By Ashna Dayal, Tloco Kelebemang, Egla Ntumba, Precious Schulte to Brinke, Tiffany Watt and Chisomo Liabunya
In a world where machines and artificial intelligence (AI) are not only performing mechanical tasks but also “thinking” and analysing, many current human-performed tasks and jobs may become obsolete. But rather than stepping aside to make way for robots, new research suggests that now may be the time to turn towards that which makes us uniquely human – the ability to feel.
Robots already outdo humans in many respects – they are more accurate, faster, tougher, stronger, and perform even the most mundane tasks with precision – but they cannot show empathy, listen, motivate, negotiate, or feel. This is where humans have the edge.
Interpersonal “soft” skills associated with emotional intelligence – perhaps more so than “thinking” skills such as problem-solving and data analysis – could be the key to further success and innovation, according to researchers at the universities of Maryland and National Taiwan.
Professor Ronald Rust from the Robert H Smith School of Business says AI will soon take over thinking tasks, so if humans want to future-proof their careers, they should get in touch with their emotions. “This is something that is going to hit people before they know it,” Rust told the school’s Smith Brain Trust. “It’s already happening. We’re already seeing the shift in feeling as being more important, not only in terms of employment growth, but in terms of compensation growth.” And it is happening across the board – “you name a job and we can show a shift from thinking to feeling.”
Women may have an edge in the ‘feeling economy’
Rust believes that in future, “people-people” will be the ones who find greatest success in the workplace. People management, working with others, emotional intelligence, and negotiation skills will all be in great demand. In what’s been dubbed the ‘feeling economy’, the nature of all jobs will change, which means companies, managers and individuals need to prepare for it: companies and managers, by leading with empathy and being more people-oriented, and employees, by enhancing their soft skills.
The emphasis on soft skills will have profound implications for education too, and business schools and leadership programmes have been preparing for this shift for some time.
It is possible that in ‘feeling economy’ women may have the edge. While men and women’s Emotion Intelligence (EQ) scores tend to balance out overall, women are often more in touch with this side of their characters and more able to express feeling than their male colleagues. They tend to score higher than men in areas of empathy, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility; (men tend to score higher than women in areas of assertiveness, stress tolerance and self-regard, aka confidence). This may also be one of the reasons that there are more women enrolling in business schools than ever before. Since the start of the pandemic, business schools have reported an “explosion” in applications from women: in the US, 62% of schools reported growth in applications from female candidates for their full-time MBA programmes, compared with 42% in 2019.
Here in South Africa, similar trends are unfolding. In 2020, the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) saw its highest-ever number of female applicants for its MBA programme, with 46% of applications coming from women last year.
Professionals like Shadi Lekgoathi, a qualified chartered accountant, are increasingly turning to businesses schools to hone their soft skills. Lekgoathi says with her existing qualifications, she already has technical knowledge – the MBA she is currently doing is for personal development. “I’m really enjoying the leadership aspect, which is personally skewed on developing soft skills. It’s an awareness course.”
Lekgoathi hopes to user her new-found soft skills in a company with a social impact agenda and focus on inclusivity. “At the UCT GSB I am also learning about my continent. The solutions should come from us. We need to stop looking beyond our horizons and look here for solutions.”
Turning empathy into innovation
Lekgoathi understands that innovation is the lifeblood of any organisation and economy, and increasingly, the success of tomorrow’s leaders will depend on their ability to manage change and drive innovation in an uncertain world, where feeling and empathy matter more. As we create economies for tomorrow, in addition to doing so sustainably, we need to be more inclusive, developing solutions that consider the marginalised to ensure they have a role to play in the economy.
Some of the most powerful brands are already working to turn empathy into innovation, and human connection and authenticity into growth. Brands such as Lush, which has built a global empire on the back of ethically sourced bath and beauty products, and Nike, whose well-known advertising campaigns tell stories of the indomitable human spirit to sell sports gear.
These brands are putting human experience first, from product design and marketing to management and workplace culture. They understand well that 86 percent of people think that authenticity matters. And they’re seeing this new respect for human needs reflected in healthier bottom lines.
The evidence has been stacking up for quite some time that women are best placed to drive this feeling revolution. A recent study from the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software found that adding women to software development teams boosted team performance. Women are also shown to be better at creating psychological safety in teams that supports innovation and encourages creativity, something that research from Cambridge’s Judge Business School shows that this is especially important during a crisis.
If all this data is to be believed, then the skills women bring to organisations and economies will be more important than ever before. COVID-19 may have been the tipping point that has finally nudged more women to step up and claim their space in the feeling workplace of the future.
Ashna Dayal, Tloco Kelebemang, Egla Ntumba,Precious Schulte to Brinke, Tiffany Watt and Chisomo Liabunya are MBA students at the UCT Graduate School of Business and Committee members for this year’s Women in Business conference, taking place on 20 August 2021, under the theme Coding Heart into the Economy: Turning empathy into innovation. For more information on the conference, visit https://www.gsb.uct.ac.za/even...