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Gender parity at work: Accelerate evolution and ignite revolution

By Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

anant maheshwari, president, microsoft indiaLike recent years, the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report reinforces hope. Parity between genders is increasing across educational attainment and economic participation and opportunity. For the first time, India has recorded absolutely no gender gap in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

This is encouraging, but there’s a lot more to be done!

At the workplace, gender parity continues to be an issue and is getting increasing attention. Most successful and forward-looking organizations track gender representations at entry, mid and senior levels and are making earnest efforts to address imbalances. These trends show progress but take a long time to show game-changing impact because traditional skills and jobs in the workplace need significant absolute numbers to address the imbalance. However, we live in a unique time: the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. For disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), a completely new set of skills are needed that are not readily available in existing workforces – these skills need to be created afresh. And that’s the opportunity! Differentiated focus on traditional and emerging skill needs can provide us with new ways to create gender parity at work.

First, we need to Accelerate Evolution for organizations to make gender parity an enabler of business success. Business environments are rapidly shifting as tech intensity deepens across all industries. Diverse leadership perspectives are critical for organizations to navigate such turbulent times and higher gender balance in leadership teams is a critical enabler for this diversity to become real. There is an urgent need therefore to accelerate evolution of gender balance in leadership teams. This has also been proven to be a driver of accelerating the gender balance change across all other levels in organizations.

As new skills come into high demand for the emerging world of AI, it is a unique opportunity to jump-start this journey with a good gender balance in the early stages. It is the opportunity to Ignite a Revolution of new skills. Gender diversity is critical to creating more robust AI capabilities minus inherent biases. The 2018 Global Gender Gap Report uses LinkedIn data to identify gender trends in AI skills: women outnumber men in text analytics, text mining, speech recognition, Natural Language Processing; while men are ahead in neural networks, deep learning, machine learning and pattern recognition. It is therefore a unique opportunity for all organizations and technology ecosystems to drive concerted efforts for gender parity in all these skill sets. Since a large number of people will get trained in these AI skills in the near future, these early emerging trends and current imbalances can be rapidly addressed and we can lay the foundations of a gender balanced future for AI and emerging tech intensity.

The implications of this Evolution and Revolution are different across the organization levels. For boards and senior leadership teams, it is critical to rapidly address gender parity at senior levels for organizations to influence and harness talent pools with emerging skill sets. As they identify and appoint future leaders, many organizations already look for experience in managing diversity. Therefore, for mid-level managers, it is important to ensure structured networks with diverse gender peers and to create gender diverse teams. These experiences and skills are likely to support career growth. Early career professionals should recognize that the future of the workplace is likely to be very different in the next 10-20 years and the skill sets they will need to lead will change rapidly in the world of deepening tech intensity. Hence, seeking team experiences with gender diverse peers will be a key enabler of their future success.

Irrespective of which role we play in the organization, there is an urgent need for each of us to understand the impact of gender diversity at the workplace. Having the right mindset is key to making progress on this journey. Rethinking our unconscious biases can lead us to not just debunking myths around gender stereotypes but also help create fresh building blocks for truly inclusive workplaces of the future. Each of us needs to accelerate our own skills evolution to ready ourselves for the emerging world. Only then can we ignite the revolution to balance and better the world.