The last 20 years has been a revolution of technology, but for me, the two biggest impacts on the landscape of work have been:
1) the Internet, and…
2) what women in business are doing with it.
Change at the Speed of Technology
The landscape of work is changing at the speed of technology–it’s not just continuous change, it’s blindingly continuous change.
Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to include the development of the desktop computer and the advent of mobile technology under the heading of “the Internet.” While they are entirely their own elements worthy of discussion, their importance in the landscape of organizing and business is dependent on the development of the Internet. The arc of development looks something like this:
The Desktop PC
Mobile (Internet-enabled devices)
Girl Meets Internet
My entire career course was shaped by the development of the Internet. In 1994, I started working in my brothers’ “desktop publishing” business. They were early programmers (learning programming languages in the late 80s), but they had developed a business based on creating custom documents for enterprise customers. They were able to do this due to the availability of the PC. At that time, the Internet was only a factor as far as email was concerned. For the youngsters in the class, and email address in 1994 looked something like this: email@example.com. I used a dial up modem, and you just hoped it only took as long as this audio clip:
A PC and a dial-up modem allowed me to work from home. As the years (and technology) progressed, a cell phone and broadband Internet allowed me to expand my “work from home” job to a business. Next, wireless and web-enabled devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets) allowed me to work from anywhere at anytime with anyone who had access to the same. In 20 years I went from local to global, from owning a job to owning a business, from working 9-to-5 to working any and all the time. And I wasn’t alone–my career arc mirrors the experience of many women who have embraced entrepreneurship.
Western Women and Entrepreneurship
Internet and mobile technologies have changed the face of entrepreneurship in the Western world and resulted in a shift in strategy and organization of entrepreneurial companies. What 20 years ago took years of planning and thousands of dollars can now be accomplished in a few days with an Internet connection, a smartphone, a computer and less than $1000. Women have embraced this “democratization of technology,” resulting in an explosion of women-owned businesses. The rate of launch of women-owned business has held steady over the last 6 years at just under twice the rate of male-owned business (American Express Open, 2012, pp. 6-7).
These technologies not only lower the cost of entry into the world of entrepreneurship, but the allow for connection to information and resources that is unprecedented. The “work anywhere, anytime” flexibility of Internet and mobile allows women the flexibility to create their own schedules, helping them overcome two of the top barriers to women starting business: care giving responsibilities and lack of access to capital (Colligan & Schoenfeldt, 2005). Smartphones, tablets, and cloud-based technology solutions (Google Suite, Dropbox) allow business operations to function in the palm of a woman’s hand.
Global Female Entrepreneurship
Mobile technology in particular has contributed to an interesting development in entrepreneurship among women in developing nations. Where my path started with dial-up, moved to broadband, then went wireless, women in developing lands are skipping straight to mobile. Technological infrastructure in much of the developing world is bypassing the hard-wiring of broadband (another massive strategy shift) in favor of mobile technologies (Deloitte & GSMA, 2012, pp. 3-5). Where women as breadwinners in families is a relatively new cultural phenomenon in the West, female entrepreneurship has a long history in the developing world. However, mobile is creating a radical shift in global female entrepreneurship. Where in the past much of female entrepreneurship in developing nations has been based on back-breaking labor, mobile is facilitating the beginning of “white collar” business opportunities for women (GSMA Development Fund, 2013, pp. 22-23), so they don’t have to physically destroy themselves just to earn a living. The GSMA (2013), the primary global association of mobile providers, is aggressively creating opportunities for women to become mobile vendors, either selling mobile services and products, or simply selling minutes on their phone to others in their rural areas (p.10). No doubt these women will embrace these technologies just as those of us in the West have done.
Women + Tech = Transformation
We are living in a time of explosive growth in technology. The tech gurus often quote Moore’s Law, stating that computers double their technology capacity about every two years (Dubash, 2005). However, Moore (2005) himself admits that there is a limit to the exponential growth capacity of technology (cited in Dubash) . So, while change is continuous, it is not always steadily continuous. Technology comes in bursts, and so do the organizational changes they create. Until the pace of technology slows, we can expect to see demands for organizational adaptation and shift.
The role of gender is going to continue to play a role in the social construction of organizations. When reporting on the reasons why they are launching a business, women report three dominant factors:
1. Freedom and flexibility over schedule and life
2. Increased earning potential
3. Creativity in career (i.e., career satisfaction) (Colligan & Schoenfeldt, 2005, pp. 9-10).
This dissatisfaction with the typical 9-to-5, corporate career ladder is driving a shift in the way business is being done. With women now surpassing 50% of the workforce (Rampell, 2010), and with female entrepreneurship on the rise, the nature of the world of work will no doubt continue to evolve. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years is going to bring.
Readers: how about you? What changes do you anticipate are on the horizon in your work career?
American Express Open. (2012). The state of women-owned businesses report. Retrieved from https://c401345.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/pdf/State_of_Women-Owned_Businesses-Report_FINAL.pdf
Colligan, V,. & Schoenfeldt, B. (2007). Ladies Who Launch: Embracing entrepreneurship and creativity as a lifestyle. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Deloitte & GSMA. (2012). Sub-Saharan Africa mobile observatory 2012. Retrieved from http://www.gsma.com/publicpolicy/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/SSA_FullReport_v6.1_clean.pdf
Dubash, M. (2005, April 12). Moore’s law is dead, says Gordon Moore. TechWorld.com. Retrieved from http://news.techworld.com/operating-systems/3477/moores-law-is-dead-says-gordon-moore/
GSMA Development Fund. (2013). Women & mobile: A global opportunity. Retrieved from http://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/GSMA_Women_and_Mobile-A_Global_Opportunity.pdf
Rampell, C. (2010, February 5). Women now a majority in American workplaces. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/06/business/economy/06women.html?_r=0