‘Women should lead’: What the future of work looks like

‘Women should lead’: What Maria MacNamara wants us to know about the future of work

The National Future Work Summit takes place on the 30th of October at ICC Sydney. Tickets are still available. (Partner Content)

Maria MacNamara isn’t someone to walk blindly into the future.

As Non-Executive Director for Spark Festival she has her finger on the pulse of new innovations, technologies and start-ups and a passion for sharing this knowledge with all Australians.

Founded in 2015, the Spark Festival, is a mostly free festival of events that celebrates the work of the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem across NSW. As Maria says: It’s the fastest and simplest way to understand what new technologies, opportunities and businesses have been established and are growing in our local ecosystem.

This year, the future of work will be put under the spotlight with the festival hosting the National Future Work Summit. “A program that brings experts in this field together to re-set the narrative towards what we can and should be doing to transition our workforce and our economy in Australia,” Maria shares.

For people and organisations, preparation for imminent transitions is key and Maria understands this better than most.

“I entered the workforce just prior to the 1987 crash and have lived through the 2000 bug fix and the 2008 GFC,” she tells me. “These experiences shaped my view of the security of work and the consequences of insufficient work on economies and societies.”

Moreover, Maria’s career trajectory has stretched far and wide. She’s spent time in senior private sector roles, government executive positions, NFPs and is also a seasoned entrepreneur.

“I have established and grown three start-ups and exited two” she tells me; including co-founding Portal Ideas a program management and digital transformation consultancy.

She was also adviser to Senator The Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO and recently headed up Strategy and Engagement for the Digital Transformation Agency within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

As an Activator of SheEO, a co-founder of the Awesome Women’s Project and as a Non-Executive Director of the International Women’s Forum (Australia), Maria is also a passionate advocate for gender equality.

So how has this differed from what she’d envisaged as a 20-year-old?

“I had no idea what an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem was back then!” She says. “Coming out of university into an economic crash in 1987 is sobering. You tend to manage your expectations and remain grateful that you are able to find any work at all.”

Maria also acknowledges that her career took a detour during the time she was raising a young family.

When my husband and I made the decision to have children, I wasn’t sure what would happen to my career. After trying to juggle full time work, I resigned and went home,” she says.

“Back then, we were all making it up as we went along. I did quite a bit of part-time and interim work at senior levels and built a reputation for helping to build new practices in legal and accounting firms and resuscitating those that were underperforming. I learned to say yes to most things, because I never knew if anything else was going to come my way.”

But this period also taught her how to work in a way that is now regarded as lean and agile, handle competing priorities, and sharpen her focus on customer centricity. She also describes an insatiable thirst for knowledge. “I picked up a habit of reading everything I could, which was made simpler when Google arrived in 1998.”

“I guess the thing that surprises me to this day, is that I didn’t expect that my technology skills would be obsolete in 2017 – and that I’d need to re-skill,” she says.

So, is the future of work something to feel invigorated by or fearful of?

“If we invest in upskilling women and move women out of jobs that are best done by machines,” there’s every reason to feel positive Maria stresses.

“Jobs traditionally done by women will be automated and new jobs will emerge that can draw on the skills often associated with women..

The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2018 tells us that we’ll see more jobs that need analytical thinking and innovation, creativity, originality and initiative, technology design and programming, complex problem-solving and emotional intelligence, reasoning and ideation and systems analysis and evaluation.

The Report also tells us that we will see a significant decline in jobs that require manual dexterity, endurance and precision, management of financial and material resources, management of people, technology use, monitoring and control for example.

“The best piece of advice I can give any woman is to find work that machines can’t do better than humans.”

I would suggest they:

  1. specialise in STEM and think about the social sciences – we need linguists, anthropologists, philosophers and ethicists.
  2. stay ahead of the curve – be familiar with the jobs that are being automated and augmented and focus on the jobs that are being added.
  3. ensure they secure their financial future early. We’re in for a bumpy ride as we transform our economy.

Maria also wants to see more women starting digital businesses that have good growth potential. She wants to see women involved in the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. “There is more support than ever to help you launch a startup with programs like BlueChilli’s SheStarts program, Heads over Heels and SheEO and the wonderful support available inside the Sydney Startup Hub,” she says.

Her final piece of advice? Go beyond embracing change, lead it:

“It’s tough to feel disrupted when you’re the disrupter.

It’s tough to feel threatened by transformation when you’re driving the transformation.

It’s tough to feel as though your job’s at risk, when your skills are in demand.

It’s tough to feel as though you can’t control the future – when you’re building it.

Women have proven, through the centuries, they can overcome the challenges that are put before them by learning how to do different things.

So, women should lead.”

Women’s Agenda is a partner on the Future of Work Summit. See session highlights for the upcoming program below:

Michael Priddis, the CEO of Faethm.ai will be talking about which emerging technologies will have the biggest financial and strategic impact on an organisation/industry /economy. He will examine which roles will be automated, augmented and added as new technologies change how organisations operate. Michael will also forecast when this will  happen, and where and how economies, companies and individuals should re-skill for the jobs of tomorrow?

The Hon. Ed Husic, Shadow Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation, Jordan Hatch, the Deputy CDO of Autrade and a Partner from Accenture – who managed to kill 17000 jobs at the firm without anyone losing their jobs, will be looking at how and why organisations can successfully transform themselves and thrive.

Krista Jones, Managing Partner of MaRS Discovery District will be sharing insights from the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto – and how it’s become the fastest growing ecosystem in North America. Krista will also be talking about the work they’ve done on the Employee Pathway Platform to help those transitioning from current roles to new ones.

Murray Hurps the Director of Entrepreneurship at UTS, Andrea Myles from CAMP, James Spenceley – the Chairman of Airtasker and Julie Trell who heads up Muru-D and is country lead for SheEO will be discussing the critical role of startups in this new landscape.

We’re also going to hear from Phil Morle from Main Sequence Ventures, David McKeague from curiousthing.io and Charlie Day from Innovation Science Australia about the niches Australian startups and companies should be exploiting.

Dominic Price – Head of R&D and FuturistAtlassian is looking  at how we as individuals can prepared for the future work. We’ll also have insights from Liz Jakubowski – the CEO of ribit.net who helps young people find internships, Anne-Marie Elias , and Tom Moore looking at how we can have meaningful jobs for those who want to work . Tom’s the Global CEO of withyouwithme and he’s helping people including returned veterans and parents get back to work.

Annette Sweeney – who headed up the UK Government Digital Service’s Digital Academy that trained 8000 Civil Servants to operate in a digital world will join the Vice Chancellor of UTS – Professor Attila Brungs, the CEO of Academy Xi Ben Wong  and Sallyann Williams from Google will consider how we re-skill an entire economy.

Anne Moore, the founder of a smart skills building marketplace for the new world of work – PlanDo and Louise Watts from the global transition hubs HPC Global will be talking about how organisations will be putting talent development and future workforce strategy front and centre to growth. They’ll be joined by Emma Hogan – the NSW Public Service Commissioner – who is responsible for almost 400,000 NSW Public Servants (she’s the largest employer in the country) and David Barnett from Pearson..

Items below have been updated.

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