-brainer. But is such transformation really possible? Can organisations truly create gender, race and socioeconomic parity today to build a better, fairer tomorrow? “Of course,” assured Morton. “The key is never to underestimate our own unconscious bias—and always challenge it. The more we hold ourselves accountable, the more we can change.”
“For me, diversity education has to start for children when they are very young if change is going to happen. It was very inspiring to hear about some of the ways we can do that.” —Lyubomira Mihaylova, managing director at IT consultancy and software developer ScaleFocus UK
—By Booth Staff
January 8, 2018