“A Seat at the Table” – Old Truths and New Positives

The seventh iteration of Fidelio’s “A Seat at the Table” Programme for senior female executives and Directors will take place on 24th – 25th September 2019 at Hever Castle, Kent, UK.

Are we now at an inflection point in gender balance and increased diversity on Boards? Certainly when Fidelio established “A Seat at the Table” in response to the UK Davies Review concerted action was needed. Female representation on FTSE 100 Boards stood at 12.5% and much talk had resulted in little action.

We responded at the time by conducting extensive research into the basis of success at the top table, identifying the following five attributes:

  1. Understanding the complexity of shareholder and stakeholder expectations for the leadership team.
  2. Grasp of governance including formal/informal power structures.
  3. Presence and authority; personal impact; the ability to influence.
  4. Reinforcing networks of support and networks of reciprocity.
  5. Resilience under extreme pressure.

The “A Seat at the Table” Programme brings together highly experienced Chairs, Board Directors, along with governance and behavioural experts to explore and develop these attributes with a select group of senior talented women around the Board room table.

Contributors over the Programme iterations have included Sarah Bates, then Chair of St James’ s Place plc, currently Chair of Polar Capital Technology Trust plc; David Tyler, then Chair of Sainsbury’s, currently Chair of Hammerson plc; and Amee Chande, then MD Global Strategy & Operations of Alibaba Group, currently Chief Commercial Officer of Waymo and Non-Executive Director of BBA Aviation plc.

Participants have included women in senior executive roles of leading global organisations, as well as Non-Executive Directors looking to hone their skills. Alumnae leave the Programme with:

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

A Seat at the Table” Alumnae have made exceptional progress in their Board careers (both Executive and Non-Executive) and importantly are making a contribution to the pipeline and quotient of female Chairs and CEOs.

And this reflects a broader picture of progress: female representation on FTSE 100 Boards now stands at 30.2% as of October 2018. Latest unofficial research indicates German Supervisory Boards have reached 33.5% female representation, surpassing the 30% quota introduced in 2016. And in October 2018, California became the first US state to require at least one woman on the Boards of publicly traded companies.

The work of the Davies Review has been continued by the Hampton-Alexander Revew which is now critically extending its scrutiny to the Executive level. And UK Boards have been tasked with ensuring that progress towards gender diversity is a priority at all levels of the organisation by the UK Corporate Governance Code.

Indeed when Fidelio initiated “A Seat at the Table” we questioned whether within a few years such a Programme would no longer be necessary and gender balance would be a given.

We are not there yet:

  • 6% of FTSE 350 Chairs and 3% of FTSE 350 CEOs were women as of October 2018
  • 14.5% of Management Board Members in the DAX 30 are women as of January 2019
  • 17.7% of corporate Board seats on the US’s Russell 3000 Index were held by women in 2018

Moreover, the UK’s gender pay gap reporting has also highlighted major structural imbalances in many organisations with too few women in senior roles and women frequently working in roles that command lower salaries and a lower share of the bonus pool.

But there is another critical and very positive reason for the continuing importance and contribution of “A Seat at the Table”. In the early days and following the Davies Review government, business and society were focusing more narrowly on women in Non-Executive Director roles. Today we see women thinking carefully about this transition with a number choosing to focus on a major Executive role, frequently with a view to the CEO role, perhaps with one external Board role. And when moving to a portfolio or plural career there is now much more focus on the pathway to the Chair role.

Thus in addition to a core purpose of increasing effectiveness at the top table, “A Seat at the Table” serves two additional very valuable goals:

  1. Enabling senior women to make good decisions and choices about their Board careers
  2. Building the pipeline of female CEOs and Chairs

To learn more about Fidelio’s next A Seat at the Table Programme on 24th-25th September 2019, or any aspect of Fidelio’s Board Evaluation, Development and Search capability, please contact Gillian Karran-Cumberlege.

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