In 2010, Martin Sheen starred in The Way, an underrated but beautiful film. His character is a curmudgeonly, set-in-his-ways, late-middle-age, Type A workaholic from Los Angeles. A series of events lands him on El Camino de Santiago (translated into English as “The Way”), where circumstances compel him to interact — in life-affirming ways — with an assorted set of individuals he encounters on the journey.
The future of work offers a similar opportunity for people from all walks of life — as long as they can see the path forward (and we can also see them). For all the wonder and “art of the possible” that new technologies present, the age of automation, AI and algorithms can also propagate fear. That is, whatever the existing sociopolitical issues we’re grappling with today (racism, sexism, homophobia, tribalism, capitalism, communism, socialism, unemployment) — let alone finding a good job — there seems to be a pervasive belief that AI will only exacerbate them. It’s all too easy to feel a bit lost, a little unclear on the first steps to take or whether there’s some sort of on-ramp to the future of work.
Pointing in the Right Direction
But in the fog of uncertainty, there are signposts pointing The Way ahead, not just for those who are currently gainfully employed but also for the historically dispossessed and the less advantaged. Here’s just a small sampling:
- Jewel Burks, an advocate for representation and access in the technology industry and founder of Partpic — think the Shazam app but for maintenance and repair parts — has curated an amazing list of accomplished black entrepreneurs who are worth watching. She compiled it to start answering the question: “Who is the Serena Williams/Michael Jordan of tech in the African-American community?” Those on her list have already produced products and have money, customer bases and excellent employees. Some are newer to tech but bring breakthrough ideas that need to scale. For these rising stars, The Way won’t necessarily be funding but the leverage that well-connected networks and introductions can bring.
- Lili Gangas, the Chief Technology Community Officer at Kapor Center, has a mission to activate the U.S.-based Latinx population to be not just consumers of technology but also founders, financers, builders and owners of technology. She concentrated her efforts on Oakland, Calif., where African-American and Latinx professionals make up less than 20% of the tech community, and scaled to nine additional cities in 2018. Through the formation of the Latinx in Tech Summit, Gangas strives to demystify pathways of entry into tech jobs, and create links into investment banking and tech entrepreneurship, areas where Latinx representation is currently negligible.
- Kara Swisher, a technology business journalist, has done an admirable job trying to showcase The Way “from coal to code.” As cofounder of tech news site Recode, she’s hosted discussions on how socioeconomically disadvantaged people struggling in the middle of the country can get opportunities in tech. This echoes some of the writings of J. D. Vance (of Hillbilly Elegy fame), who poignantly notes steps on The Way from Appalachia to the Ivy League that were invisible until he got to Yale. Vance has partnered with former AOL CEO Steve Case to oversee the ”Rise of the Rest” seed fund, which is focused on catalyzing growth in emerging start-up communities throughout the U.S., such as Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
It Starts with Visibility
For those of us with privilege (and if you’re one of the human beings on Earth with an education, count yourself as among this group, let alone being white and/or male), to be inclusive requires awareness. The list above is a starting point for the enlightenment that’s increasingly essential for making the future of work all it promises to be. As a parent with a teenage daughter who loves math and may wish to pursue a job in engineering data science, I refuse to let the messaging of “women don’t go into those fields” propagate into a self-fulfilling prophecy. That needs changing — drastically — and visibility is a key first step.
The theme of visibility was a big focus of our recent participation at last year’s Aspen Action Forum. As Dan Porterfield, CEO of the Aspen Institute, underscored, inclusion means saying, “I see you, and I see the impact that you can bring as a difference-maker, and I can and will help others see you.” By broadcasting examples of the pathways to digital opportunity for all people and not just the usual suspects, we can catalyze participation and push awareness of the results to inspire other people and fortify their belief that they have a place in the future of work.
Importantly, finding The Way needs to happen in partnership with the individuals and communities it’s supposed to benefit. This will take listening (in some cases, persistent listening) to engage people in telling their real life stories, their perspectives on the future, and what they see as the opportunities that they want to pursue.
Leaving a Light On
For any of us, our fear of the future can be assuaged when we find a reliable route, or at least a signal, a street lamp, a sign or a map pointing us in the right direction. At the CFoW, we’ve begun developing a cartography for the future of work, both in our book What To Do When Machines Do Everything, and in our “21 Jobs of the Future” reports (Parts 1 and 2).
Like the list above, both are a start, and we hope to see — and create — more. Like the Camino of old, these efforts can form the basis of our version of “The Way:” a latter-day El Camino del Trabajo de Futura.
Are you ready to take the first step?