The Blog

Present-Day Skills for a Successful Future

The reality today is that women with career and family ambitions need to be as disciplined as or even more so than male counterparts.

The best-selling release of John Gerzema and Michael D'Antonio's book The Athena Doctrine last month has spurred debate over the concept of 'feminine' versus 'masculine' traits and which will enable economies to flourish in the future.

In my view, positive traits are positive traits, and regardless of how they have historically been assigned, the sooner we all start applying them to our professional lives, the sooner both men and women will benefit.

But how do we do that? The question of how we prepare to work in that future economy is a very relevant one that it's never too soon to ponder.

Technological knowledge and concrete, vocation-based skills will, of course, always be important, and those skills will also constantly evolve. The digital and high tech spheres will help Britain compete in the global economy and capture global virtual consumers in new ways that haven't even been invented yet.

But given the fast pace of change, the ability to deconstruct problems across industries will be the most vital skill in the future. In the increasingly intricate technology economy that we operate in today and will for years to come, complex problem solving and lateral thinking will become more important than ever.

I've seen this fundamental concept play out in my own professional experience: my years in investment banking taught me that nothing is unachievable as long as you break down your objective into constituent parts and attack them one by one.

At the same time, this key skill is the centre of a constellation of skills that we don't have to wait for the future to discover. Women and men should continue to harness many of the skills that are requisite in the traditional economy: honing management skills, increasing their own exposure and nurturing an inbuilt capacity for connecting with people which is so important in the ever more open digital consumer economy.

And to rise higher, they should also focus on relentless prioritisation, hard work and, on a practical note, outsourcing things that are not priorities.

An interesting addendum to this future we're all preparing for is that the people who form it are changing too: a 2010 report by Policy Exchange forecasts that by 2013, the UK will become the third country (after Canada and the US) to have a workforce that is more than 50% female.

The reality today is that women with career and family ambitions need to be as disciplined as or even more so than male counterparts. Investing time and effort into acquiring skills that will drive their business and career forward and foregoing all else is key in making the time and getting what one needs to succeed.

This doesn't mean that climbing the career ladder is a game that women need to beat men at, though. Anyone who wants to succeed needs to be first class personally and professionally. Most importantly, they need to make sure their accomplishments are recognised by voicing their own achievements. Women are not as good as men in the second aspect but I see this improving as the nature of the workplace changes. As Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In, women are often the ones that hold themselves back for a variety of reasons.

When I start out as a naïve but ambitious 21-year-old investment banker, I was very lucky to have two supportive parents who had always told me that I was just as good as anyone else. As a result, I wasn't afraid to work hard and put myself forward for great opportunities. I have full faith that the women who will come of age professionally in a generation's time will have a level of confidence that we often see absent - or not acknowledged - today.

In the meantime, though, women and men alike should be forward-thinking with their skills base so that they can more confidently grow into whatever roles the future economy holds.

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