The future of work we want: Thriving in the age of disruption


By Emma Cochrane, Vincent Muzelle, Marie Beuve-Mery ; HEC Paris

With Anni Coden, Associate Director at The Boston Consulting Group, Jennifer Salinas, Executive Director of IP Litigation at Worldwide Lenovo, Rebeca Servin Lewis, Legal, Corporate and Philanthropist Lead at Microsoft Mexico, Gloria Maldonado, Executive Director at the Technological Innovation Centre for Construction, Yas Benifatemi, Partner, Head of International Law at Shearman & Sterling, and the moderator Olga Granaturova, Founder of Brighter Ventures.

Anni Coden starts the discussion by confirming what we all know: Artificial Intelligence is disrupting our lives. What we might not realise, however, is that Artificial Intelligence is not a new term. The word was coined in 1956 with the conjecture that all learning and all intelligence can be written down so that a computer can simulate it.  In 1956, Eliza a robot psychologist built at MIT treats patients. In 1997, the robot Deep Blue famously beats chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov. And today, Stanford University’s CheXNet can read chest X-rays to diagnose pneumonia.

The drawbacks of AI, however, are already visibile. Amazon had a programme to read Curriculum Vitae’s which resulted in gender bias, and Google Translate is also criticised for associating a doctor with the word ‘strong’ and a nurse with ‘pretty.’ Given the increasing important of AI, this is concerning – what if AI brings in bias in the penal system, or when determining whether someone should be given a loan? 

How can this be resolved? It begins with parity in the future of work, specifically in STEM. When asked what corporations can do to fill half of their jobs with women, Jennifer Salinas answers that companies have to look at every level of the company, from the most junior to the most senior position and ask the “tough questions”. At Lenovo, 18% of executives are women with a goal of 20% for next year. This has been executed through 5 initiatives: a woman leadership development program; correcting the talent acquisition process; carrying out internal pay and equity surveys; partnering with organisations and implementing quotas. Flexible models are also needed - companies must not only look how to recruit but they need to have programmes for reintegrating women who left the workforce for 10 years to have children to retain women in STEM.

However, it is not just businesses and corporations that must act. According to Rebeca Servin Lewis, for a lasting and real impact, every initiative must be escalated to the government. She wants to be optimistic about the fourth industrial revolution. “Specific human qualities will never be replaced by machines”. But in a world where women are over represented in jobs with a high risk of automation, corporations need to collaborate with the government. For starters, through education. In 2018, Microsoft’s program helped 3M students in over 60 countries learn computer skills. Half of these were women. Similarly governments must embed computer science into their education systems and STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) must be promoted among young women in the hope of breaking down stereotypes.

The future of work we want also comes in the form of startups; key to job creation. Gloria Maldonado has found that if you help other women improve the quality of their startups, improvements happen in society. But as Olga Granaturova points out, “in 2018, female founders received only 2.2% of all venture capital investment”. For Gloria, empowering women startups is achieved by :

  1. Reducing barriers for opening and closing firms – it is the only way for women to grab opportunities.
  2. Creating incentives for individuals and organisations to invest in women startups and/or exploring new models of funding for female only funds
  3. Establishing continuous education programmes that promote digital fluency for women–led start-ups
  4. Exploring new forms of funding such as female-only funds.
  5. Setting up programmes that increase the number of female fund managers
  6. Promoting and making visible women that are successful. We tend to follow female role models
  7. Develop continuing education programmes
  8. Encouraging girls and women to participate in the STEM world

On tackling this, we can focus on AI. Yas Benifatemi highlighted the need for a strict legal framework that protects security, diversity and privacy to regulate AI policy. AI can not exist without a legal framework and can not prosper without it being human centric, which is “not about mimicking human behaviour but keeping the human in mind”. In 2019, 42 countries adopted the OECD Principles on Artificial Intelligence ranging from labour law, recruitment issues and education, to the protection of privacy, cyber security, and ethics and transparency. AI can be an effective instrument, but human intervention is key. The Recommendation identifies five complementary values-based principles for the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI:

  • AI should benefit people and the planet by driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being.
  • AI systems should be designed in a way that respects the rule of law, human rights, democratic values and diversity, and they should include appropriate safeguards – for example, enabling human intervention where necessary – to ensure a fair and just society.
  • There should be transparency and responsible disclosure around AI systems to ensure that people understand AI-based outcomes and can challenge them.
  • AI systems must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their life cycles and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed.
  • Organisations and individuals developing, deploying or operating AI systems should be held accountable for their proper functioning in line with the above principles.

Yas finally concludes, “Artificial Intelligence can be an effective instrument but we must not forget that human intervention is key. We need to use it intelligently. Responsible AI is our responsibility. The decision making process can be assisted but we must not relinquish decision making.”


This article is part of a series on #WFAmericas. Watch the full session on YouTube.