The Role of Tech Leaders in Creating a More Inclusive Economy: Insights from Davos

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The Role of Tech Leaders in Creating a More Inclusive Economy: Insights from Davos

by Lara Birkes, Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer at HPE
Image credit: World Economic Forum

Image credit: World Economic Forum

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Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 8:05am

If you look back at the evolution of the human race, it could be argued that our greatest skill is the ability to create and develop breakthrough technologies that simplify everyday life and advance society. It’s this drive to innovate that continually brings us to the next great crossroads and inevitably changes life as we know it.

Buried underneath this constantly improving quality of life is a friction that exists between the incredible opportunities of technology and the societal discrepancies it has created. Sadly, education and skills training have not kept up with the fast pace of innovation, and we now see large swaths of the world’s populations left behind, with harsh divisions between the “haves and have nots.”

The 21st century has fostered an environment of exponential technological growth—and with it, disruptive change. In sync with Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing power will double every two years, we’ve gone from a world where advances in computerization and automation have given way to a convergence of technologies, with artificial intelligence (AI) becoming a standard strategic element for most large companies. The proliferation of AI will undoubtedly spur growth and opportunity for these companies, while creating uncertainty for the employees whose jobs could be displaced as a result.

So the question must be asked: How will technology leaders work to ease fears and bridge the social divide to create a more inclusive future?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) published a report on just that, titled Inclusive Growth and Development that is well-worth the read. This theme continued during the Annual WEF Meeting, held in Davos this January, exploring how global business should build on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to focus on social impact and the role of responsive and responsible leadership. I was heartened to see these realities acknowledged and commend tech leaders for stepping out of their comfort zones to find actionable solutions. But time is of the essence with the current geopolitical state in flux, and we have a unique responsibility to address the widening skills gap and work toward inclusivity by incentivizing economic policies.

According to a Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum, 2.1 million new jobs can be attributed to the Fourth Industrial Revolution—as well as 7.1 million job losses. That’s a net loss of roughly 5 million jobs, primarily in the “Office and Administration” sector and within low-skill, low-wage occupations. In order to keep this segment of the workforce employed, the onus is on business leaders to enact responsive and responsible leadership that harnesses the technological progress to fuel productivity and job growth simultaneously.

This can only be accomplished by shifting priorities toward a forward-looking business infrastructure that uniformly trains organizations for digital readiness and brings all workers into the fold collectively. This must extend beyond mainstream talent pools to include at risk demographics—veterans, immigrants, refugees and other underutilized workforces. Traditional educations systems may no longer apply, and on-the-job retraining must be reimagined in ways that reboot an inclusive economy that works for all. 

Now more than ever, with the topic of immigration being highly debated, we see the need to foster diversity in the workplace, and communities at large. In Silicon Valley especially we must challenge ourselves to invent possibilities that bring the most compromised amongst us into the fold. 

To ensure that everyone can contribute and find opportunity in this new model, training paradigms must allow for hands-on, direct-application training to keep pace with the ever-increasing rate of technological advancements. This starts with company leaders and those already embedded in the development of digital products and services and spreads throughout a company so that the overall ethos is aligned with the changing nature of work. Bringing in young talent that grew up in this digital ecosystem is equally as important as having designated digital coaches who can act as mentors to bring everyone up to speed.

The challenges before us are daunting and the stakes are high. Business leaders must work collaboratively to find solutions that use technology to remake society, not destroy it. We cannot rely solely on government policy to address the issue. We must promote an inclusive model so global businesses can present new opportunities for the talent they already have, while developing cutting-edge efficiencies for clients that save money and drive business. If the business community directs the same intensity of focus on reinvigorating an IT-led workforce as we’ve seen applied to innovation in recent past, I have no doubt we’ll be on the cusp of developing a business model of the future, and one which works for all.  

Keywords: Responsible Business & Employee Engagement | Davos | Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) | Innovation & Technology | Responsible Business & Employee Engagement | World Economic Forum (WEF) | circular economy