Behind the scenes of Gender Diversity

A view from a personal, business and AI perspective

Drawing on her personal experiences, Margarita Lindahl reflects on the progress being made on Gender Diversity in the workplace and how we can build on those achievements, by evaluating applicable research and an innovative AI perspective.

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Written by
Margarita Lindahl

Head of AI, PR & Social Media – Panasonic Connect Europe

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) making incredible leaps in technological progress, there is a new entity in place that is objective, unbiased and omniscient. The latest example: Have you noticed how the OpenAI ChatGPT Bot seems to have become the new Oracle? Fine-tuned with both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques, it uses social and research data to provide uncannily human-like responses. As well as its ability to answer questions in a natural way, it’s also capable of many creative activities from writing and debugging computer programs to composing music, essays and plays.

With over 1m plus users in just a week from its launch, I was keen to understand what ChatGPT thought about the challenging question of Gender Diversity and how it related to my experiences. 

When asked, “If Diversity has become a buzzword?” I was surprised to see the answer “Yes, especially in the workplace.” It did go onto explain that “companies were increasingly focused on recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce” but it prompted further research and thinking.

Good for business

So, I asked: “Is there enough research on the topic of gender diversity and why it is good for business?”

ChatGPT: “There is a growing body of research on the topic and its benefits to business. Overall, conducting research on diversity is important for organisations because it can provide valuable insights and data that can help them design, implement and evaluate effective diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

So far, so good. There is indeed research to support the positive benefits of gender diversity in business. McKinsey’s analysis Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters reports hard evidence that the most diverse companies at executive level are more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. Those most diverse were 25% more likely to have above average profits – up from 21% in 2017.

However, as with many other complex issues, it may not be as easy as simply putting in place the right corporate structures and regulations for the issue to be resolved. Harvard Business Review reported on research that indicated that geography and industry might affect people’s opinions of gender diversity and that these factors could then impact whether diversity leads to stronger outcomes. The study found that gender diversity relates to more productive companies, as measured by market value and revenue, only in cultures where gender diversity is already viewed as important.

But how do we go further?

It’s great to see many organisations putting in place the right business and cultural frameworks to encourage and foster a more diverse organisation. This is a significant achievement and one not to be under-estimated but from the mixed research findings there is still work to be done.

Even our ChatGPT friend acknowledges that: “While progress has been made in reducing gender bias in some areas, there is still much work to be done to overcome this pervasive issue.”

So, how do we overcome the individual gender bias – often unconscious – that is still commonplace around us?

As a personal example, when I travel for a business trip, one of the first questions I often hear on arrival is: “Lovely to see you but who’s looking after the baby?” I am not sensitive about this topic at all but I know from conversations with other new mothers that this type of question is common but not one that fathers often experience.

It’s an internal battle too

 And it’s not always external bias. I have to admit that I sometimes also question myself over my choices: Should I be buying my baby’s first birthday cake or trying to bake it like those impressive mums who outshine any bakery with their skills? If I travel for a business trip, will I be missing an important moment like the baby’s first steps or words? 

I asked ChatGPT if self-doubt was universal for career women and mothers? Its response also reassured me. “It’s possible that careerwomen and mothers experience self-doubt more frequently or intensely than others due to the unique challenges and pressures they face.”

Self-doubt in this context seems to be a common phenomenon but to achieve true gender diversity it is something that we must address. So, what are my learnings in this area?

Firstly, it’s key to remember not to be influenced by the judgement of others but rather look into what really makes you happy. For the big decisions, I ask myself, “When I look back in 10 years’ time, what would my older-self advise?” 


Flexibility is the key

Secondly, providing increased flexibility in the workplace is another key factor in enabling gender diversity to flourish.  I am very proud to work for a company that understands the importance of this topic: Panasonic’s vision of becoming “the best place to work for diverse talents” is an impressive fundamental to build on. 

ChatGPT agrees: “Overall, flexibility is key for working mothers because it can help them manage their time, reduce stress and improve their overall well-being.

For career mothers, this also means that it is important to establish a support network that is as strong as possible to enable flexibility in planning for both childcare and the career.

For the corporation, it includes not only flexibility around working hours and daily business but also adaptability when it comes to business travel and the meeting agendas. The logistical challenge with trips that require overnight stays, can for instance be addressed by providing the flexibility to present earlier or later in a meeting agenda. This also allows more options to organise daily life duties around the trip itself.

The provision and adoption of collaboration technology – to enable teams to work effectively at the office, on the move or from home – is also a major benefit. And when all else fails, some humor and imagination go a long way.

As ChatGPT says: “By incorporating humour into our daily lives, we can enhance our well-being and enrich our social and professional lives.”

But I hear you ask: Are humor and serenity achievable when unexpected events arise? I believe they are but it can be a challenge and sometimes also requires improvisation. For example, once when my baby was sick at home with no babysitters around, I had to involve the little one in a video meeting for an important budget presentation. Would the usual toys and snacks act as a diversion from my computer? I doubted it. So, I set-up two laptops, with a mouse each - one for me to present the figures and one deactived “mock up” to enable the baby to lead its own presentation. A recommendable distraction technique that will definitely amuse your colleagues as well!

A learning journey

So, in conclusion, I think we have already made great strides in closing the gender diversity gap. I adore my family beyond words and on the other hand I truly love my job. There should be no discussion about the ability to have both. But to continue moving forward, it is important to understand that this will be an ongoing learning journey. This learning journey should combine the positive corporate culture with human awareness, empathy and a willingness to be flexible, allowing us to continue to grow at both a business and individual level. 

It will also be fascinating to see if AI can help us to accelerate our journey along this path in some way over the coming years. And if my son reads this article one day and (besides consulting the AI) asks me the famous question: “Mom, are we there yet?” I most probably will answer. “Not yet, but we are on the right track, let’s keep going.”