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The Future of Work

Business Leaders Share Their Biggest Concerns About The Future Of Business

From a lack of diversity to the political landscape, business people in the thick of it convey their worries.

[Photo: jirsak via Shutterstock]

What’s keeping today’s business leaders up late at night? A lot. Blame it on the upheaval of 2016’s presidential election, the debt crisis in Europe, falling oil prices, or what to make of China’s slowdown. Modern business leaders know that any concern in the world can quickly become an immediate threat in their own corner of the world, as we’ve become more interconnected and dependent on one another.

A global CEO survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers published earlier this year found that two-thirds of executives see more threats facing businesses today than they did in 2013.

Below, seven business leaders share their biggest concerns about the future of business:

We Are Limiting Ourselves With Bias

Binta Niambi Brown, CEO and founder of Fermata Entertainment Ltd./Big Mouth Records LLC, corporate/tech lawyer, startup adviser

What concerns Brown most about the future of business is that we’ve limited our profitability as a nation because we’re all so caught up with making opportunities for ourselves. This is particularly true in the U.S., says Brown, where every single day, "We’re leaving talent and ideas and experience and knowledge and human capacity on the table because of our biases, our inability to forgive one another to allow possibilities of redemption, and to invest in and develop one another."

As a result, we’re "consistently missing opportunities in a variety of different individuals who have so much to offer because we are still subscribing to a narrative of who it is we should be hiring, and where the talent exists."

For instance, Brown points to President Obama’s clemency program that is meant to commute the sentences of prisoners who received harsh time during the height of the nation’s war on drugs. The idea is to get these people back in society, yet society isn’t willing to give them the opportunity to work, she says. While some of the formerly incarcerated are fortunate enough to get jobs in the nonprofit sector or government, or they become motivational speakers, says Brown, many are still left jobless. She says large corporations need to "effectively stand up" and invest in their success.

"This is part of what it means to take all of the genius and all of the talent of all the different people who are available in society, and nurturing that in a way that we can continue to grow the economy," she says.

"Until that changes, the pie is never going to grow as big as the pie can grow. We’re going to just keep fighting over slicing it up, because we’re giving into our fears as opposed to our hopes and our dreams."

We Are Too Focused On Short-Term Results

Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and cofounder of Ellevest

When the world moves fast, everyone is concerned with only the here and now. As a result, Krawcheck (who is also a Fast Company contributor) is worried about the "short-termism" in business.

"I’ve worked at private companies in which the quarters of the year went by without anyone noting them, but instead focused on annual and five-year results," she says. "And I’ve worked at a company in which each quarter was held out as the most important quarter in the company’s history—literally— and analyst estimates watched like a hawk. Everyone knew when the quarter-end was, and that often meant investments were stopped and started in order to ‘make the numbers'."

The result of that kind of thinking, says Krawcheck, was under-investment in the business overall, especially in "hard-to-determine-a-return technology infrastructure spending."

She adds: "It’s probably not too hard to guess which one fared better during the financial crisis."

People Are Becoming More Nationalistic

Anthony Scaramucci, founder and co-managing partner at SkyBridge Capital

In times of peace, the rise in nationalism and militarism ends up hindering economic integration, says Scaramucci.

"As the world loses its living memory of global conflict . . . the last [world] war is now 71 years out . . . as those people die off, you get a systemic rise in nationalism," Scaramucci says. "The irony behind the peace is that you get a rise of militarism, you get a rise of nationalism as people lose their living memory of war, and this rise of militarism is something I’m concerned [about]," he says.

"We have to continue to figure out ways to become economically interdependent . . . in my mind, I want further free trade and further global interdependence, because I know that that’s the best path to peace and long-term prosperity for most of the world."

People Of Color Lack Access To Capital

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, COO and lead experience architect of BSMdotCo

"My biggest concern, as both a black founder and activist, is the exclusion of people of color from access to capital. We see this happening in tech and other billion-dollar spaces, such as the growing cannabis industry where people of color are both criminalized and excluded from market participation," says Ziegler.

In order to change this, Ziegler says supporters are needed to strengthen "the business models of racially marginalized individuals by strategically partnering with them in ways that will help them grow."

He says: "Supporters must also intentionally funnel capital directly to entrepreneurs, rather than through VCs with proven track records of failing to support people of color."

We Are Becoming Too Polarized

Morgan DeBaun, founder of Blavity.com

Blavity is the media startup aimed at building communities through conversations started by diverse content creators often not represented in mainstream media. As its founder, DeBaun thinks a lot about the current presidential campaign and how partisan we’ve become as a nation.

"We are dangerously trending in this area of being very partisan . . . and it becoming about party lines as opposed to being about the issue," she says. "Because everyone is so polarized, it’s very dangerous for us coming together as a larger community, as Americans, and honestly, the media is reinforcing a lot of these narratives."

She adds: "In particular, what I think about the black community and the issues that Blavity and our readers care about, it’s less about party lines. It’s more about social justice, criminal justice reform, access to education, affordable education. Yet, those are often topics that aren’t really talked about in-depth because we’re too focused on the personalities that are potentially running this country."

To change the conversations that are being discussed, DeBaun advises the media community to push their audiences to ask questions and empower people to ask questions about what people are actually going to do in office. Conversely, we need to stop being "so infatuated with the celebrity pop culture of it all."

Businesses Are Losing Sight Of The Human Experience

Alexandra Fine, cofounder and CEO of Dame Products

As "measurable" results and data become more accessible, Fine is worried that businesses are too often losing sight of the human experiences that can’t be quantified.

Being in the sex-toy industry, Fine says that "measurements of our physiological reactions" can’t really "perfectly represent human experiences. There are too many other factors at play."

"When taking this into consideration for my own business, we try to make sure that we're always gathering different types of feedback . . . bolstering measurable numerical insights with anecdotal customer surveys to give us a 360-degree response," she says. "Of course, this type of information can be ‘flawed’ or subjective, but it's unmistakably human and allows us to remain in touch with the raw perceptions of our products and brand."

Businesses Need To Better Understand What It Takes To Hire and Retain Talent

Jennifer Fonstad, founding partner at Aspect Ventures

Fonstad thinks we still have a long way to go when it comes to hiring, developing, and retaining talent.
 
"As investors, we’ve seen a growing number of startups addressing ‘this future of work,’ says Fonstad. "Companies like The Muse provide services to help young workers manage their own careers and coaching to guide them through the process. Companies like Fluid and other emerging companies in the financial-services category ensure that contract workers don’t have to wait 90 days to be paid, for a small fee ‘factoring’ their wages," she explains. 

"And for large companies, retaining employees with additional services has become a higher priority—from Facebook offering fertility services to Fortune 500 companies offering wellness programs like Grokker to keep productivity and engagement at work high," she continues.

And how companies meet the next generation's expectations for careers and training will "define their success in building a successful workforce for the future," she says.

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