gender-balance and the Future of Work

Photo: Julia Shaw (Zukunft Personal Europe)

The 2018 edition of Zukunft Personal Europe has come to an end, and for the next few months, we will be bringing you an account of the many highlights the packed 3-day event had to offer to visitors. In this first article, we are focusing on the role and place of women in the future of work, digitalisation and also the other side of the coin: human resources and human potential.

According to a Deloitte study, in Europe, women make up 45% of the workforce and yet, only 11% are corporate executives. Integrating more women into both the labour market and decision-making roles contributes to enhanced innovation capacity, better corporate governance, better market opportunities and an increase in the overall business performance of companies.

During the three-days, many women entrepreneurs were represented among the fair exhibitors and a good percentage of female professionals, researchers, and founders took the floor at the Keynote stage. The presentations they delivered contributed to the overall success of the event by providing interesting content, thought-provoking, and relevant information and insight. Moreover, many discussions and presentations were about the labour-market integration of women in the context of the future of work, which is a great sign, that more and more HR professionals, employers and service providers are conscious about the benefits of equality.

What are the strategic business arguments in favour of making progress towards gender balance? How can changing the culture of the organisation attract a more diverse pool of talents? Who are some of these women influencing the future of work?

Digitalisation as an opportunity for women in leadership

Women are still clearly under-represented in the leading positions of the German corporate world, as less than 20% of board positions are currently held by women. Some of the reasons for this are known, but not all the barriers. Could digitalisation be an opportunity to make significant progress in advancing women in leadership?

A panel discussion was held on the Keynote stage, “Equal Opportunities for Leadership Positions in the Digital Age” where five professionals from diverse sectors discussed the topic. Refreshingly, the panel was composed of men and women, who both added their specific area of expertise.

Regina Mehler, Founder of 1st Row and the Women Speaker Foundation, stressed the importance for women to be seen and heard. This often has to start with women understanding their own strengths and unique talents, what are they offering to the world, and then capturing this in personal branding. Her advice to women was: speak up! Make yourself heard! Women are sometimes holding themselves back, and then it’s also the role of team-leaders to create the space, where everyone can be seen and heard.

Women are sometimes holding themselves back, and then it’s also the role of team-leaders to create the space, where everyone can be seen and heard. Click To Tweet

Thomas Uhle, Head of the department for the personnel management of civilian personnel at the Bundeswehr (the German Armed Forces) gave an insight into their HR practices, particularly, as they also have issues with attracting women. According to his experience what works best are clearly structured career planning, transparent promotion of talent, flexible working options that make it possible to reconcile work and family life not only on paper, and last but not least courage to creative solutions. A rather unexpected image of the Bundeswehr, the unified armed forces of Germany, which show that mentalities are changing and some organisations are taking concrete measures to improve how work is organised.

Panel Discussion gender balance

Photo: Panel Discussion (Zukunft Personal Europe)

Thomas Uhle is responsible for 70,000 civilian employees of the German Armed Forces “of which 40 percent are women.” Among them, however, similarly to the civilian economy “not so many” have come into management positions”.

Another solution is to break away from outdated forms of work and introduce the possibility of working remotely. Thomas Uhle added that the work should be organised so that it can be done at a place and time that suits the employees best. This way, women who are on parental leave or have to take care of their family members, can be integrated back into their work processes more effectively. In addition, the Bundeswehr offers regular newsletters and further training courses for employees during parental leave.

Digital technologies offer the communication tools we need to foster teamwork and interaction in the era of flexible work, which also offers new opportunities for women. Digitalisation can be definitely used to improve equality and diversity in organisations, but it won’t happen by itself. The tools and devices need to be accompanied by the right policies and change of mindset.

Applying AI to make advances in the #metoo era

The visitors and participants also had the opportunity to meet the amazing women, who are driving some of the developments in AI and digitalisation, developing innovative products and solutions, which are contributing to taking Human Resources to the 21st century.

Among them, Dr. Julia Shaw, memory scientist, and one of the keynote speakers, known for her work in the areas of memory and criminal psychology, speaker and author of two books – The Memory Illusion and Making Evil. Her startup TalktoSpot is applying AI, chatbots and digital tools to help victims of harassment record and report the incidents. According to Julia, understanding how memories are formed is important in the workplace and for HR.

“Don’t trust your memory. If someone asks you if you can remember something, say no. Write it down.”

You can watch our interview with Dr Julia Shaw here:


Dr. Shaw presented her latest research, which is at the intersection of memory, AI, and HR, showing us how we can better remember important life events, including emotional events like harassment or bullying, that can happen at work. Based on the latest cognitive science, her studies show how we can harness the potential of artificial intelligence to capture events more accurately, by taking them from the human brain to the artificial brain – and thus avoiding that memories are coloured by emotion, which may distort reality.

Memory is important in the workplace because we have to remember many things, like meetings, colleagues’ names, and basically what we are doing in our day to day business. For HR professionals, in particular, there is the challenge of conducting conversations and interviews on issues that are emotionally charged, where employees have to speak about their emotional memories, which can be a very sensitive issue.

Dr. Julia Shaw is the co-founder of Spot, a cognitive interview bot that allows people to create and record of inappropriate workplace behaviour while it is fresh in their minds. It improves the quantity and quality of what potential victims of harassment remember and is available 24/7. When people talk to spot they can identify themselves or stay anonymous, cut out details they don’t want to share, and send a certified report from the Spot email address. At work, there are a lot of emotions as well, and if harassment happens with power distance, it is more difficult to talk about it.

Confiding in someone takes a lot of courage, and for the person to be ready to talk. Making an interview with Spot can help people assess their experiences in case they are not ready to talk to a “real person” by staying anonymous. It also gives the further choice to either keeping it private or reporting what happened. The more people managers familiarise themselves with the science of how memories are formed and stored, the more they can improve their company culture and people policies, and they can embrace a number of digital tools for this.

Women at the forefront of the digital revolution

Heidi Moser

Photo: Heidi Moser (Zukunft Personal Europe)

Luckily, society has evolved and women are taking their place in decision-making positions. For women, being a high-potential employee is not just about the competences and the knowledge of how to sell themselves, it is also understanding and taking their place in the workplace and building credibility. Nonetheless, companies are instrumental in changing their cultures to adapt to the changing labour market.

Aya Jaff, is a role model for young female talent. At only 23, she is the founder and CEO of CoDesign Factory GmbH, where she develops not only innovative products but also services for companies, advising them on their digitalisation journey. Aya has a remarkable background as an entrepreneur, innovator, speaker and was dubbed “Mrs Code” by the Zeit magazine, and is one of the most well-known female programmers in Germany.

During her time as a coder, Aya has worked for different startups and companies in Silicon Valley, Madrid, and Hamburg and has gained a lot of insight in startups and corporate world. She is the real proof of our changing society, more and more women are actors in the digital world and her company has access to generations Y and Z.

For women, being a high-potential employee is not just about the competences and the knowledge of how to sell themselves, it is also understanding and taking their place in the workplace and building credibility. Click To Tweet

Another highlight at the #ZPEurope2018 was the presentation of Barbara Wittmann, Senior Director Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, who gave an inspiring talk about the ever-changing environment and how to lead high-performing teams. There is a lot of talk about the war for talent, and Barbara highlighted what this means for the individual organisations, and how AI can help with strategic talent management and recruitment.

Dirk Muller, CEO at Schacht One and Heidi Moser, HR Manager at Ratioform gave an interesting speech together. They underlined that the challenge of the digital transformation is not exclusively and purely in the digital sphere, but especially in the organisational cultural context. Organisations will have to make a step forward to change their corporate cultures and the traditional behaviours, because the pressure to adapt is enormous.

Making the world a better place

Talent, empathy, and leadership coming together are the key ingredients for successful projects. Taking to the keynote stage on the third day, Dr. Auma Obama, Founder and Director of Sauti Kuu Foundation, presented how these values and key ingredients can drive forward projects with a great social and economic impact.

“Use what you have to get what you need”

Applying the – use what you have to get what you need – principle, the Foundation teaches young people to become aware of and use the resources available locally to empower them. SKF offers young people a special space to help them experiment and develop their talent and potential. Through her many years of experience in development work, Dr. Obama has learnt that when young people are given an opportunity to improve their life situation, they will use it and make it become a reality with the necessary degree of self-confidence. The foundation regards creating possibilities and prospects for young people to learn what they need, to be able to do what they want, as their fundamental task.

 “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” – Kofi Annan

Photo Auma Obama

Photo: Auma Obama (Zukunft Personal Europe)

Having attended many of the above-highlighted talks we came to the conclusion that taking responsibility for our own professional and personal lives and becoming actors in the changing world of work will be indispensable, but also more difficult in the future. There are still a lot of deep-rooted beliefs in society and also at the workplace about the role of women at work and in leadership positions, which need to be broken down and contested. Some decision-making processes and behaviours in the context of work and business are still hindering women from achieving not only their own potential but also contributing to their organisations achieving their full potential. HR professionals do bare a lot of responsibility in challenging unconscious bias and stereotypes and evolving the organisational culture.

About the author:

Photo Isabelle WalczakIsabelle Walczak is a consultant in cross-cultural management and work-life balance. She is a researcher and social media specialist at the WorkLife HUB. She studied international trade and intercultural communication in France and Germany. She has over 8 years of experience abroad in negotiating with European partners. Human-centred, she is also a Pilates and Yoga instructor, passionate about health and well-being.

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