Gender Shift & New Work

January 27, 2023

In 2022, the Future Institute identified 12 megatrends as the driving forces behind the change. The Future Insitute is a think tank specialized in futurology research. Megatrends describe the dynamics of change within society, and according to the Institute, should represent “a model for the changing world”. One of these megatrends is the gender shift. This trend concerns itself with the fundamental changes in traditional gender roles within our world. This trend can be viewed as the result of  decades-long feminist campaigning, combined with the spirit of the times and ongoing discussions surrounding gender constructs. It is nowadays widely understood that there is a difference between sex (biological sex) and gender (social gender and its gender-associated roles and identities). The gender shift indicates that these gender-specific, assigned attributes are undergoing changes that will defy established role patterns and gender stereotypes. The Future Institute states that this will lead to “radical economic and social changes which will produce a new pluralistic culture”. In essence, the gender shift will enable us to go beyond sex and gender when defining our identities. 

Four gender shift predictions

Within the scope of their research on megatrends, the think tank has presented four future gender shift scenarios: 

  1. Gender roles will lose their social relevance: The trend will induce changes in traditional family structures. 

  2. Diversity will become the norm: feminism will be mainstream, in turn boosting diversity to the point where it will become standard – and so the norm.

  3. Gender awareness will become a prime directive: The creation of approaches which are gender-equitable and apply to all genders will increase in importance. Technology and big data can also play a role here. 

  4. Defining identities will not be confined to biological sex. This will impact many aspects of life and be reflected, for example, in marketing. It can mean that the common, gender-based type of marketing will become a thing of the past.

Gender Shift & New Work: how should the working world adjust?

New Work asserts that the world is constantly changing – and these changes need to be reflected in our working world. In many ways, the gender shift will present a challenge for the working world. It will require companies to respond to these changes, yet also give them the opportunity to be pioneers on the frontier of change. Companies can begin by taking the following actions: 

  • Rethink working environments: If traditional gender roles are changing, that means that “traditional” career choices will undergo changes, too. Many professions are typically carried out by either men or women, as physical work locations can attest. Marlene Pichler von Rosenbauer cites fire departments as an example. The ergonomics of the vehicles as well as other equipment is clearly designed for males, and  consequently, for men’s bodies. To distance themselves from exclusion in the future, work sites need more gender-neutral planning.  
  • Transform corporate cultures: By means of their corporate culture, companies should foster individual growth. The gender shift will place even more emphasis on this aspect. Diversity management, flexible working models, or facilitating the compatibility of family and career within various forms of family diversity – these issues will gain significance. 
  • Adjust the gender pay gap: The gender pay gap illustrates the difference between the average gross hourly earnings of men and women. In 2020, the difference was at about 18%: on average, men earned 18% more as women. This difference was partially attributed to structural aspects, such as the traditional gender differences in occupations and length of employment. It’s also due to the fact that as of yet, women have held fewer executive level positions. However, these structural aspects may soon be history, thanks to the gender shift. In the meantime, companies can take the initiative and eliminate unfairness in the pay rates among their employees.  
  • Use gender-neutral communication at all levels: Language can contribute to the construction of social realities and can also challenge them. This makes gender-neutral communication extremely important for both internal and external communication, even right from the start. For example, a job posting with gender-specific language may already alter how the ad is perceived by job seekers, giving the impression that the position is aimed towards a particular gender. In turn, this will affect who decides to apply. The respondees will be those who feel they meet the qualifications and are being directly spoken to, or solicited. The usage of gender-neutral language can decrease such gender discrimination. This also applies to reducing gender biases in advertising and marketing. 

The gender shift megatrend doesn’t mean that biological sex and/or gender are suddenly irrelevant. Instead, it’s recognizing that a person’s sex has shed its “fateful meaning”. Biological sex or gender is no longer the primary focus, but rather the individual and their personal identity.