By Chiara Corazza, Managing Director, Women's Forum for the Economy & Society
The cause for smarter cities is stronger than ever. From enhancing sustainable environments to lowering the cost of living - smarter cities are expected to advance the call for the Sustainable Development Goals by 70%. When juxtaposed with urbanisation and rapidly expanding cities - it is crucial to put them at the forefront of every conversation. We will be confronting several challenges such as security, integration of technology and more. And yet, while we brace ourselves for most of these conversations, there remains a gap unbridged.
That of inclusivity.
While automation and data become core to every city, we must address the need for representation and leadership of women in every way possible. If we look back at the Renaissance – the beauty, the quality of life, the stability, the creativity, the architectural gestures, the innovation – we realise that we have not ever experienced anything like that in this fast paced present. This is because at the centre of the movement was a devotion to putting at the very core what mattered most – humanism. For the future of cities – cities of life, fruitful progress and equitable societies – we must do the same. We must put human beings, both men and women, at the centre.
How can we do this?
Firstly, we need to include more women in governments redefining cities – currently fewer than 25 women are mayors of some of the largest cities in the world. By excluding a portion of the population from policy and projects surrounding the upcoming urban ecosystem, we are allowing cities to be constructed for not all but only one segment of the population. We want to live outside in cities much as we live in our own homes : they must be clean, secure and practical yet also feel comfortable and safe to everyone. Smart cities need smart governments that can provide myriad perspectives to address challenges pertaining to issues of security and stability innovatively and thoroughly. The share of urban dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050, and urban poverty and other challenges are more likely to impact women and girls, according to the UN. This disproportion can be addressed by empowering women and accelerating a balanced approach, and creating more favourable environments.
Secondly, smart cities mean business opportunities. These opportunities are not merely for tech firms but for all those that cater to the needs of the city - be it healthcare, energy, transport, connectivity and more. As businesses begin to thrive and expand, diversity makes the case not just financially but also socially and culturally. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability according to McKinsey’s report “Delivering through Diversity.”Our Rising Talents survey also showed that 71% of Rising Talent Laureates defined success in their career in terms of achieving a positive social impact - going beyond financials to consider their employees, communities and societies.
Finally, we need to address what allows the very reconstruction of these spaces. STEM is a field suffering the brunt of underrepresentation with women representing only 28% of all of the world’s researchers. When coupled with the leave rate of 53% of professionals in business-roles in tech industries, we must understand that the framework of these cities will be inherently biased. Smart cities use data to constantly improve and without women behind algorithms and data analysis, collection and interpretation of data will be inherently biased as well. Smart cities will continue to get smarter - but only for one half of its population.
Smart cities can serve us, but only if we collectively address the challenges they bring – which is the very ambition of our upcoming meeting Women’s Forum Singapore. The cities of tomorrow will advance societies by bringing together generations, cultures, territories, sectors, men and women – to bridge humanity and foster diverse perspectives at every step of the way.
Editor’s notes: This article is part of a LinkedIn series for Women's Forum Singapore, demonstrating how leadership and partners of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society help to bridge worlds for inclusive innovation.