On International Women’s Day, brand after brand wheeled out their ads, their initiatives, their statistics and their spokeswomen to talk about how women and girls need to be more empowered, feel more confident, harness their ambition and never give up until gender equality has been achieved.
Except there was something hollow about most of it. Probably because the reality is that equality is a long way off.
The World Economic Forum forecasts that economic equality between men and women will not be achieved until 2133 – an unbelievable 116 years from now. That means not even my granddaughters could expect to enjoy equal pay. And so the day after International Women’s Day, it was hard to ignore another reality – everything went back to being the same as the day before, nothing had really changed.
Gen Z is radical and its vision of the future is too. And it’s about time that women who have already made it in the old system help build the new system with them.
Only 5% of leadership jobs in the technology sector are held by women. Of those receiving venture capital funding. Only 8% are women and, as readers of Campaign will know, the percentage of female creatives and creative directors is still only about 12%.
I’m convinced that Generation X and Generation Y have fallen into the trap of talking about change rather than delivering it. By that, I don’t mean that men and women are not trying hard to bring about change, it’s just that the means by which these attempts are made are more ideological and less practical than we now need.
The reason is that so many of these generations are trying to evolve the system we already have. It means that women, in particular, try to break into a system that was not set up by them. They didn’t create it so they try to influence where it goes next.
The problem is that systems persist. So a more effective way of going about this would be to envision a completely different system in the future and then work back to put in the support structures required to attain it.
And that’s what Generation Z is doing. A new wave of action-oriented, peer-to-peer systems is emerging.
Radical Brownies provide girls of colour with practical tools to help them engage with what matters to them. FutureGirlCorp brings practical advice, business modelling, finance and marketing to help women to build global corporations, not cottage industries. And Built by Girls is breaking out of the Silicon Valley echo chamber with its new mobile platform that allows female founders to connect with experts anywhere in the world.
What is most interesting, though, is that young women have different values and different beliefs about what system works for them, and they are building a new system in which to do business in the future.
The KPIs for it are much more based on education than competition and it’s more collaborative than individualistic. But more than this, it is gender neutral.
These new systems are challenging the old ideas of power, of diversity, of fluidity and, of course, of privilege. And, to be truthful, they are going to bring about radical change.
Gen Z is radical and its vision of the future is too. And it’s about time that women who have already made it in the old system get behind this radical change and help build the new system.
I’m reminded of the term "realpolitik". Dictionary defined as "a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations", the phrase comes from the German for "practical politics". One has seen pictures of the Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuinness or read about Richard Nixon’s conversations with the Chinese. One engages in realpolitik to get to a solution or resolution – to get what needs to be done, done. I am convinced that instead of spending our time talking about ways we could politely influence the existing system to be more female-oriented, we should be spending our energy visioning, designing, building and making a new system.
People from Gen Z are doing that now through the businesses they are building and the products they are creating. This is the dawn of "RealEquality". It’s harder than talking, it’s all about really doing what needs to be done.
Change has to happen at a system level; our economic structures, our political systems, our environmental systems and our social systems too. No more talking, then – let’s focus on doing and let’s do it the Gen Z way.
Let’s embrace RealEquality and redesign the future to be as female as it is male, which will benefit everyone in the long run. There is no more time to admire the problem. Now is the time for action. RealEquality or no equality are the only choices we have.
Tracey Follows is the chief strategy and innovation officer at The Future Laboratory.