Why "A Seat at the Table" matters. Fidelio’s contribution to developing tomorrow’s female CEOs and Chairmen

Gillian Karran-CumberlegeIn March 2016 Fidelio will be hosting the second “A Seat at the Table” Development Programme for talented senior female executives. The goal is to strengthen the executive layer of women business leaders; and more ambitiously to develop tomorrow’s female CEOs and Chairmen. Yes this is a very focussed contribution to increasing the number of women in leadership roles, but as a Board and Executive Search firm it’s exactly where we can – and indeed should – make a difference.

Diversity on the corporate agenda

You may well say that gender diversity is clearly on the political and corporate agenda. The final Davies Review published in October 2015 stated that the 25% target of women on FTSE 100 Boards had been exceeded. Across Europe governments are taking action. Germany has been a laggard and now has a quota in place to increase the number of women on Supervisory Boards.

At a recent very well attended Audit Quality Forum event in London “Whose culture is it any way?” four of the six panellists were women and the women rather than the men were in obvious leadership roles. Moreover Baroness Neville-Rolfe, keynote speaker and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, made an explicit link between succession planning, including the female executive layer, and a healthy corporate culture.

This is the point. Business has become extraordinarily competitive and complex. To survive companies need access to the best talent and that includes a range of perspectives and experience. With women occupying fewer than 10% of Executive Director roles in the FTSE 100, a major resource is being overlooked.

As a Search firm that focuses on senior roles that are critical for stakeholders and shareholders, we clearly see the benefits of a diverse and talented leadership team. Fidelio is also acutely aware of the risks posed by a Board or Executive Committee that lacks diversity, however impressive the individual resumes may be.

What’s distinct about Fidelio’s Programme

Moreover we sit in a hugely privileged position which enables us to make a very distinctive contribution to ensuring more talented women get “A Seat at the Table”. As a Search firm our day to day interaction with candidates and clients provides intelligence and insight as to where and why women are succeeding and critically where the obstacles lie.

My own experience of being the most senior female executive globally within one the world’s best known and largest car manufacturers and now sitting on a board in the same sector has also added real grist to our thinking.

Hence Fidelio’s “A Seat at the Table” Programme brings together a select group of talented female executives from a range of sectors, geographies and functions. We are joined by experts from diverse disciplines – including the former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO; a highly regarded philosopher; an enormously talented and innovative theatre director; one of the most senior women in the prison service and a major global investor in the banking sector to name but a few. Over two days we explore five interlinked aspects of leadership identified as being critical to success at the top table:

1. Understanding the complexity of shareholder and stakeholder expectations, as well as the geo-political backdrop

2. A firm grasp of governance, including formal and informal power structures

3. Presence and authority; personal impact; the ability to influence

4. The power of networks; the role of networks in achieving corporate and professional goals

5. Resilience under extreme pressure

The purpose of “A Seat at the Table” Programme is to equip the women who participate with practical tools which will support them in their journey to the most senior roles in the organisation, namely:

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

Who joins “A Seat at the Table”

In the run up to the second “Seat at the Table” Programme, we have seen companies and sectors that recognise the imperative for change and are thinking carefully about the career trajectory of their most talented female executives. Our Programmes are enriched by the participation of senior female executives nominated by their organisations and able to bring a wealth of experience to a Seat at the Table. Equally we benefit from talented women who recognise the importance of investing in their career and make leadership development a priority.

But we also see women executives who shy from putting themselves forward and organisations running very narrowly and inwardly facing change programmes. We suggest that neither group is likely to materially shift the dial.

And surely this is why a Seat at the Table matters. In any organisation critical strategic and operational decisions are made at the top table – both the Board and Executive Committee. As was graphically demonstrated in the recent box office success “Suffragette” the vote matters, including within corporates. In order to deal with complexity, build robustness and drive through ambitious cultural change programmes, companies need talented women at the top table.

We’d welcome your voice and views on this key corporate challenge. If you want to learn more about “A Seat at the Table” don’t hesitate to contact Gillian Karran-Cumberlege or Valentina Lorini on gkarrancumberlege@fideliopartners.com or vlorini@fideliopartners.com. Do also let talented women within your own organisation and network know about the work we are doing, because categorically “A Seat at the Table” matters.

A truly inspirational course…left a lasting impression.

The content was really well balanced between the practical and the theory….I was also struck by what a great and varied group of women you had brought together.

A heady combination of new friends and contacts, immediately actionable insights and rich seams of thought.

Feedback from participants in Fidelio’s September 2015 “A Seat at the Table” Programme.

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