The 5 big trends Julia Gillard sees defining 2021

Former Australian prime minister shares during AANA Reset the big trends to come out of COVID-19 that will transform work and society in the next normal

There aren’t many of us who haven’t felt the profound impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our professional and personal lives. But just as it’s been a time of trauma, it’s also one of growth and opportunity to learn, says Australian former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

During this year’s AANA Reset conference, the chair of Beyond Blue and Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and author highlighted five big trends she sees defining the 2021 world we’re shortly to head into, from nationalisation and the new way of working and talent management, to renewal of focus on science and addressing gender equality for good.

Each of these big trends will impact the marketing and advertising fraternity in different ways.

Trend 1: Nationalism

While it’s often associated with Donald Trump’s rise to the US presidency in 2016, Gillard said the theme of nationalism is here to stay and has arguably been heightened during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“We’ve seen nations turning inwards, wanting to look after their own populations and seeking to disengage a bit from the rest of the world,” Gillard told attendees. “We saw that pre-pandemic with the ‘Make America Great Again’ messaging turning the country inwards; and we’ve seen it with the UK voting for Brexit. The end of Trump doesn’t mean the end of this trend.

“I think the pandemic if anything has turbocharged those feelings of democratic community – we want to turn inwards and look after the home front first. And there is a seduction in that… but ultimately, our world works best when we are globalised, and when we take responsibility for what is happening right around the planet.”  

Gillard said the lesson from COVID should be to turn focus outwards. “None of us are safe from COVID-19 until all of us are safe from COVID-19. Trend of nationalism will be a key decider of our future,” she said.  

Trend 2: Government is back

In the lead-up to the pandemic, Gillard also pointed to bottoming-out trust in government and a belief that it didn’t really matter which politicians were in power.

“The pandemic has shifted that sentiment – people can see your chances literally of living or dying has depended on the quality of government responses,” she said. “The era in front of us is one where people are more engaged in democratic government and more concerned about the quality of government and administration.”  

Trend 3: Science is back

Alongside this, Gillard pointed to a renewed belief in the power of science and fact. “During the days of COVID, all of us have spent days turning on our TVs, listening to every word of chief medical officers and other scientists to work out what to do next, how to keep ourselves and our families safe,” she said.

“People once again are respecting scientists and understanding the importance of evidence in our world. If that trend stays, it has all sorts of ramifications for public policy making, including in the area of climate change, but also inevitably around the world.”

Potentially tempering this trend, however, could be governments looking to shift any subsequent blame for the fallout around COVID back onto the scientists who have played such an instrumental part in how many countries have handled the pandemic.  

“In many parts of the world, it will suit politicians to… try and push blame and responsibility on the scientists. That might undermine what I’m hoping will be a continuing trend, which is that evidence and public policy will once again be married together rather than separated as they were increasingly becoming before the pandemic,” Gillard said.  

Trend 4: Work has changed forever

Another macro-trend Gillard pointed to was the world of work changing “in a way which means we’re never going back”.

“That has multiple dimensions, which we should be thinking about working through. It will be huge part of future,” she said.  

First and foremost is the kind of work we most value has changed. “When push came to shove globally, people weren’t looking at Wall St or the City of London or asking what investment bankers were doing and saying they were the most important people to the future of my nation. They were worried about what nurses or aged care workers were doing,” Gillard commented.

“Caring has never been more at the forefront that when the pandemic hit. That reshaping of what we value will be long-lasting. We all know who has kept us going when going gets tough – it was carers, transport and logistics, those in essential services.”  

Even more disrupted is the way we actually work. “Employers have learnt that flexibility works, it can still be productive, and there can be cost savings in having workplaces where people perform routine work virtually rather than come in and sit in a cubicle or a hot desk,” Gillard said.  

One US company Gillard pointed to has now decided staff will work 11 out of 12 weeks virtually each quarter, then get together for collaboration for one week in a shared space. This business has let their premises go.

“This new way of working will reshape the property market and what it means to be a corporation with a CBD footprint in ways we’re only starting to see the beginning of now. It will be a major shake-out of our market, office spaces, and talent,” Gillard said.  

On the talent front, Gillard also saw the rules of employees needing to be in a particular location being disrupted completely. “Once you adopt these continuing ways of virtually working with relatively limited office attendance, then it has to broaden your perspective of who is your talent pool,” she said.  

“Your talent market means you could live in Jakarta, Manila, Auckland and many countries associated with our time zone reasonably.”

Trend 5: It's time to truly tackle inequality

As a final trend, Gillard said inequality, from gender to racial injustice, has garnered further spotlight during the pandemic and will remain front and centre in our next normal.

It was clear in lead-up to the pandemic, dialogue about inequality was already gathering pace. But with the impact of the pandemic on casualised workforces, economic inequality for one has garnered even more attention, Gillard said.

“This is also the year a dying man, George Floyd, said I can’t breathe and the world reacted – this call for racial justice has come right to the fore and these trends aren’t going away anytime soon,” she said. “They are a reckoning which all our societies need about economic and racial equality.”

Another aspect is gender inequality. While Gillard was quick to note the science indicates the virus proportionately kills men over women, its impact has exposed discrepancies between the sexes that continue to pervade society.

Take the first ripple impacting the frontline workforce of carers and nurses. Seventy per cent of these frontline professionals are women.

“In the second ripple and as nations went into lockdown, studies showed clearly the extra domestic labour because children weren’t in childcare or school and it was picked up disproportionately by women,” Gillard said. “This was even in households where both men and women work full time and the female partner out-earns the male.”

In the third economic ripple, it’s again disproportionately women’s jobs that have been lost, Gillard continued. “This is unlike many other economic detractions historically, which have predominately been about dislocation as a result of globalisation – like manufacturing – and hit men’s jobs,” she said.

The upside is the world’s eyes have gone on to female leaders, with many reports stating women leading nations during this period on average are doing better and keeping the infection rates down.

“Speculation is they were quicker to accept the science around behavioural restrictions and lockdowns. But any celebration of female leadership is a good thing and another thing to come out of the pandemic,” Gillard said.  

“But this pandemic came up top of pre-existing gender inequality. Fully in our world, 70 per cent of the nations on earth have never been led by a woman. If you look at business globally and any premier stock exchange – across the top 100 companies, less than 10 per cent of their CEOs are women. In the creative industry, only one woman has won best director at the Academy Awards in its history. If you look at the top 100 income earners in sport, there is only one woman, Serena Williams, at 63. It doesn’t matter where you look, we still have the consequences of gender inequality all around us.”

Gillard pointed to structures and stereotypes as key barriers to overcome moving forward. Stereotypes are those unconscious biases around what we believe in our lives and what we believe women are like, she said. This is an area where marketing and advertising professionals can really help.

“The people in this room are uniquely positioned to help us think through and deal with those stereotypes because you help create and change perceptions,” Gillard said. “If you know things like that, you can change things like that. And I’d urge you to do so.”  

As for structures, Gillard said the shake-up COVID has presented to historically designed structures based on men’s working lives could finally help us move forward.

“The struggles we’ve faced during the pandemic may well force us to deal with some of the more fundamental questions that to date we haven’t got to. What do we mean by a successful worker? Is it the person who turns up first thing in the morning and leaves late at night? The person who is always available? Or the person who’s leveraged the social professional networks and go to the footy and pub together? Or the person who goes into a meeting with a sense of brash confidence?

“Because if we mean any of those things, then those things are gendered. And if we look more closely at those things, they have grown up in this male-designed way of working,” Gillard added.   

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