One hundred years on from women’s suffrage in Britain, and on International Women’s Day … why does it matter?
The world is changing faster than ever. Increasingly roles that are process-driven – not even necessarily low skilled – are handled by computers and robots. This will increase as ever-more sophisticated programming allows technology to be responsive and intelligent. So where does that leave us?
It is essential that we define and articulate the value of being human. We must identify the skills that the mind and soul can offer that even the most sophisticated computer can’t – and demonstrate how those skills add real and extensive value to commerce, lives and communities. Then we can create roles of value for ourselves, steer the next generation in the direction of great careers, build up welcoming and sustainable communities where our families can flourish.
I’ve spent years endeavouring to articulate the economic and social value of ‘female’ traits – empathy, flexibility and so forth – to a surprisingly large still-sceptical audience. And now, because of technology, we must all learn to speak about the value of those traits for all humans, not just women, in a way that is credible, substantiated and which even the most dunderheaded can grasp.
This is a potential tsunami for the human race and we are not ready for it.
Right now, our education systems and our attitudes are not equipping young people with the skills they need for the new world. Where all the world’s information can be gathered by a toddler, children must learn to interpret. Where solutions to challenges lie outside data patterns, the human mind must be taught to think sideways. Where the language we use preferences technology (I find it barbaric to refer to people deploying technology as ‘users’) we need to relearn a human-friendly vocabulary. The people who programme machine intelligence need to have a clear moral focus. Informal communications have become increasingly dependent on virtual platforms: we must master them, not sink in.
So why is International Women’s Day the time to bring this up?
If we are to bring the human race back up into a position where our unique qualities are valued and nurtured, we absolutely must operate in an environment of mutual respect and kindness. If you think that the playing field is level these days, you’re wrong. Gender Pay Gap reporting, revelations of sexual cackhandedness not from forty years ago but from last week*, corporate team pages entirely populated by white middle aged middle class males, they all show it goes on.
This is about parity of responsibility and opportunity, about basic respect for other human beings, never mind their skintone, love-life, preferred God or body parts. I am excited, because I think that with clear reasons we can all grasp this change and make it work: but it has to be each and every one of us, with clear vision, a kind heart and an open mind. Because if we don’t have that, we don’t have much of a future.
And that’s why this stuff matters.
*Incidentally, I advise people who are confused about what’s appropriate to ask themselves how they’d feel if someone treated their mum like that, or their daughter. That tends to sort the flirting from the lechery.