The X-factor of women in the future of work

Posted on: March 8, 2019 by Marianne Hewlett

In an increasingly digital world of work, women have an important role to play and have every opportunity to thrive and be successful. They have the X-factor for success, providing they face the challenges and embrace the opportunities the future of work will bring.

Technology will not only impact how, where and when we work in the future, it will also take, create and change jobs at an unprecedented scale. Particularly the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will require most of us to learn to work alongside machines, adapt to new organizational and hierarchical structures and acquire new skills.

However, will women’s work be more impacted than men’s work by automation and AI? And what is the X-factor that women have that will be so valuable in the digital era?


Before answering these questions, I would like to share with you some interesting insights from Thomas W. Malone, who wrote the book “Superminds – the surprising power of people and computers thinking together”.

Superminds are a powerful combination of many individual minds that can accomplish things that individual humans (or computers) cannot do alone. It can be a team, an organization, a market or a community.

For a long time, the most important contribution of computers has been hyperconnectivity—connecting humans to each other in new ways and at unprecedented scales. In such a way that nowadays we can connect to and work with anyone at any time through multiple devices anywhere in the world. This hyperconnectivity also enables a faster creation of larger superminds, for instance crowd sourcing platforms and global markets.

With the rise of AI, we see a shift from connectivity to content. More and more of the tasks and thinking done by humans today can be taken over. Particularly the repetitive tasks and processes that require massive data crunching and analysis to gain better insights, leaving us humans to focus on what we do best: complex problem solving, creating thinking and communication. Therefore, when we combine human and artificial intelligence, we end up with superminds. And these will be smarter than anything we’ve ever seen before!

That is where it becomes interesting as there are a few prerequisites to create a supermind. It doesn’t just happen by putting some smart people together. On the contrary, there are plenty of groups of smart people that couldn’t get anything useful done!

To gain a better insight into collective intelligence, three factors are key:

  • Social perceptiveness of the group members. This can be measured by using a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes where people look at pictures of other people’s eyes and try to guess the mental state of the person in the picture.
  • Equal participation in conversation. The second key factor for smart groups is the degree to to which group members participate equally in conversation. When one or two people dominated the conversation, the group is, on average, less intelligent than when participation is more evenly distributed.
  • Equal proportion of women. The study found that a group’s collective intelligence was significantly higher within groups with a higher proportion of women.

The latter point was entirely due to the social intelligence skills where women usually score better than men. So, the X-factor in creating successful superminds is social perceptiveness, as it is the biggest contributor to raising the intelligence of a group.

As we are living in a digital era where an increasing amount of our activities, meetings and collaborations take place online, social perceptiveness becomes even more important. The research performed by MIT showed that people who were good at reading emotions in other people’s eyes were also good at working together, even when they were doing so online and couldn’t see each other’s eyes at all.

The social skills and social intelligence that are so important in a face-to-face world will be at least as important in the increasingly digital world of tomorrow.

It is certainly one of the key elements – if not the Xfactor - that women can bring to teams (teams that will be increasingly working together online). In addition, there is an abundance of research concluding that diverse teams with the right balance between men and women are more successful. Imagine if you add artificial intelligence to such a team, that will open up new possibilities!

Why women’s jobs are more at risk

AI is not new, in fact it was already talked about in the 1950s. Why is it suddenly so hot? Well, technological progress has made this possible in the past decade:

  • More computing power to process data faster and train larger and more complex models.
  • Massive amounts of data are being generated, which is important to train AI algorithms. The more data the better the results.
  • Machine learning algorithms have progressed due to the development of deep learning techniques based on neural networks.

What is certain is that AI will have a major impact on the future of work, how we work alongside AI and machines, and the skills needed to remain successful in an increasingly digital world.

According to initial beliefs, half of today’s jobs would disappear due to AI, automation and robotization. As time progresses it becomes more nuanced and the latest McKinsey research indicates that only 3 to 5% of jobs will fully disappear, however most jobs will be more or less impacted.

A recent article by the World Economic Forum states that women should be more concerned by the AI and robot revolution than men as women’s jobs have a 70% or higher probability of automation. Their work includes often more routine tasks that can be automated. This translates globally to 180 million women’s jobs. Women aged 40 and older, and those in clerical, service and sales positions are disproportionally at risk, whereby nearly 50% of women with a high school education or less are at high risk of their jobs being automated (compared to 40% of men). The risk for women with a bachelor’s degree or higher is only 1%.

Women are currently underrepresented in growing job fields such as engineering and information and communication technology. In tech women are 15% less likely than men to be managers and professionals, and 19% more likely to be clerks and service workers performing more routine tasks, leaving them at a high risk of displacement by technology. Furthermore nearly 5% of the wage gap between women and men is because women perform more routine job tasks!

Now more than ever, women need to break the glass ceiling and move away from routine job tasks.

The future of work is female

As we see AI and automation increase, we also see an increased need for soft and cognitive skills such as complex problem solving, creative thinking and communication. Skills with a high social intelligence component; the X-factor of women in business. It will offer great opportunities and I’m convinced that the future of work is female. At the very least the digital era provides a more balanced world of work for men, women and machines, leveraging each other’s strengths and ultimately ensuring a more inclusive society.

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About Marianne Hewlett
Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community
Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.

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