I’m keen to work with the best people, whatever their gender and will tailor the workplace to attract the best talent. That often means flexible working – for men as well as women.
In a digital world, it seldom matters where or when you work, the key consideration is how good you are.
The role and recognition of women at work has changed dramatically in the past 50 years and, particularly in a more flexible workplace, we will continue to see women playing a more prominent part, but the playing field won’t be level until the last pockets of prejudice have vanished.
The most damaging discrimination is against people who have had a career break, particularly those who, rightly in my view, choose to spend time with their pre-school children. It is wrong to think that people returning after a few years have a lower ability and less potential.
Often the reverse is true, many mums return with a much better understanding of management and considerably more common sense than many of their colleagues.
The drive to put more women on boards, instead of being driven by percentages, should be carefully handled by picking excellent candidates whose performance strengthens the case for others to follow in their footsteps.
I’ve seen a massive change during nearly 55 years in business, starting at a time when women’s pay rates were openly less than 70pc of the money paid to men for the same job and the most senior female executive in our company was the welfare officer.
During my career there have been massive improvements, which are certain to continue, but there remains a hardcore clique of power-mad men who believe the big boss should be tough and tell everyone to toe the line. It is now clear that dictators, and bullies aren’t the best people to run a business – nice people often make more money.
The days of macho city desks where all but the wimps sat from 8am until after 6pm have been bad for business. I like colleagues who share the school run and watch their kids’ sports day. Flexible working helps us to employ the best people and give more top jobs to women. But I don’t want women to act like men, I want them to be themselves.
The big lesson concerns company culture. Whatever rules are written, or laws passed, change always depends on the organisation’s leader and how well he (or rarely she) communicates the core values to every colleague.
With most businesses led by men, it’s vital that women, wishing to play a bigger part in the workplace, get their message through as clearly to men as they do to women.
We don’t have a policy for women at Timpson but we have a culture that expects the company to employ the best people for the job and recognise excellence. The debate about women in the workplace will be over when every business sees things this way.
Q I’m looking to change my career after 20 years in the same job. Can you give me any tips for working out my strengths and which new profession I might be suited for?
A Career moves are always a gamble but to contemplate looking for a completely fresh start after 20 years in the same job, when you haven't really got a clue what you want to do, sounds far too risky to be sensible.
Why do you really want to make the change?
Your question makes it sound like a passing fancy but is there a deep seated reason? Has there been a change at work? Do you have a new boss who is making life difficult? Or is there a big change in the rest of your life, like a divorce or a bereavement?
Perhaps you are prepared to give up a secure job in the hope that a new start might change your luck.
Your desire for a complete change of direction could make job hunting a tough task. Most prospective employers will want to use your experience rather than take a chance on your new found ambition to do something different.
Be prudent, put any thoughts of a job change on hold and look for some other way to introduce a bit more sparkle into your life - like moving house or taking up a new hobby.
If after another twelve months you still want to risk that job change, get a firm offer for the new job before handing in your notice.