Mind The Gap: Women And The Future Of Work

Today we spend on average 90,300 hours working but, come 2046, what place will 'work' hold in our lives, if any? And, crucially, what role will women have in the workplace? Will the glass ceiling be finally smashed to pieces?

Today we spend on average 90,300 hours working but, come 2046, what place will 'work' hold in our lives, if any? And, crucially, what role will women have in the workplace? Will the glass ceiling be finally smashed to pieces? We know that technology is already radically reshaping the very nature of work, however, what this means economically and culturally remains unclear.

Recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) into the gender pay gap revealed that on average women in paid work receive about 18 per cent less per hour than men. The IFS also found that the gap balloons after women have children, raising the prospect that mothers are missing out on pay rises and promotions. That is echoed by a separate report by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and XpertHR that suggests that male managers are 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted.

We need to stop putting women's career and life pathways in a box and saying 'well it would be the same for men' - it's simply not the case and these studies show that. Whether it's men or women, if they become a parent with responsibility for child-care and are stepping back from a career - but wish to continue working and prospering - then it's important that companies value and recognise the skill and experience. They should make it possible for them to work flexible hours and be eligible for the same development opportunities and pay rises as those continuing to work full-time.

Granted, the situation is gradually improving; we should mark the lower rate - that the gap in average hourly wages between male and female employees has been falling over the past two decades - and welcome the government's statement that the gender pay gap is the lowest on record. Yet, given the plethora of programmes and schemes currently underway with a focus on female empowerment and innovative thinking, the situation on the whole remains very disappointing.

I support government's plans to push ahead with legislation to force businesses to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gap but, much more needs to be done - and faster. At InspirEngage International, we train women who have lost their confidence to launch their own social enterprises, helping women understand their worth and their skills. We run a programme called 'Startup & Stilettos: The Future is Female', and one of the key lessons we've learned is that often it is only by being in business - or being self-employed - that many women can create their own rules.

As well as challenging employers, we also need to focus on working women and entertain the thought that it may just be a 'it's not you, it's me' situation! An important factor in addressing the wage gap is giving women the confidence to ask to be paid what they're worth. Research has shown that women's ambition dips later in their careers where men's grows as they continue in theirs - how far is this the product of women's own choices and how much is it the result of being systemically undervalued? Unfortunately, letting this norm continue is damaging businesses - diversity can not only lead to better financial results, but also a better working culture for all staff.

By 2025, millennials will account for 75 per cent of the global workforce. Over 50 per cent of this group will be female (Forbes). Companies around the globe report that retaining millennial women 5-10 years out of university (around the age of 30) is one of their most pressing talent issues (ICEDR). At InspirEngage, we are working with companies to address this, and seen that matching ambition with productivity and connecting a personal sense of purpose with the company vision, is a defining factor in how people are making career decisions today and shaping whether companies manage to successfully retain their talented workforce or not.

Ultimately, the world of work is changing fast and we need to take heed of trends like these now. In five years from now, over one-third of the skills that are considered important in today's workforce will have changed. By 2020, the fourth industrial revolution will have transformed the way we live and the way we work - advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning will be a mainstay in the workplace. These developments will invariably hit women's employment and earnings the hardest.

At FutureFest 2016, hosted by innovation foundation Nesta, I'll be looking at how we can address this gap. To me, there should be no limit on a person's ambition or what they can achieve, regardless of gender but we need to prepare for the future workforce and begin shaping the skills needed in our young generation now. My argument is that change will continue to happen slowly unless we are more willing restructure the labour market to allow skilled and ambitious women - particularly mothers - to thrive.

Melody Hossaini will be speaking at FutureFest 2016 (17-18 September) at London's Tobacco Dock. For tickets, visit: www.futurefest.org

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