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Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers

LOCASO, Ms Penny, Founder, BKindred

CHAIR: I now welcome Ms Penny Locaso from BKindred. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you?

Ms Locaso : Yes.

CHAIR: Great. I invite you to make a short opening statement, and then we'll have some questions for you.

Ms Locaso : Firstly, I would like to thank the Senate committee for the opportunity to share my perspective on the future of work and the future of workers. I'm guessing I'm the first happiness hacker you've ever met. I'm the founder of BKindred. BKindred is an education company on a mission to teach 10 million women and girls globally how to futureproof happiness by 2025. We seek to amplify human potential not replace it. We want to close the inequality gap not widen it. We want to enhance the mental wellbeing of our society not diminish it. We work with large corporations, schools and professional community groups, teaching individuals and organisations how to step into fear in order to thrive in an unprecedented and uncertain future.

According to the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will ultimately work in jobs that do not yet exist. Predictions indicate an unprecedented scale of disruption, in the near future, driven by the exponential growth in technology. According to Oxford and Citi's Technology at work v2.0 report 57 per cent of jobs across the OECD are at risk. To thrive in a VUCA environment, those who work and lead will need to be prepared. But I have discovered that many are unsure of how or where to even begin, creating a heightened level of fear and what I fondly term 'ostrich syndrome' in our society.

Our focus on technological advancement and associated financial gains has come at the compromise of the mental wellbeing and connectedness of our society. We have never been more technologically connected yet humanly disconnected. Anxiety and overwhelm are at epidemic proportions across professionals and the younger generation. I challenge whether we are consciously walking into the future. I ask: who is taking an integrated and ethical view of the macrotechnologies being evolved, and how will they impact a society that is already operating in overwhelm and is unskilled to adapt to the speed of change associated with the exponential growth in technology?

Work is a construct we as humans have created, and now is the time to reconceptualise this construct in a way that drives equality, opportunity, meaning, social impact and human connection. We need to apply an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to the future of work. We will need to make tough decisions quickly, invest in activities that aren't a sure thing and persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome. We will need to consider how we skill a population to thrive when the hours they are required to work are significantly reduced or even, possibly, non-existent. We need to ask ourselves: what would people do with their time if they had more of it to explore activities that provide a greater meaning, fulfilment and connectedness back to community? We need to shift our focus to activations that create consciousness and awareness around the future, human connection and future-ready education, in order to reconceptualise the future of work and futureproof the happiness of Australians. The future of humanity, I believe, is in our hands.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Ms Locaso. We've obviously had a look at your submission as well. Would you like to elaborate a little further on any particular measures that you think we could be recommending, whether it be things that government could do or other people in the community could do?

Ms Locaso : Yes. The first one that I think is probably the most time critical is a review of the industries that we know will be impacted in the very near future. Driverless cars is a perfect example. I would recommend that we look at the highest impact short-term jobs that will go, like with driverless cars. We know of lawyers, doctors and accountants, for example. I would be looking at how we can proactively support people in building skills to reinvent themselves, which is the first thing I recommended—mandated investment in reinvention training for at-risk workers. When I say reinvention training, the education that I am talking about is quite different, I think, from the education we have provided for people before. We have focused so much on hard skills. When you are working in an environment of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity I think the skills people will need, to thrive in the future, will be quite different. We need to teach people how to be curious again. We need to teach people how to adapt, embrace and make change. We need to teach people problem-solving and critical thinking. We need resilience. I spend my days running Fear(less) Masterclasses that are oversubscribed in large corporations—with huge waiting lists—teaching people how to use fear as a lever to create change rather than a barrier. We're the most risk averse we have ever been and it plays into resilience—and we need to build resilience for the future.

The second thing that I would recommend is starting to look at where we invest, and, in the context of actually addressing some of the challenges that I have mentioned, investing in businesses that are actually focused on cultivating human connection within our society. I speak in front of thousands of people, and I am exposed to hundreds of people very week through my work, and every time I mention human connection and the rates of loneliness, angst and overwhelm in our society, people keep asking me, 'Can you please create a program to teach our people how to humanly connect and have difficult conversations?' We've basically created a whole generation of young people who are unable to humanly connect. It is something that is innately human to us. It is within them, but they are unable to do it because they've never practised it, because their idea of connection is through technology. And these are the leaders of tomorrow. How does it impact a leader if they can't humanly connect? How does it impact a leader if they can't humanly connect in terms of having hard conversations in organisations? How does it impact their ability to take risks? These are the skills I believe that we need to start cultivating in our environment.

I mentioned the ostrich syndrome. There is a real need within our society to start to create some awareness around the impacts of artificial intelligence not only on how we work but also on how we live—and not in the next 20 years but even just in the next five years. I run programs called 'Future Proof Me', where I actually show people the macrotrends that are upon us and the technology that has created evolved that will come at scale in the next five years. Educated people are absolutely shocked, and it is the best catalyst to motivate people to start looking at things differently and to drive a little bit of self-accountability around what skills they need for the future.

CHAIR: You mentioned in your opening statement that a particular focus of your organisation is working with women and girls. One of our witnesses earlier this morning presented some research on what women are looking for in the workplace and gave us some views on how ready the world is for that. Is there anything in particular about the needs of women and girls that you think we should be taking into account and their place in the future of work?

Ms Locaso : There are a couple of things. A lot of the skilling that I do with women is around building confidence. I talk to women a lot about the fact that one of the biggest barriers they have to realising gender equality is themselves in some respects—though there are obviously things outside of their control. One of the greatest opportunities we have is to help build confidence in women. I teach them how to step into fear and risk, because women are less likely to do that.

The second thing that I would say is that, in terms of supporting women, I speak a lot about gender equality. I was interviewed by Emma Alberici recently and she mentioned quotas. I think there is a lot of conversation in large corporations around diversity. I think they are trying to get balance at the top end of town. But the reality is that, at the current rate of change, we know we won't realise gender equality in the workplace for another 200 years. My belief, as a women who worked as an executive for Shell for 16 years and has a number of professional friends who are in this space, is that women get to a certain level and they self-select out. The problem is not that we have quotas and we're trying to get women to senior executive roles; the problem is that the construct of those roles is based on an outdated person taking those roles. It is based on a model of a white Anglo older male who has a wife at home supporting him and doing all of the day-to-day stuff. That is not appealing to a woman who often gets to that level in her mid-30s and who probably has a family at home. What I see constantly is that they will self-select out because the current construct of those roles is not appealing. How many job-shares do you see at executive level? How many part-time roles do you see at executive level? So supporting a rethink of leadership would, I think, be one of the most powerful things we can do.

I honestly believe that the gender equality balance will probably not come from the initiatives of corporations, because I don't believe that they will take the risks and do the disruptive things that are needed to get the balance in check. The change will come from women stepping out of those roles because they self-select out, starting their own companies and restructuring how those companies design roles so that they can be more appealing to a balance of gender in roles. I'm seeing it all over the place.

Senator STOKER: Your career, in a sense, has been built from the way that you have handled massive disruption and change. What can you tell us about the way that can be taught? It seems to me that it's something that we often expect the experience of life to teach us, when the world may require us to learn it actively.

Ms Locaso : Probably the most helpful thing is that people resist change because they look at the thousand things they need to do to get to the end point, especially for significant change. It's like a project plan with a thousand items. What I have found to be the most powerful thing in helping people make change in their lives is actually teaching them how to make change in bite-size pieces.

When you've already got a society that's overwhelmed and anxious, the last thing you want to do is teach people how to turn their life on its head. I teach people how to make change in bite-size pieces; it reduces the overwhelming anxiety and builds the courage and confidence over time to make bigger changes and take bigger risks. For me, that's the first thing—how we teach people to make change in bite-size pieces so that it feels manageable but also helps them to check things off and motivates them to push forward. It's about progress, not perfection. That's the tack that I take.

The second thing that I find really helpful is from when I worked at Shell. I did the best practice training in change, globally, because I worked in significant change for years and I was passionate about it. That was called the Prosci model. I live by the model that they used, whether it's personal change in my life or change that I teach people. The first step to change is awareness. At the moment, I think the reason people are not changing—why they have ostrich syndrome—is because they're not even aware of what's coming. The first thing that we can do, which would be really helpful from a government perspective, is actually to look at creating some sort of open forum for the public to come and learn where technology is up to and how it will change their lives just in the next five to 10 years.

The second part of that process is desire. You create awareness and then you need to create the pull to want to change. What can we do to create the desire? I find with the programs that I run about helping people and organisations understand what's coming that, unfortunately, fear is a great motivator for people. When people can see what they're going to lose or what they have to give up in this context, the desire is around showing them what's happening and creating the awareness. Often, I find that that provides the firecracker that people need to want to change.

So you have awareness and desire, then people need the knowledge to know how to change. It's almost like this is the journey that you go through. How do we give them that knowledge, which is really around, as I've said, this reinvention of education for softer skills? These are the sorts of things you will need to be able to reinvent yourself continually and to learn perpetually. We need to become learning people—no longer 'educated' people. So, awareness, desire, knowledge—then we provide them with ability, which is also part of the education process, and reinforcement. That's the process that I go through, and it seems to work.

Senator STOKER: We've had some research presented to us this morning that says that women—and it really doesn't matter which sector they're working in or what age they are—are relatively fearful and are seeking security in their work. One of my concerns is that that's not necessarily something that can be promised in the future. We are, in a way, changing so rapidly that that certainty isn't something that we, as a society, can necessarily promise.

Ms Locaso : No.

Senator STOKER: This is related to what you've already said. How can we educate people to reconcile the fear they have and their desire for security with the reality that they face?

Ms Locaso : I find that fascinating. From all the work I do, I think the No. 1 thing that women want in a career is flexibility. That's what I'm seeing. That's why I'm surprised that it's security, because so much—

Senator STOKER: Can I say: that was my instinct, coming in, too; I would've thought that people were after flexibility, but I'm being given different ideas.

Ms Locaso : Yes. Most of the gig economy is actually women stepping into that space because they want the flexibility, and we know the gig economy is less secure. I would argue that security has long been gone. Yes, it's nice to have, but the reality is that it's gone. As to how you help people understand that, I think you need to show people what's coming. That's the reality of it. The reality is that security has gone. It doesn't exist now, I believe. The number of people who are displaced on a daily basis in large corporations which were perceived as secure is mind-blowing to me, as is the amount of transformation in the companies I work with. Every company is transforming. One particular company I'm working with has transformed seven times in the last five years, and they're one of the biggest companies in Australia. There is no certainty. I think it's a misnomer. The reality is: we just need to tell people that that is what it is. I don't know how you can sugar-coat that!

Senator PATRICK: Do you think there ever was security?

Ms Locaso : No, I don't. I think we like to believe that there was, but I don't think there has been security in jobs for a long time. It's a business, at the end of the day. Any job can be gone tomorrow. I think that has been the way for a long time. But I think we have a false belief that these jobs are secure.

Senator PATRICK: I agree with you. I was just trying to confirm whether my thoughts on that were similar to yours.

Ms Locaso : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: I have gone from a public service job to a private service to then running my own companies, and there was never really security in any of those. Sorry—I interrupted.

Senator STOKER: That's okay. It fitted well. And that's all I had, Chair.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you for coming along. I hope you don't think it is rude if I challenge some of the things you say—

Ms Locaso : Go for it! I love a challenge.

Senator PATRICK: just to stress the ideas. I was very interested in the idea that perhaps young people don't have good communication skills. I presume you were talking about texting and Instagram and the way in which they communicate—have I got that right?

Ms Locaso : I didn't say they don't have good communication skills. I'm saying: they're not good at connecting humanly. They're great at email. They're great at text. They're brilliant at social media and making sure their profile's intact. What they're not great at is the human connection. They actually avoid it. Many of the kids that I've worked with—and I've had uni students working for me—would avoid human connection. They were afraid to use a telephone. They would rather sit next to you and send you an email than talk to you about a challenge. So that's what I'm talking about.

Senator PATRICK: Maybe we can exchange numbers and I'll text my next question to you! I'm just reflecting on—and perhaps you made me reflect on—observations I've made with my own children, where the communication is done by text. It's not necessarily because you don't want to talk to face-to-face; it simply is more convenient, over distances and with different things going on all the time and life being a lot busier, to be able to throw in a text, which someone can look at three minutes later when it's more suitable to them. So, in some senses, maybe that's not bad.

Ms Locaso : No, no—I'm not saying it is bad. I love technology. I have a seven-year-old, and we use technology. I'm off to seek for Australia to be accepted into Singularity University, working with Ray Kurzweil, and I'm heading to the NASA research centre in July to work with the top AI and tech innovators in the world. So I love technology. I think that we don't have a consciousness around the impacts of the technology that we are evolving, and I don't think that we are consciously considering the ethical dilemmas and the impacts that we're going to face, and that concerns me.

Senator PATRICK: I was just trying to differentiate between the idea that the communication was necessarily morphing across to technological means and saying that that is necessarily always bad—

Ms Locaso : No. I don't agree. No.

Senator PATRICK: I think we're in agreement then?

Ms Locaso : Yes. So I'm just saying: there is a real lack of human connection in our society, and it's not just me saying it; it's people telling me that they are feeling more isolated and lonely than ever. There's a significant level of anxiety in our society, as I said. I find that interesting because we've never been more technologically connected, but we've never engaged humanly with each other less.

Senator PATRICK: I use the example of my adviser in the back of the room, who can actually throw something to me without interrupting the conversation. That's a great use of technology—

Ms Locaso : Absolutely.

Senator PATRICK: as opposed to—we'll still have a chat after the hearing.

Ms Locaso : You've got balance, though. I'm saying the challenge is that if all of your communication is through technology, because you want it to be convenient, what impact do you think that has on you?

Senator PATRICK: I understand what you're saying. I think it can be healthy, and I think we're in agreement that it can be healthy.

Ms Locaso : Absolutely.

CHAIR: I think we've now learnt where you get all your best questions from!

Ms Locaso : I'll be watching.

Senator PATRICK: From the back of the room! The other thing that we've heard repeatedly from a number of different witnesses and submissions is that in actual fact change and disruption has always been there. I think that sort of weaves through your testimony. I got a sense that you think the change is coming more rapidly, or is it just different change?

Ms Locaso : I think the change is definitely coming more rapidly. We are on an exponential growth curve with technology. Are you familiar with Moore's law?

Senator PATRICK: Absolutely. I have a electronics and signal processing background, so I know Moore's law quite well.

Ms Locaso : There you go. We note that for the last 40 years the speed of technology in terms of its evolution is basically doubling every second year. How can it not get quicker and faster? I think we've seen that in the last five years; people are already feeling overwhelmed with the speed of change. For example, people my age, who have been around for 40 years, are saying that in the last five years there has been more change in their lives than there has ever been. Yes, we've experienced change before and, yes, we've experienced disruption before, but I don't think we've ever experienced it at the scale or the speed at which it is going to come in the next five to 10 years.

Senator PATRICK: But just because you've got technology in place doesn't necessarily mean that it makes a job disappear. I'll use the job of a senator: perhaps 30 years ago, without a tablet and without the ability to communicate, it was maybe done slightly differently. The reality is that I can ask not only my adviser at the back of the room but also other advisers who have expertise in other areas, who can almost instantly get me information that enables me to ask the next hard question. In that circumstance, the role as a senator doesn't change; the technology simply improves that. I wonder whether we're portraying the technology as a problem when, in actual fact, it's a benefit. Maybe the jobs don't change as rapidly, simply the way in which you do them changes because of the technology.

Ms Locaso : I would take a different perspective on that.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. What's your perspective?

Ms Locaso : I definitely think that there will be a significant amount of jobs impacted by artificial intelligence. How do you repurpose the impacts of driverless cars, for example? Where do all those drivers go? Where do all the transport drivers go who were doing deliveries, because we're now doing deliveries with drones, for example? Where do all the police officers go that used to issue speeding tickets and drive the booze buses, because we won't need them anymore? What happens with the impacts of council revenue when potentially there are no more parking fines because basically you have a shared fleet of vehicles that circulate around the streets and don't park, because people are not owning vehicles anymore? I don't think that those people will be doing other jobs in that current role. Where will they go?

Senator PATRICK: That's no different to me asking, 'Where are all of the people that looked after horses before cars came along?' The point I'm making, and lots of witnesses have made the point, is that there's always change and there's always disruption. The other thing I would have thought is that there are still always experts in particular areas. Some people might enter medicine and focus on a particular area to achieve excellence or discover something new in medicine. That's not one of those jobs where you can just flick and change, because otherwise you never get the depth of knowledge and all of the right experiences to get to the point where you change medicine. I accept there would be some things that are changing because of technology, but there are still some roles that might be constant. I say that in the context of asking how you then set up an education system that caters for that sort of person versus the person who may need to swap and change jobs and roles? Is that something we ought to be thinking about?

Ms Locaso : I think the foundational education that I've been speaking about, in terms of re-educating people on how to reinvent themselves, is relevant whether you're a knowledge worker or you're a blue-collar worker. I honestly think that the structure of roles, with artificial intelligence, will fundamentally shift. The jobs that you've spoken about are predominantly more for knowledge workers, as I would call them. I find it interesting—I'm not sure if you're familiar with the work of Cal Newport?

Senator PATRICK: No.

Ms Locaso : He is a bestselling author. He's written a book called Deep Work. He's a millennial who's never had a social media account, and, basically, his research has found that we have programmed our society to be in a constant state of distraction through overuse of technology. One of the most important skills for the future, if you want to be a knowledge worker, will be your ability to do deep, focused work on one particular thing, and to derive from that work insight that's of value to someone else or which solves a problem that's a social or business problem. But we've created a society of people who can't focus on one thing at a time—and research has shown that they have programmed their neural pathways so they can't do it. This constant distraction has changed their brains—the neuroplasticity of their brains. The challenge is that, even if we do have knowledge roles and new opportunities in the knowledge space, at the moment people are not actually capable of focusing on one thing to be successful in those roles.

Senator PATRICK: Do you make that observation about younger people?

Ms Locaso : No. I think younger people are definitely impacted because they've never known anything different from being on their phone constantly. But I even see it with myself and I see it with my friends. Our lives are on our phones. Trust me, I like my phone, like the next person, but a mobile phone is no different, in terms of how the brain behaves or responds to it, to taking drugs or alcohol. They've shown that it does exactly the same thing, which is why people are constantly picking them up. There's a job in Silicon Valley that's hugely popular at the moment called 'attention engineer'. Have you heard of this?

Senator PATRICK: No, so please—

Ms Locaso : Attention engineers have come out of the Vegas casinos and they're now in Silicon Valley. Social media companies, for example, are employing these people. Their job is to understand how your brain works and what creates addiction; their job is to work out how they can get you to spend as much time as possible on your mobile phone. What they then do is sell your attention to other companies. It's of value as a marketing tool. Look it up; it's interesting.

Senator PATRICK: It sounds very interesting.

Ms Locaso : This is the job. So the addiction to devices, whether you're a child or an adult—I see it in adults as well; we're all part of it—has created a whole host of problems in terms of people's capability to be effective and productive and, potentially, remain relevant in terms of their employability in the future.

Senator PATRICK: But in some senses you've just shown how the technology has changed to create a new job in Silicon Valley.

Ms Locaso : That's one job! Absolutely. I'm not saying that there won't be new jobs. I work with some of the most amazing entrepreneurs in Australia, and I get to connect with them internationally. The level of innovation we're seeing is unbelievable—it's amazing. But, unfortunately, from a mindset and skills perspective, I think that the people who are capable and willing to take the risk to be innovators is probably less than 10 per cent of our population. There is probably 70 per cent of our population who don't want to change, who don't want to do anything differently, who want to keep driving cars and who want to show up at the factory and just have a job where they show up and do what they need to do and go home. I think there are going to be so few of those types of jobs in the future and perhaps more of the knowledge-style jobs, which are not necessarily appealing to the masses.

Senator PATRICK: I still drive a manual car because it's fun. I wonder if fun in the future might be not to have a driverless car?

Ms Locaso : Potentially.

Senator PATRICK: I worry about the fuel excise problem with electrical vehicles—

Ms Locaso : Your insurance premiums might be through the roof though!

Senator PATRICK: It's a nice conversation we're having, but you made a point about how you teach people about change in the next five years. Could you give us some insight into what you think the change will be in the next five years?

Ms Locaso : Five to 10 is probably the window there. The things that we talk about in terms of change are that, basically, every day there is a new industry and every day there is a new disruption. If every business can be disrupted, so can every single individual is the way that I look at it. The things that we look at are the impacts of driverless cars and where that is, and we look at sexbots, for example. Has anyone—are you familiar with what they—

Senator PATRICK: No—

Ms Locaso : Oh, my God! Here's something you need to look into, because—

Senator PATRICK: I only got a Facebook page after I became a senator!

Ms Locaso : Oh—

CHAIR: I hope there is nothing on your Facebook page about sexbots!

Ms Locaso : We look at it from a personal and a professional perspective. We look at drones. We look at the fact that 18-year-olds are creating apps that are basically solving 375,000 fines and creating the first robotic lawyer. This was an 18-year-old in the UK who now has VC funding. There are multiple scenarios like this.

We look at sexbots. With sexbots, there is research saying that in the UK 70 per cent of men who go into a brothel would prefer to have sex with a sexbot than with a brothel worker. They are quite active in Europe and in the US now. Fifty per cent of men say that they would be quite happy to invest the 1,800 pounds to buy one. There is huge VC funding invested in this technology. You can watch documentaries to your heart's content online. There are some unbelievable documentaries. There are men currently having relationships. You might think this is weird. This is one thing that I have learnt in my work: it may seem weird now, but, as human beings, we can normalise anything. As I always say to the females when I show them this, 'She doesn't complain.' The sexbot doesn't complain. We are at threat in terms of relationships. I honestly believe this.

Japan has a massive issue at the moment, I believe, because most people prefer to use virtual reality for their sexual gratification than have a relationship—the males, that is. You can't look at the future in terms of the impacts of AI and tech just in the work context. If this evolves, and it is a massive growth market at the moment, how is that going to impact on the way that we have relationships?

Senator PATRICK: I'm sorry about this Chair; I think it does fit within the terms of reference!

CHAIR: There is probably a catch-all about 'any other related matters'!

Senator PATRICK: I actually don't want to push it much further than that! Thank you very much for your testimony.

Ms Locaso : My pleasure, thank you.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Ms Locaso, for coming in today. You've covered lots of issues that we haven't dealt with so far—up until now.

Ms Locaso : Great, there you go!

CHAIR: Thanks for joining us.

Ms Locaso : My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Senator PATRICK: Did you know about sexbots, Chair?

CHAIR: I did not. I go home far more informed than when I went away!