The 21st century has been coined “the female century”. For the first time in history, we see the balance of power significantly shifting. Never in history have women been closer to true equality in both public and private life.
The Good: Workforce participation is at an all-time high: for the first time ever, women in the US make up slightly more than half the workforce. Workforce representation within board and management roles increasing. Globally, women held 24% of senior management roles in 2013, a three-point increase from 2012. The proportion of businesses employing women as CEOs has risen from 9% to 14%. In 2013, the national parliaments of Rwanda (64%), Andorra (50%), Cuba (49%) and Sweden (45%) had the highest proportions of seats held by women. Education is increasingly accessible and supporting girls. Two thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary education (although secondary education for girls still lags behind). In many high-income countries girls have an advantage with regard to access to and completion of education, outnumbering male students at the tertiary level.
The Bad: That is the good news. The bad news is that there are still longstanding structural and systemic barriers holding women – and their businesses – back. Women are still grossly underrepresented in high positions. Globally, only 5% of leadership jobs in the technology sector are held by women. And in the start-up world, only 8% of companies receiving venture capital funding globally are run by women (and these businesses only received 2% of the Venture Capital dollars in 2017). And at our current rate of progress, it will take another 169 years – until 2186 – before the global pay gap between men and women finally closes. Of the 775 million illiterate adults globally, two thirds are women. And whilst female qualities such as interpersonal skills and multitasking are becoming increasingly valued in our post-agrarian society, a 2018 World Economic Forum study predicts that more women’s jobs than men’s are under threat by future automation.
Changing of the Guard: The New Face of Feminism Global trend forecasting firm The Future Laboratory’s “Female Futures” Report 2018 predicts that significant change will now come from a new generation of young women – and men – mobilised by technology and armed with gender-neutral mindset. Referred to as Generation Z, these 17-27 year olds are the most ethnically diverse generation in US history, and their fluid, borderless and egalitarian mentality is creating an entirely new paradigm that is that challenges the traditional male/female divide. Whilst the previous 4 waves of feminism have railed against the existing system of male patriarchy, this next iteration of feminism is rewriting the rules of engagement by circumnavigating existing structures and creating a new level playing field. Founder of Shecosystem Emily Rose Antclick embodies this mindset when she says “Sometimes it’s worth building our own table rather than fighting for a seat at a table where we don’t really want to be in the first place.” Whilst previous rhetoric and action around pay parity and equal opportunity has been essential, The Future Laboratory’s Cultural Strategist Ruth Marshall-Johnson believes “The global economy must be open to the opportunities and innovations that women bring and recompense women fairly for it…. Our perception of what and who can deliver high growth is blown wide open when everyone is granted access to entrepreneurial tools, opportunity and spirit.” She believes, and their research is showing, that technology is the single biggest catalyst to achieving true gender parity.
Sisters are doing it for themselves: As personal technology becomes increasingly powerful and connected, it is predicted that we will see an explosion of female-friendly virtual support networks. “Over the next decade, the emergence of AI- and VR-powered mobile devices will empower women in developed economies to run businesses, train and seek mentorship anywhere and at any time to nourish their entrepreneurial instincts”. Women will use these trends to recalibrate, re-organise and redefine what it means to be an entrepreneur around a new set of priorities that will force governments and businesses to sweep away old ideas of power, diversity, fluidity and privilege.
The Way Forward: Through extensive research, interviews, trend analysis and ‘cultural triangulation’, The Future Laboratory positions a blueprint of five bold and radical changes to the way that the next generation of women are educated, and financially and emotionally supported and mentored.
- Equal Education: In a world of work facing future waves of automation and digital disruption, everyone will need lifelong learning and retraining from childhood into old age. Girls will need to be put on an equal footing with boys as both are taught how to do business as a core life skill for what looks likely to be a radically freelance future. This includes teaching the language of innovation, investment and entrepreneurialism. Co-founder and creative entrepreneur Molly Logan of The School of Doodle agrees that “Rather than trying to change the world to support girls, it’s more efficient to support girls so they can change the world”.
- ‘Fempreneur’ Investment: The venture capital sector is overwhelmingly white and male, with women only making up 11% of investment partners. Female-only investment funds and funding mechanisms that encourage women to invest, such as digital assets platform Ellevest, are a good start. But men must get the message that investing in women-owned and women-run businesses is a win-win proposition because, as research shows, they are often the most competitive, successful and profitable. Big banks and other financial institutions must lead the way.
- Open the echo chambers: The Future Laboratory urges us to dispense with the notion of building women-only groups and clubs because, whilst they were an important starting point for many current female entrepreneurs, they have outlived their purpose and cannot lead to the most optimistic female future. Men must be invited, and welcomed, to work with women to overcome the real-world obstacles that block women from an equal economic inclusivity in the world of work. Everyone will benefit in the longer term.At the same time, women need to redouble their efforts to give their younger sisters a hand up the career ladder as they progress themselves. Connecting, mentoring and sharing their experience – and promoting women – will have far more practical impact than writing books on female empowerment, or speaking on inspirational panels.
- Go gender-neutral: The teenagers of Generation Z assume gender equality as a starting position, and regard talk of diversity as an admission of an unequal system trying to correct itself. Business needs to take a lead from this young demographic and start talking about feminine and masculine qualities rather than about gender per se. This is the route to valuing in both sexes what are traditionally seen as soft, feminine qualities, and thus putting women entrepreneurs on a level playing field with their male counterparts.
- Adopt a new growth agenda: We must accept a broader sense of business KPI’s and responsibility that continues to encompass investor and shareholder expectations, but also embraces the future of the environment, and even the planet. Only then can a business create the sustainable and authentic growth that a female future will demand. Emotional and personal growth will need their own metrics in a female future, and that means businesses must adopt new values around being family-orientated, patient, long-term and equal.
The Benefits Gender parity is not just a moral but an economical imperative. Advances in female equality could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025, according to McKinsey. Women will control three-quarters of the world’s discretionary spending by 2028, according to Ernst & Young’s Growing Beyond – High Achievers report. Women in the board room boosted company return on equity by 36% between 2010 and 2015. According to the United Nation’s A new global partnership report, “Women who are safe, healthy, educated and empowered to realise their potential can transform their families, their communities, their economies and their societies, and should play a much more equal role in shaping world events as we move through the 21st century”. This is a future we can all be part of. Footnotes:  Andrew Miller, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Op-Ed essay, 2011, http://dev.yalejournal.org/op-ed_post/op-ed-the-female-century/  United States Department of labour, Women in the labour force 2010, https://www.dol.gov/wb/factsheets/qf-laborforce-10.htm  Grant Thornton International Business Report (2013). Women in senior management: setting the stage for growth  Grant Thornton International Business Report (2013). Women in senior management: setting the stage for growth  World Bank (2013). Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%)  World Economic Forum (2014). Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches, pg 25  Girls Who Code Annual Report 2016, https://girlswhocode.com/2016report/  Zarya, Valentina, Female Founders Got 2% of Venture Capital Dollars in 2017, Fortune Magazine, January 31, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/01/31/female-founders-venture-capital-2017/  World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2016  UNICEF (2013). Envisioning education in the post-2015 development agenda.  World Economic Forum Insight Report, Towards a Reskilling Revolution A Future of Jobs for All, January 2018, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_FOW_Reskilling_Revolution.pdf  (*Made up of 47% ethnic minorities), US Census Bureau 2016, https://www.census.gov/topics/population.html  The Future Laboratory, Female Futures Report 2017, https://www.thefuturelaboratory.com/reports/female-futures-report-2017  Veghte, Ben & Muciscko, Dan, Deloitte & National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, https://nvca.org/pressreleases/new-survey-reflects-lack-women-minorities-senior-investment-roles-venture-capital-firms/  Noland, Moran, & Kotschwar, Peterson Institute for International Economics: Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey, 2016, https://piie.com/publications/wp/wp16-3.pdf  UN (2013). A new global partnership: Eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development, pg 35.