It’s hard to avoid fear around the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the economy and jobs.
Daily headlines taunt us with promises of a robot apocalypse that will put millions of workers at risk. On the flipside, female technology entrepreneurs are receiving deserved acknowledgment and recognition for their work in an incredibly fast-paced and ever-changing industry.
However, this focus does not reflect Australia’s current small business reality and is alienating to the hardworking, diverse Australians who own and operate product or service based businesses. If we truly want to celebrate diversity we need to reflect reality, while celebrating all success stories.
Did you know that the majority of small businesses operating in Australia are sole traders? Official figures suggest there were 1.2 million sole-trader businesses in this country in June last year. Job growth is strongest within the micro-business category; these businesses employ one to four people. Growth in this sector was estimated to deliver about 90,000 net extra jobs to the economy last year.
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If we look at industry growth, official numbers suggest micro businesses that experienced strong growth over the last two years operated in the education and training, real estate services, construction, professional services, arts and recreation, financial services, accommodation and food sectors. In my experience supporting women in business through She Will Shine, a network for Australian female business owners, the overwhelming majority of female-led businesses are service based, followed by product and then technology.
Our scholarship winners have had incredible successes during the first 24 months of their non-tech based businesses and since becoming part of the She Will Shine network. Harriet, Nadine, Jacqui and Jody have all found new confidence and motivation to grow their businesses and adopt new approaches and for some expand their ventures in totally new directions.
A disparate focus on technology start-ups threatens the potential growth of sole operators and micro businesses generally, but is particularly alienating for women in business operating in these sectors, whose growth and achievements are not being recognised.
Women in business face additional pressures and can often feel unsupported or lack confidence in their work. As the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see, and if women running a product or service based business aren’t seeing role models in similar industries, it can have devastating effects on their confidence and growth opportunities. An unbalanced focus on start-ups and tech can also directly impact investor interest, adding yet another barrier for women accessing crucial funding to help start and grow their business.
While upskilling and learning new skills such as coding is a worthy pursuit, it’s important not to discount the innate skills women can bring to the table that a robot will never replace. Females are the makers of the majority of consumer decisions and with that comes a unique understanding of the user experience and an instinctive knowledge of the soft skills required to make a business succeed.
Soft skills give a business a human quality which AI, no matter how advanced, will never replace. They are also the skills that enable a business to stand out from the clutter and achieve longevity in a competitive market place. After all, an incredible tech product or innovation is destined to fail if not paired with strong customer service and a foundation of strong relationships.
Women are generally rewarded by how they impact others through the building of relationships both in business and in life and by achieving their goals despite balancing the many responsibilities not shared by their male counterparts.
It’s important that women know that being a technophobe or an inability to code certainly does not equate to failure. After all, a business can collaborate with a developer or IT specialist, but entrepreneurial motivation and passion cannot be externally sourced.
This article was originally published by Women’s Agenda.