Fidelio Table Talk – “Moving the Dial: Why We Need “A Seat at the Table” – An Interview with Fidelio’s Founder

Fidelio will be hosting its third “A Seat at the Table” Programme for senior female executives on Tuesday 13th – Wednesday 14th September 2016 at the historic Leeds Castle, Kent.

We have had tremendous interest in “A Seat at the Table” – from Chairmen, CEOs, Group HR Directors and, importantly, from participants. Many of our discussions cover similar themes on the essential aspects of the Programme which are captured below.

In this edition of Table Talk, Luke Main interviews Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, co-founder of Fidelio Partners, who answers FAQs from companies and participants interested in “A Seat at the Table”. 


 1. “A Seat at the Table” launched when the Davies’ Report reached its first target. Is there still a need for a Programme just for women?

Gillian Karran-Cumberlege: As the Davies Report itself admitted, there is still a lot to be done! Progress is being made at Non-Executive level, although the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently argued that even at this level much more needs to be done.

But at the Executive Director level women are woefully underrepresented. This is an international issue with no real sign of change. PwC’s recent ‘CEO Success’ study showed that last year, in the world’s largest 2,500 public companies less than 3% of new CEO appointments were women. And this was a record low since 2011. As long as we are seeing stats like these, dedicated Programmes like “A Seat at the Table” are clearly needed.

 2. What’s the takeaway from “A Seat at the Table”?

Gillian: Talented and highly qualified women come on the Programme because they have clear ambition to succeed to the top table and at the top table. As well as strengthening the Executive layer, the aim is to build the pipeline of female CEOs and Chairmen.

During the two-day programme, participants are immersed in a fast learning environment which mirrors the speed at which directors need to learn and carves out time for reflection. They go home with three clear takeaways to support their career development:

  • A framework for understanding leadership structures and styles;
  • A mirror for personal presence including within a group dynamic;
  • A road map of critical networks and milestones in order to achieve their professional and personal objectives.

 3. What’s different about this programme? What can be achieved in just two days?

Gillian:  “A Seat at the Table” stands out because of its focus on what is a critical, exceptionally challenging, career juncture. Typically, participants are women in senior executive roles, frequently combined with their first external Board role(s). The top table, be it the Board or Executive Committee, is a reality for them. As is the complexity that goes with it – handling shareholders, stakeholders and at the same time ensuring meaningful career development.  This is exactly what A Seat at the Table” is about.

The Programme is very practical, taking place around the Boardroom table and immersing participants for two intense days in some of the key challenges facing Boards and Executive Committees. It’s also a fast learning environment drawing on the collective experience of the participants as well as a truly impressive cast of external speakers who bring invaluable Board experience from the ‘coalface’.

“A Seat at the Table” has been described as an excellent preparation for Board readiness. It’s important to us that participants are also able to apply some 80% of the learning immediately – in their executive day job, as well as external Board roles.

 4. Who should attend?

Gillian: The “A Seat at the Table” Programme is designed for women who have just reached or are on a clear trajectory to the top table (and we think about the top table in both Executive and Non-Executive terms). This is a Programme for senior woman who want to be part of the top team, be it the Board or Executive committee, and who want to maximise their effectiveness.

The calibre of women attending absolutely contributes to the power of “A Seat at the Table”. To date we have welcomed women from a range of leading FTSE and international companies, including:

  • CEO of a major subsidiary of a global bank
  • Executive committee member of a major European bank
  • FTSE100 Group HR Executive
  • Group HR Director of a major quoted European company
  • COO EMEA of a leading global alternative investment firm
  • Washington-based global head of government relations
  • International medical affairs director of a global pharmaceutical company
  • CEO of a charity

The Programme is also highly relevant for women on Boards looking to refresh their skills at the Boardroom table.

 5. It seems that the guest speakers also have a ‘seat at the table’ during the Programme. What role do they play and how do they fit into the Programme?

Gillian: During the course of this fast-moving programme, we work with a number of experts in their field as well as Executive / Non-Executive Directors with highly relevant practical experience. We focus on five attributes of leadership key to assuming a seat at the top table: navigating complexity; a firm grasp of governance; presence and authority; reinforcing networks; resilience under extreme pressure.

Our contributors are chosen because of their ability to shed light across these five areas. In this intimate and interactive environment, participants have the opportunity to test and develop their Board presence and skills in the company of experts.

“A Seat at the Table” speakers include:

  • General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO
  • Anne Francke, CEO, Chartered Management Institute – one of the most senior women in FMCG in Europe before moving to head CMI which is instrumental in shaping government policy on closing the gender pay gap
  • Claudia Sturt, Director of Security, Order and Counter Terrorism, HM Prison Service
  • Susan Sternglass Noble, Treasury Select Committee Adviser and former leading global investor/analyst in the banking sector, including with AXA, CQS, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs
  • Christopher Heimann, Head of Improvisation, RADA; Theatre Director
  • Professor Bob Garratt, Visiting Professor on Governance, Cass Business School; author of seminal work on governance: The Fish Rots from the Head
  • Robert Rowland Smith, philosopher; former Prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; best-selling author including Driving with Plato and Breakfast with Socrates; leadership advisor to global corporates

6. Can you measure the benefit of the programme?

Gillian: “A Seat at the Table” is now in its third iteration and it’s obviously important for participants, and the companies that sponsor them, that we have a clear view of impact and progress.

Before “A Seat at the Table”, I speak with each participant individually about their specific ambitions and goals. This helps shape the Programme and importantly provides a yardstick for success. We capture a lot of feedback from “A Seat at the Table” and also work hard to stay in touch with alumni so that we also have a good view of longer-term impact.

A couple of key findings stand out:

  • Participants leave with a good understanding of their strengths as well as areas where further development may be valuable. They also have a practical understanding of how to close this gap.
  • It is early days for the Programme but we are seeing women move into major executive roles, be short-listed for top table roles and be approached for significant Non-Executive roles.

But, for me, the most promising outcome by far is the uptick in confidence. This is commented on by virtually all participants, and linked to this uptick in confidence is also a willingness to set ambitions higher.

 7. Is this programme only for FTSE100 companies?

Gillian: This programme is absolutely relevant for FTSE100 companies. Our focus on handling shareholder and stakeholder complexity is very valuable for any director of a quoted company, be it in the UK, or internationally. In addition to FTSE companies, we’ve been joined by leading European and US companies.

And we’ve also welcomed women from different types of organisations–alternative investors, government-owned companies and the charity sector. Looking forward, we will increase the focus on fast-growing entrepreneurial companies and we are optimistic that we will also include representation from Africa.

 8. Why Leeds Castle?

Gillian: We wanted to find a setting away from routine corporate life which allows our participants to focus on being around the Boardroom table and allow reflection. Leeds Castle provides the perfect backdrop. It has been a Norman stronghold; the private property of six of England’s medieval queens; a palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon; a Jacobean country house; a Georgian mansion; an elegant early 20th century retreat for the influential and famous; and in the 21st century, it has become one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain.

 9. Is this programme only relevant for those aspiring to external Boards?

Gillian: “A Seat at the Table” has two goals:

1. To enable talented women to succeed to the top table (either as Executives or Non-Executives);

2. To be effective and successful when they get there.

So “A Seat at the Table” is absolutely relevant for women aspiring to the top table and who are on a clear trajectory. Given the focus on being effective at the top table, we are also seeing very successful women join the Programme who may want to refresh their Board skills and think carefully about future Board roles.

 10. What does the enrolment fee include?

Gillian: Enrolling on the “A Seat at the Table” Programme obviously comprises a quite exceptional two-day residential programme that is focused on succeeding to and at the top table.  During the two days, participants work closely with ca. 10 senior female executives from a range of sectors, functions and geographies as well as the ca. 10 external influential speakers.

But there’s much more. Participants shape the Programme to their own very individual ambitions through an interview ahead of the Programme. After the Programme there is feedback (the mirror) and guidance (the road map).

And recognising the importance of the network, we are keen to facilitate ongoing contact between participants with their peers in the “A Seat at the Table” alumni group, often from different sectors and geographies. Through this network, there is also ongoing learning on relevant topics ranging from ‘Boards in Crisis’ to preparing a non-executive CV through content-rich seminars.

In short, this Programme is our commitment to ensuring talented women have every opportunity to flourish at the top table.

“A Seat at the Table” – a development programme for senior female executives

Feedback from participants has been overwhelming:

“… the best concentrated injection of development and learning that I have ever had … It hits the mark perfectly”FTSE 100 Group HR Executive  

“…a heady combination of new contacts, immediately actionable insights and rich seams of thought…” –Business Head (Big Data), Government-owned Company

very rich in content, a great blend of technical aspects, softer skills and confidence building … An excellent Board readiness programme.” –CEO, Major Subsidiary, Global Financial Services Company

If you would like more information on Fidelio’s offering and the A Seat at the Tabledevelopment programme for senior female executives, please contact Luke Main or alternatively +44 (0) 207 759 2200.


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