top of page

SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOMEN FUTURISTS

By Tracey Follows


At the start of 2020, to coincide with International Women’s Day (IWD), I published a series of interviews with female futurists. In light of IWD 2024, I thought it worth revisiting some of them to see what career advice we can glean for those entering the futures field. 


I have focused on four female futurists in particular who had advice for the next generation of female futurists:


INVISIBILITY BIAS

Jennifer Gidley, PhD, former President of the World Futures Studies Federation (2009-2017) highlighted the historical barriers and persistent challenges that have hindered women's participation and recognition in the field. A pioneering futurist herself who has always advocated for gender equity, she told me "invisibility bias" has long plagued the field of futures studies, perpetuating stereotypes, and limiting opportunities for women to contribute and lead. From the erasure of female authors in seminal works to the underrepresentation of women in media discourse, Gidley underscored the urgent need for greater acknowledgment and representation of female futurists.


“It was 1972 when Alvin Toffler edited a collection of essays called The Futurists. His twenty-two futurists included only one woman: Margaret Mead, even though Toffler admitted in his introduction that the wives of several of the authors had co-authored their works, including his own wife, Heidi. Alvin Toffler eventually conceded the significance of Heidi Toffler’s contributions to his published books and in his later works, when she was officially credited as a co-author.”


SYSTEMS IMBALANCE

Terry Grim, partner at Foresight Alliance, and adjunct professor at University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight, spoke to the theme of systems and the balance between technology and humanity. “Systems can feel quite masculine. I think that women are better at looking at the human side in addition to the project side. Women are like the Chalice. They like the broader perspective,” she told me, referring to the book The Chalice and The Blade. 


Terry spent her career as an engineer, a traditionally male-dominated domain. “We should encourage women to be more tech-orientated and not afraid of the STEM field,” she said. “At IBM, we found it’s at the fifth grade that girls stop liking science and math and we had a program at IBM where we’d go into fifth grade classrooms to convince girls they could be engineers.”


At the time, Terry had just written an article in “The Future According to Women,” in which she proposed three levels at which people engage in and accept the ‘feminine.’ The first is ‘Pinking the Organisation,’ which I think we all recognise. 

The second is ‘Empowering Women.’ This level values women and creates an environment that can help them be more successful, moving up the management ladder and taking on more responsibility. 


The third is: ‘Embracing the Feminine’ — this is the transformational level in which it is less about trying to fix a system to accommodate women, and more about creating and enabling a feminine culture in the first place. Instead of masculine values of win-lose, it focuses on win-win because the organisation is ‘relationship-orientated.’ It is worth saying that her definition of femininity is about having a society in which social gender roles overlap, where both men and women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.


FINDING YOUR FOCUS


Maree Conway, PhD, a renowned and now ‘retired’ foresight practitioner that is an advocate for foresight literacy, fostering interdisciplinary learning and experiential training. Conway seeks to equip women (and everyone) with the skills and confidence to navigate the complexities of tomorrow's world. She could not recall any time that she felt held back because of her gender, noting: “The most important lesson is the importance of saying 'no', because you can't be all things to all people. I don't know if my path has been easier or harder than a man but I've never felt like I'm competing against men.”


The ability to say ‘no’ is crucial. The truth is that futurists (or foresight strategists, researchers, designers, etc.) can’t do it all. They need to find a part of the field that is worth focusing on so they can shape their space in the field to their liking. Maree expanded, “Richard Slaughter once said to a class of students I was in that we have to work out what part of the futurist conversation we are going to join, that we can contribute to, and that's what I have done. It took a while to finesse this, but I always had the aim of finding a space where I could make the most impact.”


COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

And last but by no means least, the wonderful Cat Tully, Founder of School of International Futures (SOIF) and a leader in the field who will shift people from talking into doing, take policy into initiatives, and turn ideas into action. Cat understands the power of community, saying, “The capacity of a community to come together to discuss their alternative and possible futures is a deeply empowering and political act. The process of letting go of the status quo, getting people to acknowledge certain truths is something that needs to be done in a community, in a way that is very well designed. It has to be a process of emergence, of holding conflicting points of view in a very safe space.”


At the time, she hypothesised that the growth of female futurists has been largely due to foresight being a way to create a different environment in the future, one that women will more naturally enjoy, not one they are merely trying to fit into. 


What advice did Cat have for this next generation? 


"Don't necessarily think that you need to have a big plan, a grand plan, but spend time with people that support you.”


“And trusting yourself is really important: to spend some time, moving around different organisations, and around different sectors like civil society, business, and government - and spending time in communities where there's very little resource — and being part of that life. Just seeing the world from a very different perspective, I think is very important, building the internal, mental, spiritual, and emotional ability to be independent and resilient, and observant. Those are really powerful skills to have, and you need to be immersed in true diversity." 


She told me that the most important thing as a futurist is to be open, be divergent, and be connected. Then to follow your intuition and have confidence in that intuition.


The next generation of futurists, whatever their gender, will have to go a long way to get a better piece of advice than that. 


You can read these and additional interviews with female futurists here. 


 

Tracey Follows is the founder CEO of Futuremade, the futures consultancy, and Visiting Professor in Digital Futures and Identity at Staffordshire University.  She is the author of the book, The Future of You, and host of the podcast of the same name. 

27 views0 comments

Comentarios


bottom of page