Aspire to Lead: Women's Leadership Series | Sponsored by PwC


Teaching Girls to See Themselves as Leaders, with Tara Sophia Mohr

In order to guide young women to achieve their full leadership potential, life coach and author Tara Sophia Mohr explains that society as a whole needs to do three things. First, we need to acknowledge that young people hold the key to changing the world for the better. Treating adolescents like they're powerless only reinforces that harmful untruth. Second, we need to teach them to silence their unhelpful inner critic. Young people who can subvert their fearful self-doubt will be more confident in their dealings and ambitions. Finally, it's vital to reinforce to young women that the world needs them. "In fact, the world has a hole in it that is shaped exactly like them, and only by sharing their own voice and bringing their unique gifts into the world will that hole be filled."


Professional Women Shouldn't Aspire to Be "Mad Men"

ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman explains why it's important for women to maintain authenticity when communicating confidence in the workplace. To emulate male confidence is to subvert one's authenticity. Subverting one's authenticity means negating the effects of diversity in terms of leadership style. Shipman is co-author of the book "The Confidence Code."


Claire Shipman: Be Biased in Favor of Taking Action

Author and broadcaster Claire Shipman explains the positive aspects of allowing confidence to grow within yourself. The best way to do this is to erase any fears that keep you from leaping toward professional and personal challenges.

Carol Sawdye: Manage Your Career With a Sense of Urgency

Carol Sawdye, the chief financial officer of PwC, shares the story of how a startling life event pushed her to become more active in career management. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 25, Sawdye received a wake-up call that pushed her to lead life with a heightened sense of urgency. In this video, she offers a deeply personal case for, and case study in, risk-taking, operating outside your comfort zone, and taking the initiative to achieve your goals.


Women in Leadership Roles Brings Economic Advantages, with Jane Diplock

The former chair of the New Zealand SEC discusses the correlation between profitability and having an equal number of men and women on corporate boards. Not only is the promotion of gender diversity in leadership positions the right thing to do, says Diplock, but it's also the smart and efficient thing to do.


This is the fifth video in a series on developing women leaders presented in partnership with PwC. Watch Claire Shipman and "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay in a live webcast presented by PwC on February 27th. Register here for the webcast, and follow the conversation on Twitter: #PwCAspire. Big Think has partnered with PwC to promote this event, and will feature videos and other content related to it throughout the month.

Michael Fenlon: It Takes Confidence to Instill Confidence

Michael Fenlon, global talent leader for PwC, discusses his company's Aspire to Lead initiative, which seeks to guide the next generation of women leaders. In order to be a great leader, you have to have the confidence in yourself to make others around you better.

Enlisting Men to Erase Harmful Stereotypes of Women, with Michael Fenlon

PwC Talent Manager Michael Fenlon discusses the aims of HeForShe, the solidarity movement for gender equality famously championed by actress Emma Watson in a September speech at the United Nations. He explains the importance of getting men to pledge their support for women and learn to listen in order to quash harmful stereotypes. To take the pledge for global gender equality, visit HeForShe.org.


On February 27th, PwC hosted a live webcast on developing great women leaders with ABC News's Claire Shipman and her "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay. Watch the archived stream here, and follow the conversation on Twitter: #PwCAspire. Big Think will be featuring more related videos and other content throughout the month.

Aspire to Lead - a Global Webcast

Are you just starting out in your career? Are you keen to learn more about building your confidence at work? Or are you interested in becoming a better leader?


On Friday 27 February, Big Think partner PwC hosted its second global webcast focused on the question, ‘What would you do if you were not afraid?’ The webcast was part of ‘Aspire to Lead: The PwC Women’s Leadership Series’.

The event took place in PwC's London office with around 200 students attending. The panel webcast featured ‘The Confidence Code’ authors – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, Eileen Naughton – Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland and Mike Fenlon PwC’s Global and US Talent leader, and was viewed by thousands of people across the globe.

A Look Back and Forward for Working Women

Most young women in the workforce don’t remember firsthand the battles their mothers and grandmothers fought over issues that are still relevant today. Among those who’ve read about them or learned secondhand, many women have taken pains to separate themselves from the purportedly drab, angry feminists with whom they have difficulty identifying. 


During the 1980s and 1990s, such disparaging labels as “ball-breakers,” “ice queens,” and “female mafia” were imposed on women who often only sought equal pay and a voice in the proceedings. The so-called “mommy wars” concept caught on in the media focusing on the differences between women working outside the home and those who chose to stay (and work) at home. It was more a headline grabber than an actual reality. Elitist, too, since stagnating purchasing power required most mothers to work. Nevertheless, the “mommy wars” grabbed attention, and the categories it imposed still cause harm today. Let it be said clearly and loudly: just as there are not two types of men, so there are not two types of women.

With all the manufactured anger and derision, is it any wonder that, given a choice, the next generations of women took another, quieter path? Who could blame them? Betty Friedan predicted that would be their choice when she wrote The Second Stage, which addressed the question of how to live the portion of equality that had been won. In the midst of writing The Second Stage, Friedan correctly saw that the future would not be rosy for women. “I sense other victories we thought were won yielding illusory gains,” she wrote. “I see new dimensions to problems we thought were solved.” 

There was at that time, however, the promise of young men attending college and getting MBAs alongside women. What their fathers had found unsettling, it was thought, these young men would consider natural. It seemed a reasonable expectation unless you taught (as I did) at a business school where little changed in terms of male-oriented cases, books, and articles. Female professors with tenure were quite rare. Learning, as female students noted, was one-dimensional in the incubators of future leaders.

At the same time, men became increasingly inclined toward silence about negative views of women — some because they felt under siege even if they were in favor of equality for women. Separating inadvertent and minor offenses against women from the major ones could have been done more effectively. Many men became actively involved in perpetuating the culture of excluding women; after all, it was a more comfortable and rewarding arena in which to reside — to say nothing of the fact that women were now directly competing with men for jobs. Indeed, it’s one thing to be theoretically in favor of gender equality at work and quite another to face the possible loss of your livelihood. Such were the ignition factors of backlash.

Also, women grew tired of struggling on behalf of their gender. Always having to prove commitment to the job and saying little of their children to prevent the perception of being distracted became taxing. We continue to see the effects. Helena Morrissey, chief executive of the Newton subsidiary of BNY Mellon and a leading campaigner for gender equality in the workplace, told The Financial Times, “It’s so tedious that there still seems such a problem.”

In 1979, Radcliffe’s president Matina Horner described a "crisis of confidence" facing women in the choices they encountered between family and career. This was especially true 10 years later for those women who worked full-time outside and inside the home, as described in 1989 in The Second Shift. As Gloria Steinem has said, “The truth is that women can't be equal outside the home until men are equal in it."

The confidence crisis continues today, as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written in The Confidence Code. Women tend to negotiate lower salaries than they deserve and to believe they must be 100 percent qualified for a job or promotion.   

Earlier this month, The Financial Times reported that more women are leaving fund-management careers. They’ve had it with sexist slights and corporate cultures that demean their value, even though research shows that female fund managers have better track records and that diverse groups in this field are more effective than those dominated by white males. Sixty-five percent of female fund managers reported regularly experiencing sexist behavior at the office. Their male colleagues also report seeing such behavior directed at women on a regular basis. Moreover, Catalyst research recently indicated a serious depletion of women in high-tech careers. They’re leaving shortly after they arrive.

It isn’t all bad news, of course. Women are succeeding as entrepreneurs. Pay equity in some sectors is almost where it should be, and young women enter the workplace more aware and with higher expectations. Increasingly, there are efforts to recruit women to the fields of science and engineering. Women are seeking graduate degrees and in larger numbers than ever before. Organizations have learned that hiring large numbers of women results in outperforming their competitors. Clearly women haven’t given up. They’re being realistic about where they’re valued and where they’re not and perhaps rightly realizing that to succeed in those areas they must leave the gender-equity fight largely to others.

How do we help women, and they help themselves, to move forward past the issues that concern them, impinge on their success, make them more tired than they need to be, and, instead, move forward in their careers while also enjoying their families? Here are a few important ways:

Reduce pressure on women to do it all — superbly. There is nothing new about this — women trying to “have it all” when we know no one can. Yet, the discussion about whether women can be all things to all people, including to themselves, is always popping up in the media. Let’s agree to stop it. The final answer to the question is: "No one can have it all." Parenting takes a considerable toll. So does being among the “sandwich generation,” trying to care for young children and aging parents. Something has to give, as Arianna Huffington wrote in Thrive. It does not mean compromising on success, but rather redefining it.

Confidence comes from doing certain things very well. Some days, as author Elizabeth Gilbert proposes, let other people be better parents, better artists, better at whatever because none of us can be wonderful all the time. Women cannot progress in the workplace if they never cut themselves any slack.

Increase work-life reconciliation policies. Since 1990, other nations with comparable resources have implemented a comprehensive agenda of “work-family reconciliation” acts. As a result, when the United States’ work-family policies are compared with those of countries at similar levels of economic and political development, the United States comes in dead last. From The NYT op ed by Stephanie Coontz, “Why Gender Equality Stalled,” comes this conclusion:  “Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.” 

It’s time to make issues regarding women at work nonpartisan and to put more women in office. Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters work. Equal pay and equal opportunity to succeed belong to no single political party. We need to wrench these issues free of sides and pressure all government representatives to actually represent women, whenever and from wherever they decide to work. 

Encourage organizations to notice and reward women’s contributionsRosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Change Masters, describes most organizations as having “a preference for being guided by the past rather than the future, by what is already known rather than what is not yet known.” Reward systems in such companies are what Kanter terms “payoff-centered” rather than “investment centered.” 

Women are an investment that research shows pays off. Yet, even in Silicon Valley where forward-thinking companies abound, women are not generally welcome at higher levels. As Nina Burleigh wrote in her Newsweek article, “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women":  “In inverse ratio to the forward-looking technology the community produces, it is stunningly backward when it comes to gender relations.”  

Lessen Reliance on easy fixes. This is a call to get real. We must be somewhat critical here of the press and the blogosphere for the plethora of instant fixes that women have become especially inclined to accept as a means of learning the ropes at work. In an age of six ways to do anything, it’s easy to slip into thinking that if women were just a little more this way or that, they’d be fine. There are some advantages to such tips, but they do not adequately address, let alone fix, the larger problems of sexism, discrimination, inequitable pay, and appalling dearth of women at the highest levels of industry and government.  

Band-Aid solutions give the wrong impression of what's involved in getting ahead at work. Learning about politics, for example, is critical to functioning well in organizations. Leadership too. No one learns about these critical skills with a few tips. It’s important to study the work environment, be an avid observer, learn from others — male and female, stretch your style, and practice, practice, practice.

When we look back, it’s clear that women’s equality at work is an extremely tall order. As we move forward, the future will look very different from the past. Women are unlikely to be marching for equality in pay and promotions, but as attention turns once again to these issues, as women are feeling more empowered to expect equal treatment, more supported by other women, movement forward is likely to look like thousands upon thousands of candles in the mist.  

Each day, each woman on her own, in small groups, or “circles” will make a difference. If we refuse to forget what has been accomplished, ignore or reframe labels that hold women back, and increase our political and leadership acumen, once again we will move the stone up the hill and this time refuse to let it slip.

Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Professor Emerita at the USC Marshall School of Business and Big Think blogger, is the author of 10 books on communication and politics at work, including The Secret Handshake; the mystery thriller Shadow Campus, about one woman’s perilous struggle with workplace politics described by Forbes as “masterful”; the reprint bestseller Harvard Business Review case, “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk”; and the book They Don't Get It, Do They? re-released now on Kindle. She also writes about workplace issues here.

 

Photo: albund/Shutterstock.com

 

More playlists
  • Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
  • Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
  • Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.


Imagine everyday citizens engaging in the democratic process. What images spring to mind? Maybe you thought of town hall meetings where constituents address their representatives. Maybe you imagined mass sit-ins or marches in the streets to protest unpopular legislation. Maybe it's grassroot organizations gathering signatures for a popular referendum. Though they vary in means and intensity, all these have one thing in common: participation.

Participatory democracy is a democratic model that emphasizes civic engagement as paramount for a robust government. For many, it's both the "hallmark of social movements" and the gold standard of democracy.

But all that glitters may not be gold. While we can all point to historical moments in which participatory democracy was critical to necessary change, such activism can have deleterious effects on the health of a democracy, too. One such byproduct, political psychologist Diana Mutz argues, can be the lessening political tolerance.

Participation or deliberation?

In her book Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative Versus Participatory Democracy, Mutz argues that participatory democracy is best supported by close-knit groups of like-minded people. Political activism requires fervor to rouse people to action. To support such passions, people surround themselves with others who believe in the cause and view it as unassailable.

Alternative voices and ideologies — what Mutz calls "cross-cutting exposures" — are counterproductive to participation because they don't reinforce the group's beliefs and may soften the image of the opposing side. This can dampen political zeal and discourage participation, particularly among those averse to conflict. To prevent this from happening, groups can become increasingly intolerant of the other side.

"You can have a coup and maximize levels of participation, but that wouldn't be a great thing to do. It wouldn't be a sign of health and that things were going well."

As the book's title suggests, deliberative democracy fosters a different outlook for those who practice it. This model looks toward deliberation, communication, compromise, and consensus as the signs of a resilient democracy. While official deliberation is the purview of politicians and members of the court, it's worth noting that deliberative democracy doesn't mean inactivity from constituents. It's a philosophy we can use in our daily lives, from community memberships to interactions on social media.

"The idea is that people learn from one another," Mutz tells Big Think. "They learn arguments from the other side as well as learn more about the reasons behind their own views. [In turn], they develop a respect for the other side as well as moderate their own views."

Mutz's analysis leads her to support deliberation over activism in U.S. politics. She notes that the homogeneous networks required for activism can lead to positive changes — again, there are many historical examples to choose from. But such networks also risk developing intolerance and extremism within their ranks, examples of which are also readily available on both the right and left.

Meanwhile, the cross-cutting networks required for deliberative democracy offer a bounty of benefits, with the only risk being lowered levels of participation.

As Mutz writes: "Hearing the other side is also important for its indirect contributions to political tolerance. The capacity to see that there is more than one side to an issue, that political conflict is, in fact, a legitimate controversy with rationales on both sides, translates to greater willingness to extend civil liberties to even those groups whose political views one dislikes a great deal."

Of politics and summer camp

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Take that! A boxing bout between two members of a schoolboys' summer camp at Pendine, South Wales, takes place in a field within a ring of cheering campmates.

Of course, listening openly and honestly to the other side doesn't come naturally. Red versus blue. Religious versus secular. Rural versus cosmopolitan. We divide ourselves into polarized groups that seek to silence cross-cutting communication in the pursuit of political victory.

"The separation of the country into two teams discourages compromise and encourages an escalation of conflict," Lilliana Mason, assistant professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, writes in her book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. "The cooperation and compromise required by democracy grow less attainable as partisan isolation and conflict increase."

Mason likens the current situation to Muzafer Sherif's famous Robbers Cave Experiment.

In the early 1950s, Sherif gathered a group of boys for a fun summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma. At least, that was the pretense. In reality, Sherif and his counselors were performing an experiment in intergroup conflict that would now be considered unethical.

The 20 boys were divided into two groups, the Rattlers and the Eagles. For a while, the counselors kept the groups separate, allowing the boys to bond only with their assigned teammates. Then the two groups were introduced to participate in a tournament. They played competitive games, such as baseball and tug-o-war, with the winning team promised the summer camp trophy.

Almost immediately, the boys identified members of the other team as intruders. As the tournament continued, the conflict escalated beyond sport. The Eagles burned a Rattlers flag. The Rattlers raided the Eagles' cabin. When asked to describe the other side, both groups showed in-group favoritism and out-group aggression.

Most troubling, the boys wholly assumed the identity of an Eagle or Rattler despite having never been either before that very summer.

"We, as modern Americans, probably like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated and tolerant than a group of fifth-grade boys from 1954. In many ways, of course, we are," Mason writes. "But the Rattlers and the Eagles have a lot more in common with today's Democrats and Republicans than we would like to believe."

Like at Robbers Cave, signs of incendiary conflict are easy to spot in U.S. politics today.

"Political Polarization in the American Public", Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 12, 2014)

A 2014 Pew survey found that the ideological overlap between Democrats and Republicans is much more distant than in the past. More Republicans lie further right of moderate Democrats than before and vice versa. The survey also found that partisan animosity had doubled since 1994.

In her book, Mason points to research that shows an "increasing number of partisans don't want party leaders to compromise," blame "the other party for all incivility in government," and abhor the idea of dating someone from outside their ideological group.

And let's not forget Congress, which has grown increasingly divided along ideological lines over the past 60 years.

A dose of daily deliberation

Painting by Charles Francois Jalabert (1819-1901) 1846. Beaux-Arts museum, Nimes, France. Photo by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images.

Horace, Virgil and Varius at the house of Maecenas.

A zero-sum mindset may be inevitable in a summer camp tournament, but it's detrimental if taken into wider society and politics. Yet if participatory democracy leads to the silencing of oppositional voices, a zero-sum mindset is exactly what we get. Conversely, creating networks that tolerate and support differing opinions offers non-zero benefits, like tolerance and an improvement of one's understanding of complicated issues.

Mutz wrote her book in 2006, but as she told us in our interview, the intervening years have only strengthened her resolve that deliberation improves democratic health:

"Right now, I'm definitely on the side of greater deliberation rather than just do whatever we can to maximize levels of participation. You can have a coup and maximize levels of participation, but that wouldn't be a great thing to do. It wouldn't be a sign of health and that things were going well. Democracy [must be] able to absorb differences in opinion and funnel them into a means of governing that people were okay with, even when their side didn't win."

Unfortunately, elected officials and media personalities play up incivility and the sense of national crisis for ratings and attention, respectively. That certainly doesn't help promote deliberation, but as Mutz reminded us, people perceive political polarization to be much higher than it actually is. In our daily lives, deliberative democracy is more commonplace than we realize and something we can promote in our communities and social groups.

Remember that 2014 Pew survey that found increased levels of partisan animosity? Its results showed the divide to be strongest among those most engaged and active in politics. The majority of those surveyed did not hold uniform left or right views, did not see the opposing party as an existential threat, and believed in the deliberative process in government. In other words, the extremes were pulling hard at the poles.

Then there's social media. The popular narrative is that social media is a morass of political hatred and clashing identities. But most social media posts have nothing to do with politics. An analysis of Facebook posts from September 2016, the middle of an election year, found the most popular topics centered on football, Halloween, Labor Day, country music, and slow cookers.

And what of political partisanship and prejudice? In an analysis of polarization and ideological identity, Mason found that labels like "liberal" and "conservative" had less to do with values and policy attitudes – as the majority of Americans agree on a substantial number of issues – and more to do with social group identification.

Yes, we all know those maps that media personalities dust off every election year, the ones that show the U.S. carved up into competing camps of red and blue. The reality is far more intricate and complex, and Americans' intolerance for the other side varies substantially from place to place and across demographics.

So while participation has its place, a healthy democracy requires deliberation, a recognition of the other side's point of view, and the willingness to compromise. Tolerance may not make for good TV or catchy political slogans, but it's something we all can foster in our own social groups.

Understanding what tolerance means in a highly polarized America

  • The comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) was spotted by an amateur astronomer.
  • The object is moving so fast, it likely originated outside our solar system.
  • The comet should be observable for another year.


A comet that may coming from outside our solar system has been discovered. If confirmed, this would be second interstellar object ever identified, with the first one being 'Oumuamua, found in 2017.

The new comet, dubbed C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), was discovered by the Ukrainian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea on August 30th, 2019. Since the find, the origins of the unusual space rock, which doesn't seem to have a circular or elliptical orbit, have been debated by the astronomers.

The object's so-called eccentricity, one of its key orbital parameters, has been measured by the Minor Planet Center to be more than three, which means it has an arc-shaped trajectory.

Composite image by Travis Rector. Credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA

Gemini Observatory two-color composite image of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). Blue and red dashes show background stars which seem to streak due to the motion of the comet.

One other eye-popping indicator that serves as the clue to the comet's interstellar origins is its high velocity of about 93,000 miles per hour (or 150,000 kph). That's too fast to be pulled in by the sun's gravity and also means that the object is probably just passing through.

Davide Farnocchia of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at JPL says the velocity is significantly above other objects that orbit the Sun this far away. "The high velocity indicates not only that the object likely originated from outside our solar system, but also that it will leave and head back to interstellar space," pointed out Farnocchia.

Borisov's comet is not likely to come close to Earth, currently about 260 million miles away from our Sun. At its closest point to Earth (or perihelion), it's still projected to stay as far as 190 million miles, farther than the orbit of Mars.

How do we know this is even a comet? From the coma – its fuzzy looks, which are indicative of the object having a central icy body with a cloud of dust and particles surrounding it on approach to the Sun, which is heating it up, reports NASA's press release. The nucleus of the comet is estimated to be between 1.2 and 10 miles (2 and 16 kilometers) in diameter.

For about another year, you too can take a peek at the unusual space body if you have a professional telescope. "The object will peak in brightness in mid-December and continue to be observable with moderate-size telescopes until April 2020," explained Farnocchia. "After that, it will only be observable with larger professional telescopes through October 2020."




"A conversation is like a tunnel dug under the prison floor that you—patiently and painstakingly—scoop out with a spoon. It has one purpose: to get you away from where you are right now."

That is from the very, very weird tale Car Concentrate from Israeli writer Etgar Keret's wonderful new collection of short stories called FLY ALREADY. It's not a bad description of the situation most of Keret's characters find themselves in—wriggling like butterflies stuck on the pins of their own minds or circumstances, trying by any means necessary to get free. It's maybe not too much even to say that this is the human condition as Keret sees it and the reason he writes stories—to open up magical escape hatches in the midst of suffocating realities like divorce or religious hatred. His stories are strange, beautiful, funny, and poignant—somehow emotionally connected even though they're full of people who struggle to make sense to (and of) one another. Like all great art, they defy description, so ignore everything I've just said and go read them…but first, stick around for a bit to see what kind of escape tunnel this conversation might turn into.

Surprise conversation starters in this episode:

Michio Kaku on uploading your consciousness and traveling to other planets

  • Robotic automation may one day make slavery economically inefficient, but automation does not spring forth fully formed.
  • An interim period of piecemeal coverage may leave many at-risk, low-skilled workers in danger of exploitation.
  • Nor can automation sate the political and social motives for slavery found in some societies.


An estimated 40.3 million people suffer today in slavery. Living a shadowed existence between lawful states, victims yield their captors $150 billion in illegal profits every year. This most wretched of facts is made even more haunting when you consider that 1 in 4 victims are children.

"We know that if there are 40 million people in modern slavery, only tens of thousands of victims are being helped, assisted and supported, whether through the criminal justices system or through victim support systems," Fiona David, Walk Free Foundation's executive director of global research, told CNN. "It's a massive gap that we have to close."

Thanks to the efforts of governments and NGOs, that gap is closing.

There are fewer slaves in the world today, per capita, than at any other point in history. Chattel slavery, the kind that lead to the Atlantic slave trade, was once a human universal. Today, it is abolished and morally condemned. Other forms of slavery, such as child labor and forced marriage, are in decline. And the United Nations has set a target to end modern slavery by 2025.

We are closer to ending this morally bankrupt practice than at any point in our history. Will the final push come in the form of robotic automation?

Robots to end slavery?

(Photo: Global Slavery Index)

A map showing the estimated prevalence of modern slavery (per 1,000 people) according to the Global Slavery Index's 2018 findings. The 10 countries with the highest prevalence are noted.

The idea is simple enough. Slavery is an economic crime. Its perpetrators lure desperate and disenfranchised peoples with the promise of a livelihood. They then force their victims to do repetitive, physically demanding, and often dangerous work while cutting them off from any physical, social, and lawful means of escape.

By design, machines perform repetitive tasks without concerns for the dangers or physical demands. In richer countries, they are already employed in industries associated with chattel slavery abroad, such as mining, farming, and textiles. As the thinking goes: if automation were to become widespread and cost effective enough, it would eradicate the need for cheap human labor and render slavery economically inefficient.

At End Slavery Now, Cazzie Reyes details how such a future might play out. Currently, China's factories are losing their traditional source of cheap labor as worker wages and education levels rise. To address this labor gap, the country purchased 56,000 robots in 2014 and plans to rapidly increase factory automation.

As this shift continues, low-skilled workers may "be moved from completing routine to more value-added tasks" or even new jobs in robot manufacturing.

Robots may also challenge another form of slavery: sexual exploitation. In the Netherlands alone about 4,000 people are coerced into the sex trade every year. Worldwide 4.8 million people are sexually exploited with no means of escape, the vast majority young women and children.

But brothels have emerged in Europe and Japan that provide companionship with realistic sex dolls. In the U.S., Houston almost became the first city to open a robot brothel, but its city council banned renting sex dolls in October of last year (though businesses can still sell them for home use).

In Love and Sex with Robots, A.I. researcher David Levy argues that such institutions can reduce prostitution rates. As the dolls become more lifelike, he sees the world's oldest profession going the way of match girls and lamp lighters.

Futurists Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars divine a similar future in their paper "Robots, men, and sex tourism." By 2050, they write, Amsterdam's famed red-light district will be dominated by hyper-realistic sex androids. The androids would not only allow the sex industry to grow but also curb the spread of STIs and improve the government's ability to regulate human trafficking.

Sold down the river

Photo credit: Francesco Paroni Sterbini / Flickr

Many manufacturing jobs, like this silk factory near Dalat, Vietnam, are at risk as automation enters the ASEAN-5 countries.

As automation spreads into new territories and industries, it may make slavery less economically efficient in the long run. In the short term, however, slavery will remain expedient, and economic expedience, not efficiency, has been a main driver of slavery throughout history.

That's the future predicted by Verisk Maplecroft's "Human Rights Outlook 2018" report.

The report estimates that over the next two decades, 56 percent of workers in ASEAN-5 manufacturing industries will lose their jobs to automation. With few skills and fewer options, displaced workers can become targets of the exploitative practices that lead people into slavery and human trafficking.

The ASEAN-5 countries already rank high on the Modern Slavery Index, and the report forecasts further deterioration. It is estimated that Vietnam alone could see 36 million people seeking new jobs in the coming decades, creating ample opportunities for human traffickers.

"Displaced workers without the skills to adapt or the cushion of social security will have to compete for a diminishing supply of low-paid, low-skilled work in what will likely be an increasingly exploitative environment," Alexandra Channer, Verisk Maplecroft's human rights strategy lead, said in a release. "Without concrete measures from governments to adapt and educate future generations to function alongside machines, it could be a race to the bottom for many workers."

Similarly, the belief that robotic sex workers will significantly reduce demand for sexual exploitation, let alone drive it to zero, is hardly universal. Opponents argue that sexual exploitation is as much about degradation as sex, that humans will always prefer other humans, and that there are lines that robotic sex peddlers won't cross but human traffickers will (i.e., the exploitation of children).

"So we're not just having a conversation here about objects that people rub on their genitals. This is not what this is about," Kathleen Richardson, director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, told Feminist Current. "[Sex robots are] piggybacking off on those real lived experiences of real human women being dehumanized by the commercial sex trade."

Social and political death

Nor is slavery only an economic crime. It has many social and political causes that automation cannot address.

For example, North Korea has instituted a system of state-sanctioned force labor. Its government has arrested tens of thousands of people, typically for crimes against the state, and sentenced to work in labor camps. These prisoners work dangerous, long hours in mines, factories, and logging camps and may even be exported to places like China and Russia, where they yield North Korean leaders between $1.2 and $2.3 billion dollars annually.

While automation may, one day, reduce demand for North Korea's macabre exports, it is unlikely the totalitarian regime would do away with this system in the name of economic efficiency.

That's because this form of slavery is as much political as it is profitable. It removes dissidents from political life and places them in a type of social purgatory. Citizens who are tired, hungry, weak, and enslaved in a strange land make for poor revolutionaries.

Additionally, our modern definition of slavery has expanded to practices beyond chattel slavery. It now includes any practice that reduces a person to the statues of property and deprives them of their right to choose, such as forced marriage. However, forced marriage is as much a social and cultural transaction as it is an economic one. In countries that value such institutions, no machine could replace that form of social control.

Will automation be part of the solution?

Truth is, we don't know. As Pauline Oosterhoff, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, writes: "The fact is that we do not have a sure-fire way to eradicate slavery in the existing economy. We are not really sure what role previous rounds of automation have played in either eliminating or encouraging modern-day slavery, and we do not know what effects new developments in automation and artificial intelligence will have."

Automation may make reducing chattel slavery easier in some states, but it can't inoculate societies from the social and political ills that create opportunities for exploitation. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, contemporary abolitionists focus their efforts on these strategies:

Better law enforcement. Governments can better provide law enforcement with the tools to combat human trafficking and streamline the court processes and laws to make legal efforts more consistent and effective.

Transparent supply chains. Modern businesses have complex international supply chains that may intersect with slavery — some even argue it's impossible to make a smartphone that doesn't rely on child labor. In addition to transparency laws, abolitionist call for mandating supply chain investigations and making ethical sourcing a central business practice.

More comprehensive and widespread reporting. Reports that name governments, businesses, and individuals complicit in slavery help lessen demand as such public shaming leads to social opprobrium and economic consequences.

Public education. Exposing abuses to the public educates them on modern slavery practices. This can help at-risk communities from falling prey to exploitation, and move constituents to support funding rehabilitation and prevention programs.

Will these efforts close the slavery gap? It will be difficult, especially by 2025, but at no other point in history has the will and the means to do so existed in such abundance. And we have 40.3 million reasons to make sure we do.

  • Conventional schooling was largely designed with an industrial-revolution mindset.
  • However, this factory model of education doesn't hold up today. Our access to technology allows learning to happen beyond the conventional classroom.
  • Unschooling serves as a reinvention of education that invites students to indulge in their natural curiosity on their individual path to knowledge.