On Monday 8th of March, the Northern Power Women community assembled to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day with the NPWLive event. Set against the backdrop of this year’s IWD theme, #ChoosetoChallenge, the virtual event served as a way to re-connect, collaborate and empower, after a year where many of us have felt so disconnected. The half day celebration culminated with our Keynote conversation supported by Accenture. 5 voices, bringing their unique expertise and experience to answer 1 question: what does the new world of work look like and who is rewriting the rules?
First to tackle this all-important question was Kate Hardcastle MBE, founder of Insight with Passion, who shared what she predicts the new dawn of working life will bring, and how to ensure that this new world has diversity and inclusion at its centre. Kate stressed the importance of continuous listening as we adapt into this new world, to ensure that the needs of everyone in society are being met. “Now is an ideal time to use the time we have and the interactions we’ve got to make the most of the journey ahead. That’s got to come through listening […] It’s about making sure that we’re on this journey not just as a singular, we’re on it as a group of people”. Conscious of the opportunity that the pandemic has presented us to rewrite the rules around our working lives, Kate also highlighted how it’s down to us to make sure that we create the changes we want to see in this new way of life. “It’s down to all of us to make a change […] We can’t just hope that it’s going to be the next normal and then get on with the show, it’s got to evolve and change as this re-awakening happens”.
Taking control of this change was also an idea echoed by Linda Plant, serial entrepreneur and one of Britain’s most recognizable business leaders. She brought the focus of the conversation to entrepreneurs, and how they will be affected by this period of adaptation. Linda discussed how our use of technology over the last year has expanded our reach and audience potential, making it easier than ever for entrepreneurs to connect on a global scale, giving “entrepreneurs a much bigger playing field”. While this new-found reliance on technology will bring its benefits, Linda also spoke of how this mustn’t replace our previous definitions of working life, and instead must factor into a hybrid style of working. “I do accept that we’re going to have a hybrid system […] I would say that technology will enable us to be global, to reach people everywhere […] but collaboration is creation, I like to mix with people that’s how you get ideas, that’s how you get creative”. Whilst acknowledging the challenges that will present themselves over the coming months, Linda was also keen to remind viewers to look for the positive elements that often disguise themselves as challenges. “Entrepreneurs have lots of new opportunities, and if you’re an entrepreneur you will be able to pivot and go into the new way of working with new ideas […] If you’re a business person you pick yourself and dust yourself down and you look to the future. We can’t go back, we can always go forward.”
Similarly keen to move forward was Afiya Amesu, co-founder of ‘She Leads for Legacy’, whose contribution to the conversation focused on how young people have been affected by the pandemic, and how to ensure that young people still feel confident and supported when entering the job market. Afiya’s outline for what we need to prioritise was clear. “We need to firstly inspire them, secondly employ them, and finally support them”. In order to safeguard a continued enthusiasm for their careers and progression, Afiya stressed the importance of reaching out to young people on platforms that are familiar to them, “we can work in collaboration with universities, colleges and schools, to help young people navigate this new terrain and this new normal […] look at recruitment through a youth lens and actively recruit young people and use language that is simple, inclusive and accessible”. Similarly, as young people enter into a job market where they will be competing against those recently furloughed or made redundant, with years of professional experience, Afiya encouraged the consideration of potential over proven experiences or qualifications when organisations begin to rehire: “focus on the young person’s drive, passion ambition and determination, over results that may not be illustrative of their best work”. Overall, much like Linda and Kate, Afiya’s contribution to the conversation reminded viewers that the chance to make these kinds of lasting changes are all possible, as long as the steps we take over the coming months are deliberate in their inclusivity.
As well as ensuring that the interests of young people are being championed as we rewrite the rules of our working world, Jasmine Mousari, managing director at Accenture, was asked what we need to do to ensure that young women in the technology industry are being supported through this period of change. In particular, Jasmine is keen to see the myths around the tech sector dismantled, in order to encourage participation in STEM subjects from young women. “we need to encourage girls from school age to embrace technology in all its forms. When you speak to many young women, there’s a perception that technology is all about coding in a dark room, but actually women are huge consumers and contributors to modern day tech, but don’t necessarily identify with a career in tech”. Jasmine was particularly proud of her work at Accenture, where 57% of their technology business graduate and apprentice population are women, a statistic which Jasmine explained pointed out how Accenture have the diversity and the talent to support women to pursue tech careers so therefore ensuring sponsorship and mentoring is in place is the key to unlock that potential”. Jasmine also discussed how these changes to workplace environment need to go deeper than just surface level, and require larger scale revisions of the working culture “progressing women to leadership roles is actually a cultural shift organisations need to make so when considering the next set of leaders, in my opinion, we should always lead with thinking about it as ‘culture add’ not ‘culture fit’”.
The keynote conversation was closed by June Sarpong OBE, whose experience as a television broadcaster and presenter brought the discussion of how our relationship with social media will be affected in this new world of work. Acknowledging how “social media and the media itself has been a lifeline for us during covid”, June stated that “where work is concerned, we are now used to connecting with each other virtually”. Much as Linda suggested with her hybrid hypothesis around newer styles of working, June expressed doubts that “we’re going to go back into offices in the same way, it’s going to be a hybrid”. As this new hybrid approach to working is established, June advised viewers to be wary of using trusted media sources, as this could go onto affect our ability to re-connect once we return to an office environment. “Because we have been disconnected physically, we can’t allow that to set in and that means being very open to where to get your news from so that we can understand all viewpoints”.