The rise of robots, and opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, were some of the topics that were discussed at the annual Leading Women Summit in Johannesburg.
Digital fluency was something we needed to teach everyone, Accenture’s Roze Phillips said at the Leading Women Summit. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the second annual summit, themed “Disrupting the norm”, was held in Johannesburg on 8 March 2017.
This complemented the International Women’s Day theme of “Be Bold for Change”. It is, according to the International Women’s Day site, a call on women to “help forge a better working world; a more inclusive, gender equal world”.
More women needed in STEM careers
Maria Tulumello, head of human resources for sub-Saharan Africa at General Electric (GE), spoke about the impact of having women in the technology and manufacturing sectors.
Women were still underrepresented in the science, mathematics and engineering industries, she said. One of GE’s goals was 20,000 women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles by 2020. To date it had 13,700 women in STEM, said Tulumello.
A discussion was held was about the business of social media influencers. Watch the session with social media influencers Aisha Baker, Theodora Lee and Tshepang Mollison, here:
Will robots replace humans?
Phillips, who is the managing director of consulting at Accenture, was on the panel discussion “Forbes Woman Africa Cover Story: The rise of the machines”. The discussion centred on whether robots would replace humans in the workplace.
According to Phillips, everyone should be taught how to operate in the digital world. She suggested that people should teach those around them to be digitally fluent. “Teach your girls how to code; teach women, for example, how to do internet banking.”
Artificial intelligence understood natural language, Phillips said. “They (robots) can sense things. They can act, these artificial robotics. Knowledge is no longer a commodity.”
Although the rise of robotics would lead to job losses, other jobs would be created. “The choice of how we engage with technology is ours. The problems we have now, we should solve now.”
Phillips added: “We have the opportunity to take the human-centred approach first.”
Ryan Beech, managing director of and chief roboticist at Ryonic Robotics, said there would definitely be job losses. “But we can build skills and train people, especially to work on the robotics.”
Charmaine Houvet, public policy director Africa at Cisco South Africa, said it was important to remember that robotics did not exist on their own. “There will be intelligence and we will be in charge of things like that.”
But she warned: “Just because we don’t see it (artificial intelligence) taking over, does not mean it’s not happening.”
People should be mindful that there were many jobs available in engineering, for example. “The top jobs available are, for example, web developers and system engineers.”
Fuzlin Levy-Hassen, senior manager of new industries at the Industrial Development Corporation, said she did not believe that people would be replaced by robotics. “There are cases where we need robots, for example where there’s a health hazard concern for people in a working environment.”
Creating sustainable employment was important to the corporation, she added.
Using technology to our advantage
Several speakers on the panel, “A for artificial intelligence, B for business, C for C-suite and D for disruption” spoke about how companies should adjust to technology in their businesses.
Lindani Dhlamini, CEO of audit firm SekelaXabiso, said the firm had to embrace the use of technology to accommodate its clients. It would be irrelevant if it did not change according to its clients’ needs.
“Technology is here to stay – we have to embrace the use of technology.”
Dhlamini advised that businesses needed to be structured for change. “Businesses can leverage off their clients and their suppliers, for example. They must be built for change.”
The biggest constraint to technology was how to humanise it, said Bernice Samuels, group executive manager at MTN.
We needed to be adaptable and innovative, she said. “You need to read the market appropriately and see how you can be helpful in other people’s lives.”
Trends seen on food apps
“South Africa’s disruptive mobile apps” was another panel discussion. In this session moderator Alexander Liebner spoke to Cara Lee Hedding, the marketing manager at Zomato, and Ailyssa Khan, the restaurant operations manager at UberEats.
Khan revealed that people mostly ordered healthy foods during the week through the UberEats app, while on weekends it was mostly pizzas and pastas. There was high orders traffic on Sunday evenings.
Hedding said that 65% of Zomato’s users were women.
Watch the session with people from the apps Zomato and UberEats:
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