Future Five 2018: Did we get it right?


A year ago, SenateSHJ predicted many organisations would face a tipping point for action in 2018.

We predicted successful leaders would need to embrace change and disruption. They would also need to stay true to their core values.

Now, as we look back at the year, it is evident many of those predictions came true. In Australasia and internationally, there has been a groundswell of change, and a move toward a more diverse, action-orientated world. This reflects the predictions we made, outlined below:

Strength in diversity

We predicted leaders would take stronger action on diversity. This year’s McKinsey report on the topic, Delivering Through Diversity, shows an ongoing and direct positive relationship between diversity - of many kinds, including gender, age, sexuality, race and business performance. It also shows those companies who lag in this area have lower profitability.

But in 2018, diversity was in large part led by the people, rather than corporate leaders. The US, in its mid-term elections, voted in the first Muslim congresswomen, the first openly gay male governor, and the youngest woman elected to Congress.

In Australia, the Northern Territory elected its first openly gay Indigenous member of parliament, and a Pakistani-born academic became Australia’s first Muslim female Senator. This appointment is another step in bringing much needed diversity to Canberra.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became a mother, and travelled the world stage with her partner Clarke Gayford being the main caregiver. Little Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford not only captured hearts around the world, she also became an icon of modernity; a symbol for the next generation and hope for a future in which gender stereotypes were smashed.

An activism age

Business is facing numerous ethical responsibilities and regulatory changes. Social media and activism have changed the rules, and leaders need to be agile and proactive in their responses.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which began to spread in late 2017, became an extraordinary force in 2018, leading to the downfall of numerous high profile male executives across industries including entertainment, hospitality, and sport. The movement suffered an unexpected turn when one of its main proponents, Asia Argento (the Italian actress), was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old actor.

In Australia, global firm Herbert Smith Freehills introduced new in-house guidelines for personal relationships within the workplace following the high-profile exit of a former partner over sexual harassment allegations.  Politics was also affected with New South Wales Labor leader Luke Foley resigning following allegations of sexual misconduct by ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper.

In New Zealand, inappropriate behaviour at Russell McVeagh was laid bare in a workplace culture review released in July by Dame Margaret Bazley. The review found the law firm needed to work harder to address sexism and unconscious bias.  Other firms and sectors had similar findings and the New Zealand Parliament is currently investigating bullying within its walls.

Activism this year also spread far beyond those who had been victims of sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour, with strikes across several industries.

Calls for a full investigation into historical sexual abuse saw the Government finally relent and widen the scope of the Royal Commission’s inquiry.

However, as we saw in the Australian financial services industry this year, activism doesn’t reside only with the activist groups - superannuation funds and asset managers are increasingly using their position in the market to actively campaign for a wide range of changes across remuneration, and ASX rules as well as environmental, social and governance issues.

Trust in a truthless world

We predicted organisations would need to proactively build reputation and goodwill, as society experienced a trust deficit toward institutions, business leaders and the media. Facebook has been the lightning rod for this discontent and has, in 2018, worked actively to shed itself of the brand damage this has caused.

While Facebook has worked internally to resolve these issues, there has also been action from the regulator and government bodies in efforts to stem the flow of fake news. In Europe, for example, the European Commission has said it will ask social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for regular reports on disinformation out of Russia – an identified source of false information – ahead of European elections in May.

Change or get left behind

In 2018, we predicted companies would have to manage the challenges and opportunities linked to automation, artificial intelligence and subsequent fragmentation.

This prediction has been backed by the release of 2018’s Artificial Intelligence – Shaping a Future New Zealand report, which outlines a future in which 10% of jobs will be destroyed by artificial intelligence over the next 40 years. The report suggests  widespread uptake will be reasonably slow – taking place over the next 20 to 40 years.

In Australia, a Senate inquiry into the future of work has recommended expanding employment laws to capture the ‘gig economy’ and creating a "Future Work Commission" to marshal a plan to deal with the rising threat of automation.

We are seeing evidence of these changes at a small scale, such as the introduction of ANZ’s digital assistant “Jamie”  and on a larger scale, such as the ramping up of China’s “Social Credit” system assessing personal behaviours, which is due to be implemented by 2020.

Integrity above all

Finally, we felt business leaders and organisations who navigate fast-paced change and its challenges with genuine honesty and strong moral principles would be rewarded.

There is mixed evidence of this. International politics have continued to show how ongoing manipulation of information can deliver emotional responses which feed an agenda. On the flip side, we have seen the commitment to integrity by individuals who have stood up to tell their individual stories.