This blog was first published in Retail Week
Should the Government think about an ambitious plan to bring more BAME minorities, (BAME - Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, used to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK) into Britain's boardrooms.
The aim could be for one in five directors of FTSE 100 companies to be from a BAME background. Lord Davies' review into women in the boardroom, which began in 2011 and has had some success in increasing the numbers of women in senior business roles.
But is this a good thing? Do we need quotas?
My father's generation came to this country to work in the textile mills. Most were uneducated, but times have changed. We now don't think twice when we see a BAME doctor, surgeon, nurse, dentist, optician, pharmacist, lawyer or accountant. We read success stories of BAME business people and are sometimes surprised when we find out that the well-known brands we love are owned by BAME business people.
Someone recently came to see me at our office in Leeds, and it turned out he was Scottish, the first thing he said to me was "Did you know that your lift has a Scottish accent?" He was so pleased that he even tweeted about our lift having a Scottish accent. I would feel the same way if I met a BAME business person sitting on the board of a company, I would want to tweet about it to the world. That's the problem, we just don't have many BAME business people selected to sit on the boards of companies.
If we are to have more diversity on boards, to get our numbers up, quotas must be a good thing, right? No, I don't agree. Companies should not be forced to take people on just to meet a target, another box that's ticked. I wouldn't want to be selected just because a company needed to reach a target number.
Have we got a problem? Yes, we have. Boardrooms are just not representative of the world we now live in, and the customers their companies serve, they don't represent the people that spend money with them. Something needs to change, and we shouldn't be afraid to discuss it - it's a subject that will undoubtedly generate a lot of debates.
I looked at an online article about the Government's intention to change the rules, it attracted 294 comments. Some had to be removed because they broke the house rules, and many were racist in the way they talked about the subject.
Many people have strong views but only express them when they can hide behind made-up names on the comment bit on a website. I've also noticed that on some sites the most common name is 'Anonymous.' I didn't realise it was such a popular name.
So, if quotas are not the solution, what should we do? The CEOs of companies have got to be more aware of the world their companies live in. They need to recognise the mix of people that work for them. They can learn a lot from the public sector which is very good at employing people from all ethnic backgrounds.
Is change possible by itself? Can people change? Probably not.
One of the observations I've made in my time in business is that people are very good at making well-crafted arguments for why there shouldn't be any change. They are well-versed at explaining why you don't understand and why the status quo can't be changed. Most of the time I just listen and don't say anything, it's not worth the argument.
I honestly can't remember the last time I met a non-white person who sits on a board. That means there has to be a problem. We can't carry on with lots of Ethnic professionals in business, but very few sitting on the board.
That change must come from the businesses themselves because otherwise the Government will impose quotas, and that's wrong. It has the potential to breed resentment and bring only short-term tokenism rather than a long-term solution to this problem.
And if you're wondering, do I ever get asked to sit on the board of a private or listed company, no is the answer.
Has the tipping point arrived? For example, Freeserve launched in 1998, and the Internet boom started. For years people talked about e-commerce, but nothing happened. Smug people said, "I told you so," then a few years later than expected, Amazon finally arrived, and the e-commerce boom really started.
Then people said e-commerce will have a big effect on our high streets, but still, nothing happened. The same smug people said, "I told you so." Later than expected, things have now changed, and our high streets are a lot quieter than before.
So, the big question is, has the tipping finally arrived?
When the Internet first arrived, we only used it to surf the Internet, we didn’t buy or sell anything on the internet. Mobile phones were only used to make phone calls, we only took our phones out of our pockets when they rang.
Now I’m in a panic when I can’t feel my smartphone in my pocket. My smartphone tells me everything. Companies are only limited by their imagination, I have a smile on my face every time I pay for a pasty in Greggs using ApplePay, it’s absolutely fantastic.
It’s not just about the internet. All my life I’ve heard smart, intelligent people say the words "It’ll never happen." What won’t happen? Anything that a smart, a higher ranked person say’s won’t happen. Every day I read about things that are now happening, things that people previously thought would never happen.
Businesses don't "Pivot", they need to constantly keep changing. Lots of businesses only change after they have problems. Every day there are stories in the press about companies that are going through change because their customers have abandoned them. Don’t they understand? Customers don't say goodbye. They just leave.
Apple stores are still busy because they go through a pivot when customers are still spending money with them. Our Managing Directors don't understand this rule.
Guess what? Change is happening, and this is just the start. Managing Directors are still saying, “It’ll never happen, it’s not going to affect my business, we’ve been doing this for many years.”
The problem with a lot highly paid people is, every month, they’ve got lots of money left over after they’ve paid their bills and mortgage. They don’t understand that every month their customers have no money left over. They lack empathy, they can’t feel what their customers feel because they’re doing okay.
Why do Managing Directors not listen when someone offers them some free advice? Because they like to interpret facts to confirm the beliefs they already have. Confirmation bias is when we interpret information in a way that confirms the bias we already have.
They don’t want someone else telling them what to do. They only want to look at information that confirms what they already believe. They like to ignore or simply not be exposed to information or opinions that challenge what they already believe.
Even when they take the brave step off exposing themselves to an alternative point of view, it may still be confirmation bias, because they still want to confirm that the opposition is, indeed, wrong. They start an argument about why you are wrong.
Even as you are reading this, you may be coming up with reasons why I am wrong.
Does any off this sound familiar? So, don’t argue, start to listen before it's too late for your business.