Last week, we published a blog post on the Top 20 Future of Work thinkers. It included this quote: “What we think will take ten years will likely take two or less,” says Frank Diana, Principal in Business Evolution at the $80B IT services firm Tata Consultancy Services.
But that leads to another question; who will inform our thinking about the future?
Where are the Women Futurists?
"Why Aren't There More Women Futurists?” asks Rose Eveleth in an article in The Atlantic that’s been shared online almost 10,000 times. Her subtitle: "Most of the big names in futurism are men. What does that mean for the direction we’re all headed?”
Here at Little Bird, we believe that there’s fundamental business value in listening to and learning from the very best thinkers on any topic you’re considering. That’s easier than ever thanks to online social media. (Once you can sift through the noise to find the meaningful content.)
So we used our technology to build a list of 125 important women futurists online. You can access the full list of all 125 via their Twitter accounts here. Then we reached out to them and asked for their thoughts on gender and the study of the future. Of course there are important women futurists who do not use Twitter, but when looking for women futurists, we think this is a great place to start plugging in to the conversation.
One clear theme was consistent across each of the replies we received: thinking about the future cannot be limited to thinking about technology.
"The underlying aim of the field of futures studies is social change,” says Wendy L Schultz, a community leader among women futurists and one of futurists of all genders with the strongest history of sharing ideas that the rest of the field takes up. “It’s a global dialogue about considered change, about the responsibility and accountability for change and its impacts, with the root question of 'what might be the best long-term future for humanity and the planet?' as the beating heart of that global dialogue... It's not just technology, nor is it just social and political change - it's ALL change: social, cultural, political economic technological AND definitely environmental. Futures studies is systemic and holistic."
Schultz’s peer at the center of the community of women futurists, Jennifer Jarratt, puts it like this: "As a futurist, you have to go a few steps further and ask the question—what does it [technology] enable us to do? (or in some cases, not do). With the current emphasis on the excitement of new technologies—in devices, new business models, new uses, etc., that tends to be forgotten. Social change is difficult and can be slow to happen. The lack of social change, even in conditions of rapid technological change, stands between us and a better, more sustainable, more humane world. However, for many futurists, social change is not nearly as sexy as technology and its advances.”
How important is it that women futurists get their due in the public eye?
In the Atlantic piece, Rose Eveleth posits that the male dominance of media discussions of the future has implications for social change, too. Namely, conservative ones: “the media ends up turning to Brin and Musk and de Gray and Kurzweil to explain what is going to happen, why it matters, and ultimately whether it’s all going to be okay. The thing is: The futures that get imagined depend largely on the person or people doing the imagining.”
Maree Conway’s not so sure. "I'm not sure there's anything specific to say about female futurists that doesn't apply to professional women everywhere….Personally, I don't think trying to get a higher profile for women futurists (or a futurist or any gender) in the media is worth the effort. By spending energy there, we are playing today's game rather than working out how the field can add value to organizations and societies today and into the future - by, for example, helping leaders and managers understand that strategic planning needs to be reframed and redesigned using foresight approaches and tools. Also, my view is that foresight work is personal, network and relationship driven and women - theoretically - are better at that than men!”
Even with this wide range of perspectives on what futurism is, all the women we spoke with emphasized that it’s really important that it’s not just techno-optimism.
"Futures studies is simultaneously a very simple (albeit profound) set of questions, and an infinitely complex subject of contemplation,” says Wendy Schultz.
"What it is not: prediction. What it is not only: trend extrapolation and forecasting. What it should never be: a buttress for business as usual. What it should always be: a critique of everything you take for granted and all your current assumptions."
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