Corazza: Society can benefit from ‘gendered’ responses to disruption

Chiara Corazza with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani during a recent meeting in Rome. [Flickr]

In this new disrupted world, conventional thinking will not be enough to address the challenges posed by rapid changes, meaning a gendered perspective is needed to reveal fresh points of view, said Chiara Corazza in an interview with EURACTIV.

Chiara Corazza is managing director of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, which will hold its annual global forum in Paris this week (5-6 October).

She spoke to EURACTIV Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti

You are about to open the next Women’s Forum Global Meeting on the 4 October in Paris. This year you have called it ‘Daring to lead in a disrupted world’. Has there really been so much disruption to the economy and society since last year’s meeting in Deauville?

Absolutely. Think about where we were a year ago. Last year’s US elections have had repercussions across that country and around the world – not just for women but for all of humanity. Following US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, other leaders are redoubling their commitment to climate action. This was one of the drivers for the launch of our Climate Manifesto at our Women’s Forum Meeting in Rome, which reaffirmed the commitment of signatories to the goals of the treaty, considering women’s leadership on climate and the specific effect that climate change has on women.

Other political shifts, including in France and other European countries, have altered the landscape immeasurably. We are living in a different and disrupted world.

All of this, of course, took place against a background of accelerating change in artificial intelligence and connected technologies that is altering the way we live our lives and our relationship to work.

We must be realistic about the challenges that we face, but there is every reason to be hopeful. From climate to the economy to women’s health, new leadership is emerging from different quarters and all levels, and the Women’s Forum has a front-row seat in Paris.

We change from a “Think Tank” to a “Do Thank” and we will be for the first time in Paris, thanks to Valérie Pécresse President of the Paris Region and Former Minister.

The Brief: Should climate really end up on EU's back burner?

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Brussels, or in any part of Europe for that matter, who isn’t worried about climate change. So why isn’t the EU putting all its efforts into fighting this immense threat?

How do we restore and strengthen the social ties that connect economies and societies?

It begins with dialogue, and a shared recognition that what has worked in the past will not necessarily work in a world that’s disrupted. Conventional thinking will not help to tighten the connections that have been threatened by continued and accelerating change.

Organisations must embrace new ideas to rebuild trust – whether with employees, consumers or communities. This means taking a risk, which is one of the primary reasons that we chose the theme we did. We want participants to dare each other, to challenge each other, and to engage for impact!

While restoring trust begins with dialogue, it doesn’t end there. Our ambition for the Women’s Forum Global Meeting is not to just define and describe our problems but to challenge our speakers and delegates to ask, ‘what do we do next’? Then, we want to answer that question in a clear way.

What are the opportunities that disruption can create for both public and private institutions?

We have seen, and we continue to see, that people expect businesses to take a strong stance and engage on issues in a disrupted world. The changing nature and complexity of the challenges – environmental, social, technological and political – means that these they can’t be solved by one organisation.

They require different institutions working together — both public and private — bringing their unique expertise, experience and creativity to bear.

This creates an opportunity for businesses to align their positive impact on society with their business strategies and create growth while making a social impact. That’s better for all because the action is sustainable.

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What part women can play in leading this world in transition?

It’s a cliché to say that the only constant is change, but the fact is that the fundamental requirement of leading in a disrupted world is to be able to adapt quickly and effectively as the ground moves beneath one’s feet.

We don’t know precisely what will be needed because a disrupted world is by its nature unpredictable. But we do know that women leaders will have a critical and growing role. This is because women have a long-term view. They identify and manage risks. They bring unique experiences, talent and creativity.

The spirit of the Women’s Forum is that the problems we face are human issues, not just issues for women. But we believe that a gendered perspective is important for revealing fresh points of view. If we can create coalitions of women – and reach critical mass – this will help generate the conditions for change and adaptability in a disrupted world.

In a disrupted world, what will define a successful leader? 

We are already seeing significant shifts in the narrative of what it means to be a successful leader.

For example, in the last five years, women have been appointed to the defence leadership of several large European economies: Spain, Germany, Italy and France, to name a few. Florence Parly, Minister for the Armed Forces for France, will be speaking at our Women’s Forum Global Meeting on this phenomenon in a session on daring leadership.

Cultural norms are shifting in security and other areas that are traditionally male dominated, and this is expanding women’s influence and changing definitions for what constitutes leadership. Women are leading humanitarian missions in war zones in Syria, and they hold executive positions in some of the world’s largest and most influential financial institutions. We have a whole session dedicated to this in our programme.

The common thread is the taking of risks, and a willingness to question the definition of successful leadership and offer a new vision, which is exactly what these women are doing.

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Technologies such as AI, automation and genome engineering are at a critical moment of development. The both present challenges and opportunities. What kind of leadership will best govern these changes? Are the structures in place fit to take us through this journey?

We understand that the impact of technology is as much a social issue as a technical issue. And the Global Meeting is an opportunity to discuss the social and economic implications of these technologies.

Managing those implications will require collaboration between different sectors – from the engineers and scientists who develop them, to governments that develop new regulations, to NGOs that observe and measure the effects on our personal and working lives.

In many ways, the structures to take us through this journey, as you say, are already in place. They simply need a platform to understand how to work together, as well as a concrete way forward. That’s something we hope to work towards in Paris.

How can businesses be more human to offset the rise of artificial intelligence?

These are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, in the short term artificial intelligence can replace jobs and depress wages. But we must dare to take a longer-term view. Artificial intelligence technology and common humanity are not incompatible, provided that institutions understand that they must put people at the heart of institutions.

We must use human ingenuity to ensure that machines are at the service of humanity. We must be intentional about what needs we want artificial intelligence to serve. Also, if these machines learn from human behaviour, it’s also important that they don’t replicate the biases that we see in our current structures.

It’s the people, and not the technology, who will ultimately make businesses and institutions fit for the future. There will always be pride of place for human creativity.

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How can the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society as a hub of women’s networks impact and shape this transition?

The Women’s Forum is not just a network; it is also a network of networks. The first goal is, of course, to bring these networks together around a common theme and specific issues, and to provide the condition for collective action.

We want to place emphasis on the issues that we think need to be brought to the fore, but we want to amplify and provide a platform for existing initiatives that can benefit from new connections and support.

Following from that first ambition is that we want to maintain the influence of this extraordinary of network of women – not just during our Women’s Forum Global Meeting and our Regional Meetings but throughout the year.

We will define real goals and solutions to maintain this momentum and these connections. If the daring leaders of the Women’s Forum – both women and men – commit to staying engaged with each other on the plans that we create for ourselves, we will be well placed to exercise influence and impact.