Women In Industries

There’s no denying that our world is facing a massive transformation. Business leaders everywhere are struggling to adapt. How can we change that?

The reason for this struggle is easy to find: While moving from an old into a new reality, business leaders worked on redefining their strategy, but forgot to craft out their company’s purpose and culture. A new EY event series in Switzerland plans to tackle these issues. But there’s a twist, as “Women in Industries” discusses them from a mainly female perspective. Forbes was invited to help find the right answers. We started, as usual, by asking the tough questions.

This time, everything actually is different. While there has always been much discussion around supposed ‘disruptions’ in the past, the current transformation of the business world is of a different kind of magnitude. This is due to several simultaneous trends, most importantly the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). This in itself is disrupting industries across the board. Hand in hand with it goes the ever-growing importance of data in an even more globalized world.

And these trends will not suddenly stop. While global revenues generated by AI software were estimated to be ‘only’ around $2.4 bn in 2017, this number will skyrocket to around $60 bn by 2025. At the same time, jobs such as cashiers, drivers, bank tellers etc. will disappear due to technologies taking over their duties (according to a study by Oxford University, 47 percent of jobs are in danger of being replaced by machines). And, as if all this weren’t enough to deal with, we are seeing a trend towards populism, which is shifting the political landscape in Europe and elsewhere. The Brexit votum and Donald Trump’s presidency have only been the most talked about phenomena of this underlying development.

But while it may seem that way, it’s not all doom and gloom. While jobs are disappearing, new occupations are being created. AI technologies will make our lives much more comfortable, by freeing us of tedious tasks and giving us time for leisure and creative passions. But how can companies deal with this growing uncertainty, the ongoing shift in their business models? How can they win the global race for the best talents? How can they succeed in this transformative time?

All these questions were asked and sometimes also answered during EY’s first “Women in Industries” event in Zurich. The idea of the event series? Discussing the most relevant topics for executives – while focusing on a female perspective on these issues. The motto of the night: “A Winning Strategy in a Transformative Age”.

The panel, which included Marianne Janik (CEO Microsoft Switzerland), Alanna Abrahamson (CFO of ABB’s Industrial Automation division), Professor Monika Bütler (University of St. Gallen) and Reto Isenegger (Global Strategy & Customer Practice Leader for Advisory Services, EY in Switzerland) made clear that while strategy is still crucial, firms need to find their purpose and the right culture to succeed.

To do this, one-sided viewpoints are not enough – because today’s strategies are highly volatile. Rather, diverse teams are needed to make sure upcoming challenges are looked at from the highest possible variety of angles. And while everyone seems to agree on this, reality in Switzerland and elsewhere is looking much less promising.

Switzerland features strong diversity when it comes to nationalities. But Swiss companies still have a long way to go when it comes to gender diversity at executive level. An example: Not a single company of the Swiss Market Index (SMI) is run by a female CEO. It’s ever more surprising, as Switzerland has Europe’s second-highest proportion of women in the workforce. Still, the country trails global standards on gender diversity in boardrooms and management positions.

But also here, things are looking up. Companies are increasingly committing to this issue. In 2017, more than a fifth of all new executive board members in Switzerland were women – a record after ten years of “standing still”.

EY, for example, has set a goal of increasing their ratio of female partners in Switzerland to 25 percent by 2020. Ambitious goals – but desperately needed. We can only hope that the ongoing transformation of our world will go hand in hand with a higher diversity among decision makers. The survival of firms might depend on it.

This Advoice will be released in the upcoming issue of our print magazine on July 20th.

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