Business 30 April 2018
If technology was human, it would have received an accolade for world domination. From the moment we awake until the time our heads touch the pillow at night, technology has become intertwined into almost every aspect of our daily lives, and its presence is on the rise. The internet, as an example, has experienced an increase of 100 million worldwide users, bringing to the total figure to 3.6 billion during 2016-2017, according to Statista. Despite the surge, is technology enhancing our lives or creating a feeling of disconnection?
According to recent figures published by NHS Digital, a gender disparity exists in how technology affects males and females, with a higher rate of mental health disorder symptoms (including depression, anxiety, and irritability) recorded among women than men. And, crucially, experts have identified the pressures of social media as a contributing factor. For all its intentions, social media users indicating a feeling of reduced happiness (compared to their counterparts on social networks), is on the upward. But the issue stems broader as technology continues to impact other areas of our lives.
"For all its intentions, social media users indicating a feeling of reduced happiness (compared to their counterparts on social networks), is on the upward."
A lack of time
“It appears that we have a culture, at least in the US, which advocates more of a work-life balance, but current research on the subject describes employees having a tougher time finding that balance,” says Dr. Colleen Mullen, a therapist who specializes in ‘coaching through the chaos’. “Work weeks are longer compared to 20 years ago, and technology sees people often tethered to their phones, on calls and emails that are expected to be answered.” The flow of new technology entering the market creates an air of urgency to remain continuously “plugged in,” in turn creating stress and anxiety in areas which previously didn’t exist.
“Despite there being very few circumstances in which a person absolutely must stay connected 24/7, there is sometimes the attachment for escapism purposes and other times it can be a case of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) that lends itself to always having to be ‘on’,” explains Dr. Mullen. “I’ve never a found a person to believe their entire business would fold if they were to take a few hours a night off their phone or computer.”
"Ultimately, our constant need to check in has detracted from focused productivity as we are faced with more outlets for distraction."
Are we more productive?
Whilst technology has streamlined our day to day functioning, facilitating the ease of workflow and allowing for greater flexibility than ever before, has it increased our productivity? For all its practicality, the desire to remain “plugged in” has opened the door to unwanted distractions, in turn hindering our ability to focus. “As an example, I often see clients wrapped up in the maze of dating apps and online dating sites,” says psychotherapist and life coach and recovery coach Dr. Sherry Gaba.
“They can’t turn off their anxiety waiting for that next text to arrive from that potential date, leading to a lack of focus on their projects at work because they are too obsessed with waiting for that next dating app swipe to make its way.”
Inc.’s recent article on the topic of unplugging in business explores the positive aspects of implementing periods of “unplugging,” to allow focused pockets of energy which can generate ideas to move a business forward. “Programming downtime into your day refuels and refreshes your ideas from your logical left-brain to your creative right brain for more ideas, intuition, productivity, and creative insights," Dr. Gaba says.
"You often get your best ideas whilst driving, napping, exercising and taking a shower,” outlines Dr. Gaba. The Best of BBC Future argued that technology may be enabling us to tick more things off our list at a quicker pace, but the reality is a shift in how we work, rather than how much we’re doing. Our lifestyle sees us in search of filling every minute of downtime with output, but there is a limit. Ultimately, our constant need to check in has detracted from focused productivity as we are faced with more outlets for distraction.
Why we need to unplug to reconnect
“One of the many benefits of switching off from technology is bringing about rest to your fatigued brain so you can work more efficiently and effectively. When you are tired, you don’t think as clearly, creatively, or effectively and are therefore more apt to make mistakes, and making impulsive decisions at all hours is now the new norm. This merged life is frantic and messy having to switch back and forth from mommy to worker bee,” explains Dr. Gaba.
“I recommend to my clients a technology detox, exploring with them the benefits of unplugging to allow time for thoughtful reflection, creative inspiration and explore activities that recharge their energy and reconnect them with themselves.”
Even for our physical health, unplugging has its benefits. A 2016 study published in Computers on human behavior discovered that people who left their mobile phone at home spent more time in the higher intensity workout zone than those who use their phone during a workout. Further, technology has bred increased laziness, with more time spent sitting and straining at screens, leading to other issues including body aches and vision alteration. And it also affects our ability to communicate with those nearest and dearest to us, with many of us suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness.
We can’t dispute the remarkable impact technology has afforded and its crucial role in modern lifestyle, but the improved life quality from disconnecting is “incentivizing,” as put by Dr. Mullen. “The benefits gained range from better sleep, more time to spend with family and friends, and less intrusive thoughts, to keeping up with everyone else and having the time to think about life circumstances and work through some struggles.”
Armed with the facts, are you ready to unplug?
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.