Using digital tech for a fair Future of work

Throughout 2020 we have all had numerous conversations about how the pandemic has exposed rifts and inequalities in public health and the economy all over the world. Workplaces have not been exempt and unemployment rates have been soaring. In December 2020 the US economy lost 140,000 jobs – with 156,000 women finding themselves out of work at a time while men gained 16,000 jobs in the same period.

We can no longer afford to spend time discussing these inequalities, we need to take action especially as digital technology offers us the opportunity to not only step into a fair inclusive future of work. Digital tech allows us to leap into it and grow a successful enterprise. For over a decade now, research has been confirming that proactive steps to advance gender equality could add $13tn to the global GDP by 2030. Moreover, organisations in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the lowest quartile. Organisations with greater leadership diversity out-innovate and out-perform those that do not, and are 70 percent more likely to capture new markets. In addition to the needs and demands of a productive economy, 86 percent of job seekers say workplace diversity is an important factor when considering a potential employer.

While enterprises wanting to be successful have been slowly taking steps to address inequalities within their workforce, the current pace just isn’t fast enough. Before the COVID-19 crisis the World Economic Forum predicted that at current rates of progress it will take 257 years to close the economic gender gap. Not an acceptable number.

“By inputting some basic data on gender, wages, location and yearly revenue, companies get instant insights into the impact on GDP”

This is where digital technology can come to the rescue. I’ve been working in the space of using data science to address pay equity for over five years, and it works. True to the well known phrase ‘what gets managed gets done’, we see organisations make significant progress when they measure workforce distribution and pay equity continuously.

In addition to a company view, the global picture is equally important. At the end of January 2021, our partners the Female Quotient and Citi launched a new free tool to find out how closing pay gaps will impact global economies. The Advancing Equality Calculator fosters transparency around the gender wage gap, helping organisations calculate their raw pay gap and, ultimately, better serve society. By inputting some basic data on gender, wages, location and yearly revenue, companies get instant insights into the impact on GDP if they were to accelerate equality. Better yet, they get direct insight into how accelerated equality will improve their bottom line.

With this starting point in mind, digital tech can take us further and has the potential to change the entire employment landscape, reshaping recruitment, occupational segregation, flexible working and other areas which currently create disparities between gender, ethnicity, disability and other personal characteristics. Here is how we can leap forward:

1. Measure diversity and inclusion

We are all getting used to measuring diversity. It’s becoming common practice to set targets for representation at interviews, or even targets for representations in certain departments going forward. But as diversity advocate Verna Myers puts it: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” And technology can help measure inclusion so that organisations can thrive. There are various tech tools that will help understand which departments are more inclusive, which managers mentor and coach more diverse employees, and where glass ceilings are. Using tech can help measure both diversity and inclusion. And this metric should be discussed at each board meeting.

“With the help of AI we can review and overhaul this entire system to ensure fair pay and representation”

2. Data can ensure the right support is provided

Data can ensure the right support is provided to employees. In the summer 2020, we ran a survey as part of an event we were organising in partnership with the Equal Pay International Coalition, and only one third of the respondents were collecting data on the caring responsibilities of their employees. There are some incredible examples of how companies can support carers (or in the case of a lockdown, homeschooling parents), and doing so could have a long term positive impact on the workplace. And it all has to start with knowing who needs our help within a company. Identifying risk will involve asking employees if they are experiencing extra pressure at present and how we can help.

3. Digital tech can help us rethink how we value work

Despite the progress we see around improvements fostered by digital tech, we still work and recruit people into a system that was developed and valued in a post WWII environment. While we have used tech to develop a vaccine in record time, and are launching cars into space, some areas of our lives are still catching up with this process.

As an example, most of the jobs that we have in our workplaces have been valued and defined by male perspectives from the 1940s, which largely viewed their wives’ and partners’ work as of lesser value than their own. That is one of the reasons we currently have occupational segregation – which means that female dominated roles pay less per hour than male dominated roles (as an example a legal clerk versus a data scientist). With the help of AI we can review and overhaul this entire system to ensure fair pay and representation. Value of work does not have to be guided by how we understood productivity in the aftermath of the Second World War, nor does it have to be guided by working hours. Value of work can be linked to specific objectives, projects, industries and impact.

These are just a few examples that scratch the surface of how digital tech can help us accelerate progress on advancing equality in the workplace. From smaller steps of data collection and analysis in order to improve decision making, to bigger visions of using AI to review how we value work, productivity and jobs. Wherever in this journey you are, it will take effort from every single one of us to make significant progress and close the gender pay gap in the next decade. 

Dr Zara Nanu is CEO of Gapsquare