Fidelio Table Talk – Gathering Momentum for “A Seat at the Table”

Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, the co-founder of Fidelio Partners explains the motivation behind the successful “Seat at The Table” programme for senior female executives, and what participants can expect. She is leading the module “The Power of Networks” and will share her experience as the current Head of Fidelio’s Board Practice and formerly a leading business woman in Germany and the most senior female executive globally within Volkswagen AG.

Question: Why is Fidelio, a Search firm, hosting a development programme for senior female executives?

Gillian: Fidelio is a Board Development and Search Consultancy. The two disciplines are interlinked and the issue of gender diversity underlines the point. We have very clear insight into who succeeds to the top table and who succeeds at the top table. The Davies report has been pushing for greater female representation in the Boardroom. Through Search, we are identifying and attracting strong candidates for the Boardroom including women who may or may not have been on the radar screen.  Through the “Seat at the Table” programme we are helping to strengthen the layer of senior female executives as well as developing tomorrow’s female CEOs and Chairmen.

Question: Fidelio hosted the initial “Seat at the Table” Programme at Sandhurst in September and is already holding the second programme in March 2016. What do you think explains the positive response?

Gillian: It has struck a loud chord with the final Davies report published last month.  This highlighted that “the business appetite for women’s contribution at the top table, goes from strength to strength” but acknowledged there was more work to be done. There has been a change in culture but business needs to continue efforts if gender diversity, in particular at a senior level, is to increase. The report singles out focus on the Executive layer as part of its Five Next Step Recommendations. The “Seat at the Table” directly addresses strengthening the executive layer. Moreover, it doesn’t shy away from developing tomorrow’s female CEOs and Chairmen. .

Question: The venue is changing to Leeds Castle, does that also entail a change in programme?

Gillian: No, the inaugural programme met with a very positive response and we are building on its success.  As before, it explores the five interlinked aspects of leadership which our research has identified as being critical to becoming an effective member of the most senior leadership team.  Accordingly we focus on models of leadership, formal and informal governance, presence and authority, the power of networks and resilience. The purpose of the programme is to enhance effectiveness at the top table be it Board or Executive Committee.

Question: The programme is billed as different, why?

Gillian: The programme is distinguished by targeting the five leadership attributes I have just mentioned which we feel are crucial to succeed in the transition to senior Executive and Non- Executive roles. And because we are in a privileged position to convene world class expertise. Few programmes can boast such an array of speakers in terms of disciplines and experience with an ex NATO general, a professor and a philosopher to name but a few on the list. Moreover participants are given a practical tool box to help them succeed. This includes three key elements. First, a framework for understanding leadership structures and styles. Secondly, a mirror for personal presence within a group dynamic and, finally, a road map to achieve their professional goals, with milestones and critical networks of both internal and external stakeholders.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the programme?

Gillian: The inaugural programme received very positive feedback. It was described as offering “…a heady combination of new friends and contacts, immediately actionable insights and rich seams of thought…” We have hardwired diversity into the programme through not only the array of disciplines and experience of the speakers but also by including talented female participants from a range of sectors, functions and geographies. They benefit from the opportunity to develop a network with this peer group as well as experiencing the rich and diverse content of the Fidelio team and external speakers.

Question: How confident are you that this Programme will make a material difference to the proportion of women in leadership roles?

Gillian: A “Seat at the Table” is based on detailed research from our Search and Development practice, from my own top table experience with leading corporates and from the experience of clients. By focusing rigorously on those areas of leadership that hold the key to success, I am confident we will help to unlock the door to the most senior roles in the organisation for our talented participants. Even in the few months since the first programme we have seen “Seat at the Table” participants assume major roles within their organisations.  But importantly if we can move the confidence dial a couple of notches, we will have played a critical role in fulfilling the Davies Report ambitions.

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