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In 50 years, the women on boards debate will be over

June 8, 2015
Diversity & Inclusion
Q You recently predicted what will happen to the supermarkets – on a wider field, what do you think will be the biggest change all companies will experience in the next 50 years?
A Our corporate landscape will be transformed by technology. Computers, the internet (and all the life-changing breakthroughs still to be made) will totally change the way we trade. But the biggest difference will be about people rather than process.
By 2065, business people will be amazed we spent so much time discussing the percentage of women on boards. In two generations, the debate will be over. In 2015 the case for women in business is almost always made by women, but it’s the men who will put women in the driving street.
Campaigners are quick to point out that only 8pc of FTSE 100 directors are women. This statistic is the crux of their argument for quotas to lift the number of female board members. But their campaign misses a particularly pertinent point: 92pc of directors are men. In 2015, despite all the lobbying and proposed quotas, it is men rather than women who will decide the future of equality in the boardroom.
So, if men still have the balance of power, why will women win the argument?
Future leaders will realise that a perfect process doesn’t guarantee success. The best companies employ the best people, then give them the freedom to follow their initiative. Once it becomes clear that the only way to create a great company is to employ great people, the smart top men will realise that lots of “the best men for the job” are women.
The idea of hiring only the very best (people who rate nine or 10 out of 10) doesn’t just apply to the boardroom – having great people throughout the organisation, from shop floor to the top tier is a magic formula for success. Putting high-achieving women into the heart of middle management is much more powerful than board quotas. Promoting proven talent will ensure that women occupy more places round their board table.
Another big factor is flexible working. In 50 years, we will be bemused by the concept of a five-day week. With broadband, email, Skype, tablets and another half-century of technological change, most office workers will seldom need to go near the office. They will be able to do their job where, how and whenever they want. A world full of flexible workers will be a big boost for women who want to fit work around their family. After a time, men will also see how they can fit work into their life instead of having to fit their life around work.
The prospect of a flexible working world makes it so much easier to employ the best people and, as a consequence, the best people will realise that work-life balance isn’t just management speak, it can become a reality.
Thankfully, the macho City desk where competitive men arrive early and go home very late will not last much longer. Flexible working, which trusts employees to do their job in a way that fits in with their home and family, is good for wellbeing and consequently good for the business.
By 2065, women may have more directorships than men, but by then few people will be bothered – it will just be a question of having the best person for the job. But for now, if you want to make sure women are given the chance to fulfil their potential, start by talking about it to men. It is much more likely that men, rather than women, are the people who will make it happen.
Q I worry that I’m spending too much time in the business rather than on the business. I would like to focus more on strategy but am struggling to see the big picture. Can you help?
A Without meeting you and knowing your business, I can’t provide the personal advice you seek but several general points could help.
Let’s start with the good news. You are absolutely right to get fully involved in the day to day business. It is the only way to know what is really going on, but occasionally you need to step back and have a big think. You will find some of your best ideas while walking round the business, chatting to the colleagues who meet your customers and those who work on the shop floor. But, as you have discovered, it is possible to get so wrapped up in daily events you can’t appreciate the big picture.
To clear your mind properly, take three days off, find a blank A4 pad and answer some key questions:
1) How does your business make money? (This might seem like a stupid question, but many companies forget what really brings in the profit – we at Timpson make money when we provide a good and helpful service).
2) What will your business be like in 20 years’ time? (The perfect question to get you to concentrate on your strategy.)
3) What are the three toughest challenges you are likely to face and the three hardest decisions you will have to make?
4) Who are the key people in the business and how would you replace them?
5) How do you spend your time? Answer this question with a pie chart dividing your time between: office routine; meetings; travel; wandering around the business; family/leisure time; time to think.
You may need to tweak the headings to suit your circumstances, but be honest.
The five questions will make you think about your business, but they will also force you to think about yourself, make you better at delegation and show how you can probably achieve much more by doing a bit less.
By John Timpson 

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