A Fair and Inclusive Digital World that Works for Everyone – #CIPDACE17

My live blog of the opening keynote at CIPD Annual Conference 2017 by Baroness Martha Lane Fox – @marthalanefox

Martha started her working life in a small strategy consulting company focused on media and telecoms, and witnessed the increasing impact of the internet as it emerged. One of Martha’s first projects was to look at the impact of the information age and she reflected about how Japan has for a long time (>20 years) had faster internet connectivity than we do in the UK.

In 1997, Martha co-founded last minute.com, reflecting how this was before Google and Facebook, when Amazon had only recently launched in the UK. Martha was faced with lots of skepticism about whether people would be prepared to put their credit cards into a website, whether the internet would catch on, whether they could do much for the travel industry. The pace and the scale of change was huge and they had to scrabble to keep up with new developments (just as we do today).  As well as scrabbling to keep up with new developments, there was significant pressure added by always being in sales mode (as is typical for many startups), needing to be bold and bring people on the journey with them. Martha reflected on how crucial it was to bring in great talent, as people were the key to their success. Martha reflected on the danger of recruiting people who are ‘like us’, and how dangerous it is to build a team of people who are too similar; we need to recruit people who are different in lots of ways. (As much of my work is with strengths, I wholeheartedly support this…. power comes from teams of diverse talent, and making sure people know, appreciate, and leverage their own and others’ strengths). last minute.com had a roller-coaster ride but is still here today and still working.

After lastminute.com, Martha then had the opportunity to work on digital inclusion, telling the story of somebody who was homeless and addicted to drugs and was then introduced to computers, started using them to make music, and then turned this into a business which helped him turn his life around. Martha became incensed about how we are building a 2-tier system where some people have access to the opportunities presented by the internet, and some people simply don’t have access to those opportunities. This is unfair. Martha then had the opportunity to work in government talking about how this is a brilliant training ground as an entrepreneur as it really tests your skills in sales! gov.com have done some great work and if government can drive technological change, we all can. Even if it isn’t easy.

The internet has provided amazing opportunities, but also challenges. Are Ok with how amazon pays its workers? How do we feel about how deliveroo pages its delivery cyclists? How do we feel about the way the internet is changing the high street? We have released the ability to circulate misinformation at scale. The internet is amazing, but can also have lots of negative impact (e.g. how about the impact of social media on the mental health of young people?).

Martha now sits in the House of Lords and sees the gap even more clearly now. We need to go beyond improving digital skills and encourage digital understanding, and there is much we can do:

1 – Inclusion: are we using technology to include rather than exclude people. Martha would love to see the Prime Minister announce high-speed internet access for all. Are we making sure that people in our organisations have access to the tools. Never mind robots, we could make much more use of the tools that are available to us right now.

2 – Our relationship with the services we use. We need to open our eyes to the use of our data, and we should remind ourselves that we are empowered to control our own data. We should make conscious decisions about our own privacy settings, and the trail that we leave. (For example, Duck Duck Go Go is a search engine that lets you search without leaving a trail)

3 – Diversity and Inclusion: We need to be more inclusive in involving people in the technology sector; despite being a relatively new sector, the tech sector employs less women (17%) relatively, compared to the House of Lords. We need to be more inclusive. As an example, Apple HealthKit had an excessively male design team and initially launched without any reference to female health.

This is a complicated, difficult, and nuanced point in our history. This will be the slowest point of the future. Change is only going to get faster. We don’t know all the answers, and we aren’t going to find the answers in people who know the tech. We need to be looking for people who are resilient, entrepreneurial, and have curiosity. This is what will help us to thrive and make the most of the amazing opportunities open to us.

Don’t be frightened of technology. Learn, as it isn’t optional. We need to drive it in directions that serve us. Build teams that will be resilient and drive this!

An inspiring, honest, through-provoking, and humble keynote. Great stuff!

This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition 2017 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in. I’ve also curated the story of the session as told through the tweets of the attendees (you might need to tap ‘load more tweets’ to see the full story):