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From Hands to Heads to Hearts - The Future of Work is About Being More Human

Thoughts from the panel at the McKinsey's Women as Leaders Event last week

I am very conscious of how fortunate I was to work at McKinsey as my first job. As I've talked about previously, it wasn't all sunshine and it's not somewhere I'd go back to now, but boy did it give me a great starting point and foundation from which to grow. I don't have a huge amount of contact with the company now, but one thing I do try to go to when I can is the Women as Leaders events that are held once or twice a year. I go because I always leave more informed, inspired and hopeful, not only from the excellent speakers but from the other women I meet and speak to. Last week's was no exception and there were some great moments I wanted to share as food for thought.


Firstly, can I just mention the panel - all women (no surprises there given the nature of the event but still enough to make me stop and think about it, which shows how rare it still is to see) and they weren't all white. I hate to phrase this in the negative but that's a rarity - if you manage to find a panel with a 50:50 ratio of women to men you'll likely not find a 50:50 ratio of any other kind of diversity so it was worthy of note and that in itself I found inspiring.


The discussion was off the back of the launch of a new book 'Talent Wins' and so everything was about how talent (and therefore people) is the key to successful business. Leena Nair, Unilever CHRO was outstanding in her no-nonsense approach, extraordinary achievements and great delivery - I have not really stopped talking about her since. She was so impressive.


One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was about what will set companies apart in a future world where analytics, data and computing power will allow more and better decision making.

What do we teach our children in this world? It's a debate that was almost constant in the education world when I was working at the Department for Education.


The panel were quite wide-ranging in their sources, but their answers were the same. We need to teach creativity, empathy and compassion. In a world of AI and digital prominence, we need to be MORE human, not less. Leena Nair drew from Dov Siedman who said in a recent interview with the New York times:


"If machines can compete with people in thinking, what makes us humans unique? And what will enable us to continue to create social and economic value? The answer, said Seidman, is the one thing machines will never have: “a heart.”


It will be all the things that the heart can do,” he explained. “Humans can love, they can have compassion, they can dream. While humans can act from fear and anger, and be harmful, at their most elevated, they can inspire and be virtuous. And while machines can reliably interoperate, humans, uniquely, can build deep relationships of trust.”


Vivian Hunt also commented that "more empathetic leaders are simply more effective and the data supports that".


At Women Discuss Work events and at our retreats and workshops we often end up discussing empathy and compassion, or the lack of visibility of it in the workplace for many people. Women often feel like they need to be 'more like men' in reducing their emotional responses to things. While I don't accept that men don't feel and/or exhibit emotion, I think the way men deal with certain situations is often different to the way women do. Women often feel others' emotions very keenly and often feel a sense of responsibility for how others are feeling. This is both a blessing and a curse, and in this quest to be more human and thrive in the future of robots, learning to balance our ability to hear that voice, and manage our responses to be appropriate and kind to both ourselves and others, is a critical and life-long lesson.