From self-driving taxis in Singapore to sensors collecting real-time data on the streets of Chicago, connected technology and the internet of things have opened new possibilities to align policy with technology and make cities more sustainable and more liveable.
But it takes more than self-dimming street lamps and sensors in rubbish bins to make a city smart. To be smart, a city must be human. And that means ensuring that women’s voices, talents, and perspectives are represented as we pursue smarter, more connected urban centres.
Smart cities are human cities
Women’s perspectives are critical to ensuring that smart cities work for everyone – women and men, young and old, rich and poor. Their leadership must be central to every step of the conception and design process.
There are, however, challenges to tapping women’s full creative and leadership input. Women are underrepresented on teams of engineers and city planners, as well as in municipal leadership. Women hold less than 20% of specialist jobs in information and communication technology – the lifeblood of smart cities. We must encourage greater women’s leadership in the technology that makes smart connectivity possible.
This isn’t to say that women aren’t making extraordinary strides in creating a smart and inclusive future for cities. There are multiple examples globally of women’s perspectives and voices helping to put smart, connective strategies into practice.
In Paris, under women’s leadership in the city and the region, plans are underway to maximise mobility and economic access through public transport in Grand Paris, linking business districts, airports, and universities. In Gothenburg, Mayor Ann-Sofie Hermansson has worked with Volvo (also based in the city) on plans for self-driving cars, emphasising the importance of collaboration and dialogue between public and private actors. In Vienna, a concerted effort to understand how women use urban spaces resulted in improved lighting, pedestrian mobility and access to public transport – enhancing liveability for both women and men.
Meanwhile, in the United States, several prominent chief information officers and chief technology officers of large and mid-sized cities are innovating with smart technology – from free wi-fi to help cross the digital divide to automated and human-centred mobility initiatives. And in the UK, innovative women architects and urban designers are leading the way forward. The influence of women is likely to grow as this network of leaders flourishes and has a louder voice in the global discussion on cities.
A more human city for everyone
The success of smart cities depends on the right investment (from both public and private partners), the right policies, and robust community participation. Businesses, entrepreneurs, individuals and community groups must come together to unlock the economic and social promise of smart cities – balancing different needs and keeping humanity at the centre of the equation. For this, women’s leadership is a key ingredient.
More women in STEM and women’s leadership in mayoral offices is only the beginning of a female and urban future. I agree with architect Alison Brooks: “Women in all sectors of society will increasingly change the way our cities operate, look and feel – not because of their gender, but because of the additional 50% of human creative intelligence that will be addressing the problems of the city.”
Indeed, the future of smart cities will be shaped by women.
This article is the part of the ‘Daring to lead’ series, highlighting voices from the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society Global Meeting, in Paris, on 5-6 October. You can see our full programme and current list of speakers for the event at the Women’s Forum website.
 Local government representation in the UK
 Local government representation in the UK and Germany