The Foresight Factory investigates what

the future of work will look like for

women in a world of flux


Women still shoulder caring responsibilities

Women are still paid less

Women are still less likely to reach the upper echelons

Women still face hostile attitudes from some quarters

Women’s lives are less hamstrung by taboos and stigmas than they have ever been, not least because they are facing less pressure to conform to traditional expectations.

In China in 1990 for example, 58 per cent of women were married by the time they had reached 24, but that figure has now fallen to 35 per cent. Women have more freedom to enter and excel in the workforce than ever before: in OECD member countries, women were 41 per cent of the labour force in 1990, against 44 per cent today. Yet many of the challenges women have always faced in work are still with us.

Overwhelmingly, they still shoulder caring responsibilities, are paid less, are less likely to reach upper echelons, face hostile attitudes from some quarters… the list goes on. Meanwhile, the world of work is in flux. Side hustles and gig work herald a future of more piecemeal and less linear career progression. An army of algorithms is rapidly advancing on the global labour market. AI and automation may well enhance many existing roles but will create work orphans, too.

What does the future of work hold for women – and what are the key trends that employers need to grasp to attract and retain future female talent?

Employers with flex appeal

Women’s position as primary caregivers inevitably has a knock-on effect on their careers, and the redistribution of domestic and family duties remains a work in process. In the UK for example, women spend an average of 25.5 hours a week on chores, compared to just 16 hours for men. Flexible working arrangements, whether that’s a move away from the traditional working week, or enabling greater ability to work remotely, are needed.

Some employers are experimenting with novel approaches, including the adoption of a four-day week, to improve work-life balance as well as worker productivity. The New Zealand trustee company Perpetual Guardian, for example, has adopted a four-day working week as standard policy.

We expect shared parental leave to become more commonplace, as society recognises the benefits of co-parenting. With working families becoming increasingly the norm, we expect to see more employers offering to help bring up baby, too. In November 2018 Goldman Sachs began offering its London employees emergency nannies to look after unwell children, and elderly care for those looking to balance home and work – and to keep employees ontask, of course.

We also expect the culture of side hustles, where workers manage multiple streams of income alongside a primary role, to become more ubiquitous, and for people to develop an altogether more entrepreneurial mindset something we have been tracking for some time in our trend Enterprise Nation. In 2018, 47 per cent of American women aged 16-29 made money outside of their regular source of income.

Employers will come to accept that staff – men and women alike – will have casual outside work interests and want the flexibility to pursue them. There is also a growing acceptance that there is no set route to success, embodied in Sheryl Sandberg’s idea of the ‘jungle gym’ replacing the ‘career ladder’. Will the pressure to ‘have it all’ be replaced by a more honest portrayal of the challenges faced by women in work? This is something we track in our trend Fine to be Fallible, examining where failure is being repositioned as an opportunity for personal growth.

The challenges posed by swiftly moving IT advances are another factor to be considered. Our trend Liquid Skills looks at how reskilling will be an important part of future careers, with employees needing to respond to rapid changes across all sectors. In 2017, 71 per cent of American women agreed that people who are unskilled in technology will find it harder to get a job in the future.

For those women who may choose to take time away from work to raise a family this poses more of a serious challenge. Re-entering work is made more complicated by the skills gap that can open up after time spent outside an industry.

A culture fit for all?

The often overwhelmingly male composition of the C-suite can make the higher echelons of companies feel remote and unfriendly to women. Formalised mentorship schemes can be a powerful tool for career development, and reducing the influence of the ‘old boy’s club’. There are also more insidious ways in which the internal culture of a company can be hostile for women, as #MeToo has shown.

The question is: what action will come from this cultural moment? Women have begun to organise themselves into industry-specific networks to fight against sexism in the workplace, and review sites like InHerSight place pressure on employers to be femalefriendly. We expect that workplaces will take more action internally to become more hospitable places for women.

Robust and transparent HR policies and ensuring that young women’s voices are heard at the highest levels will help. Although pay discrepancy is increasingly publicised, more pro-active initiatives are needed, including radical action to change pay disparity at senior levels in companies. Will there be a willingness from men to ‘check their privilege’ and actively work to address gender disparity in pay and position, even if it comes at personal cost?

Ultimately, we anticipate that future work will increasingly be defined by flexibility. Where, when and how people work will be untethered from the office 9-5, and this should enable women (and men too) to have greater balance in their lives.

However, this won’t mean employers can or should take a hands-off approach.

Women will justifiably expect the support of childcare solutions, as well as plans to re-skill and re-enter the workplace post-childbirth, the mentoring, and a culture that gives them a space to excel. They can and should ‘have it all’.

Future work will increasingly be defined by flexibility

Founded in 1996, Foresight Factory has operated as one of the leading data led trends agency.

As trends started to move faster it needed to be more agile and efficient in how it collects, analyses and reports to its clients. It has invested in new people and new technology to ensure it can continue to provide robust and actionable intelligence on consumers longterm.

Today its trends on automation, engineered empathy and ‘life in beta mode‘ have all helped inform and better understand the world around us.

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