Sarah Willingham, Photo credit: Sarah Willingham
While leaders like Arianna Huffington or Deborah Meaden are rightly celebrated, women are not progressing quickly enough in business. Despite the great steps that have been made, the future prospects for women in the boardroom are still troubling.
Here’s why: the latest World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report shows women lagging behind men, politically and economically, also exhibiting a desperately slow entry into the business technology of the future – artificial intelligence (AI). WEF’s report identifies a 77% gender disparity in political empowerment and a 41% gap in economic participation and opportunity. As a result there are just 17 women as heads of state across the 149 countries assessed, with women occupying a mere 34% of managerial positions.
The implications of a gender gap are wide ranging. The report noted that this gap has “remained constant over the last years and does not at present indicate a positive future trend.” It risks AI becoming gendered from its inception, undermines IT talent pools and risks short-changing the very skills AI is supposed to encourage among tomorrow’s workforce namely, creativity, empathy and communication. That’s not to say men aren’t brilliant at these things too but if female business leaders are to be effective, we must have an equal stake in shaping industry 4.0, characterised by next-generation digital connectivity.
And industry 4.0 is already here. From Monday April 1 businesses with a taxable turnover of over £85,000 will have to file their tax digitally using HMRC compatible cloud-accounting software. HMRC facilitation partner Xero estimates that 1.1 million UK SMBs will be initially affected by the legislation called Making Tax Digital for VAT. Traditionally women occupy fewer senior roles in finance but the new technology can enable more female business owners to use digital transformation to their advantage, bringing their skills into more boardrooms.
There are positive signs for future female entrepreneurs. The WEF report found that on average, 65% of girls and 66% of boys have enrolled in secondary education globally and 39% women and 34% of men are in higher education. And according to The World Innovation Study for Education there are more women working in core STEM professions than ever in the UK: 61,430 more women work in core STEM in 2017 than in 2016. Now that’s progress.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity for women to come together around a common purpose – equality. It’s also indeed an opportunity to look forward to new opportunities and the technology now exists for business women to pursue their dreams across every sector.