[This article is based on a talk I gave in celebration of International Women's Day, dedicated to women in the insurance industry]
How time flies. My son has recently turned 10. There were celebrations and there was me frantically trying to recover baby photos from old USB drives that were no longer compatible with any of the devices we have at home.
A decade is a long time - not only when it comes to how we store our data.
It also made me think about my return from maternity leave. I had been promoted a couple of years earlier and was looking forward to coming back to work. Some time after, I heard one of the leaders in my department talk about me on the phone. And no, I wasn't eavesdropping - he was two desks away in an open plan office. He was also notorious for speaking in a very loud voice.
"She made a lifestyle choice",
he said, referring to me being skipped for a work opportunity because I was a young mother. I was stunned. Needless to say, I was never consulted about what choice do I want to make, or what lifestyle do I want to have.
I disagreed that having a child should mean kissing my career good bye. Yet at that time I didn't appreciate that it was not ok for him to be making this choice for me.
Women are still drastically underrepresented at the top, the gender pay gap still exists, but I do appreciate the progress that I've seen over the course of my career. We now know it's not ok. We are increasingly finding our courage to be vocal about this, or we change employers in search for a more fertile ground for our talents. [Which is exactly what I did after that experience].
No doubt you will have your own collection of stories, depending on where you work and the team you work with. I spent most of my career in the City and the City is full of extremes. You may be working with modern, progressive leaders but you are also likely to have crossed paths with those sporting a variety of "-isms". Their worldview often hidden at first and only making an appearance after hours, in the pub, when the ties get loose.
Even though it may be slow, my experience shows progress. Given the trajectory we're on, I'm looking forward to women playing an equal role in shaping the future of tomorrow.
When we talk about the future of work, the image that might come to mind straight away is one of a robot, AI, automation replacing our jobs. But it’s not the whole story.
There are various macro level forces shaping our tomorrow.
Take the climate crisis, the greatest challenge of our times. Businesses will need to adjust to account for it, not only because it is the right thing to do. Climate conscious customers will be putting pressure on businesses to become a “good citizen” by voting with their money.
There are other societal changes at play, including the attitudes of new generations that will shape the market and the workplace. Focus on diversity is one I'm passionate about. Not only as a way to level the playing field, but also as a recognised key ingredient of innovation.
A trend that in my view is not getting enough air time is the fact that in the last 200 years, we've seen an increase in life expectancy of 2-3 years every decade. Every generation lives 6-7 years longer than their parents. Yet, the way our lives are designed supports a life span of 70+ years. The question is: how to stretch it to 90+? What it means for most of us is that we’re bound to work much longer than we initially planned for.
Needless to say, technology and AI are one of them. There is no doubt that the technological change and automation will change the way we do work forever. The way in which technology and internet are bringing us closer is astounding.
Many people I speak to say "naaah, it’s not going affect me", I'm too senior or too educated. According to PwC, 30% insurance jobs will be replaced by automation by mid 2030s, affecting mainly jobs requiring low and medium education.
But even if you’re highly educated and in a leadership position now, the world around you and what you manage will change dramatically. You will need new skills and it's likely that what made you successful until now won't get you there.
Things become interesting when you look at the combined effect of those trends.
If we take the fast changing technology and couple it with the fact that we’re living longer and longer, one thing becomes immediately clear. We need to get used to a lot of change, and more of it as we move into the future.
We move from a straight line of a career in three distinct stages to one that resembles an abstract work of art. One that is longer, with many twists, turns, no predictable path. One where depending on our skills, circumstances and choices we may actually end up in many different places.
Does it excite you? Or does it scare you?
If you find the thought overwhelming, you may take comfort in the fact that this is how our brains work. We are biologically wired to avoid uncertainty at all cost.
There is a study on this that brings this point home for me, in which participants preferred to know for sure that they would receive an electric shock than to not know whether they would be shocked or not.
Here's the perspective that I'd like to offer. Various statistics (e.g. Gallup) show that only approximately 25% of us feel engaged at work. Aren't the changes ahead a perfect opportunity to shape the future to our advantage? To ride the wave of change rather than stay passive and let the change happen to us?
The foundational piece to navigating this uncertainty is about having a vision.
What do you want your life to be like? If you were living life on your own terms, what would that be?
Whether you turn to spirituality or prefer hard science, this is where all theories converge. Having a vision, an end in mind, helps to tame the overwhelm that may come with this abundance of choice. It's a way to focus the attention when our brains rebel against what's best for us.
A vision is a combination of the best you + your ideal future.
Have you ever thought about your future this way? I used to feel uncomfortable thinking about my vision. It felt a bit selfish, like a luxury.
We are rarely given permission, space or time to explore who we are at our best, and what we want beyond the obligations placed on us from various roles: employee, parent, child, member of the society.
Wanting engagement at work is a relatively new concept. Most of the rules of work we live by come from the Industrial Revolution. Henry Ford was efficient in his factories by giving top down instructions, keeping job descriptions fixed and tasks predictable, performed during rigid working hours.
It's fascinating how our beliefs, traditions and views of the world change much slower than the world around us.
Elements of a vision
Let's go through them one by one.
Strengths - what type of activities energise me? What are the things I’m good at without much training? We all have those natural talents that distinguish us from others, but we so often take them for granted. If it comes naturally to me, surely it must be the case for others too. Nothing is further from the truth. It can be immensely satisfying to uncover what your strengths are and learn to be intentional about how you use them to build a purposeful career.
Values - they really underpin our choices. What is it that you really value? Family, status, adventure, fun, security. You may say - all of them. But here’s the crux - our true values are what we are prepared to choose at the expense of other things. My top value is independence, which means that I am happy to choose entrepreneurship at the expense of job security. But if security is among you top values, your optimal life design may be quite different.
Energy - what are you passionate about in your life? What kind of days really energise you? A common myth about happiness at work has to do with “finding your passion”, as if it was something resembling a trip to the moon. I'm of the view that our passion can already be seen in small, everyday things if we pay enough attention.
“Your ideal future”
Life - If your life was perfect, ideal, amazing in 10-15 years, what would it be like? I'm asking for such long time horizon on purpose as it pushes you to respond beyond your most recent thoughts, goals and the role you currently have.
Trends - which of the future trends excite you? What are the disruptors in your industry doing that you are curious about? What opportunities are opening up? Needless to say certain areas of work (używanie cyrkla) will be becoming obsolete. Keep checking your vision against the trends.
Purpose - what impact do you want to have? Who or what do you want to benefit with your work? To what kind of organisation do you want to bring those wonderful strengths of yours?
There are different ways you work on your vision - it can be a written statement, an image, a vision board. You may find that answering those questions come easy to you, or you may feel stuck. If you feel that you’d like support in this, I highly recommend getting a coach.
It's natural for this process to take a while and for different parts of your vision to emerge. Keep iterating as you learn more about yourself and the fast changing world around you.
It's proven to work. Having a vision, an end in mind, a version of yourself can serve as a compass to hold new opportunities against. Will this next career step you're considering take you closer, or not?
And once you have a vision, it will be easier to spend time working on your career rather than just in it.