The machines are coming, or so we are led to believe. An image of a robotic-looking crowd of delegates wearing virtual reality headsets at the Mobile World Congress caused quite a stir last month.
Are we marching toward a soulless, robotic future, the stuff of science fiction?
Rising fears about automation, and a lament for the end of an “unplugged society”, is dominating the discussion around the future of work.
But the future will not be owned by machines, it will be owned by great storytellers.
Automation and technology will work hand-in-hand with human innovation — humanity will be the purpose and narrative behind the machine — and reflect a new career world of constant entrepreneurialism and transformation, both digitally and physically.
I believe women will be leading this future, head first and heart first.
In June 2012 Forbes Magazine hailed entrepreneurship as “the new women’s movement”. The writer and entrepreneur Natalie MacNeil says women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the past 20 years and are projected to generate more than half of the 9.72m new small-business jobs expected to be created by 2018 in the US.
Women own 29 per cent of private US businesses, employing 16 per cent of the nation’s workforce, the National Women’s Business Council says.
I see encouraging signs that automation will help female entrepreneurs to build leaner, more digital and flexible businesses, which are our niches already.
Women will take traditionally male jobs and create new ones.
The Steve Jobs of tomorrow will not require endless degrees, old boys’ networks or pedigrees. Most commentators predict that the jobs our children will be doing in the future have yet to be created. So how can these traditional structures survive?
Our children will require grit, unfettered hearts, open minds and a willingness to constantly transform. These are qualities that underscore the definition of womanhood — we are always changing as girls, women, mothers, redefining our roles and juggling them all in a way that is the essence of innovation.
Many entrepreneurs cite the solving of a problem as the genesis of their business plan: women all over the world are looking at the workplace, realising it does not work in their favour, and reshaping it into one that is attuned to modern values steeped in collaboration, creativity and transparency, and the modus operandi of the modern woman’s life. Women look at the world differently, and different is good.
One thing holding us back is what has been at the heart of most men’s success: a willingness to put ourselves out there, take a controversial position and make a stand.
I believe in equality, but being equal does not have to mean being the same. Nor does it mean staying quiet. If we cannot speak up for ourselves, chances are no one else will believe in us, or speak up for us.
We are moving in the right direction. But there are still too few countries in the world that work to empower both men and women equally, and give them equal responsibilities.
We will need to innovate, not only with machines and technologies, but also in our societies to seize the opportunities of the future.
Sweden is one place that has forged a future around gender equality and innovation. It is a start-up centre, a spawning ground for tech companies valued at $1bn or more and has some of the highest percentages of women’s full participation in the workforce, equal pay and nearly equal representations of women in parliament.
One thing the world can learn from the Nordic model is how gender equality, pure tech leadership and a focus on the future can exist together.
As the chief executive of Symposium Stockholm, a week-long festival of ideas, fashion, music and tech that takes place in June, I work every day to bring people together around these transcendent, futuristic values.
This year, our main event will highlight how innovating societies tend to be more open, and gender equality creates exponential creativity.
As an entrepreneur, I cry on aeroplanes when I see my daughter’s face on Skype, but I also sit in boardrooms and have my voice heard on inclusion and social consciousness. I raise my voice for my daughter, and all of our daughters.
The future wants to thrust machines on us. We must be machine-like in our perseverance. Do not live a life set out by others — human or artificial.
Natalia Brzezinski is chief executive of Symposium Stockholm and hosts the ‘Stand Out!’ podcast