Women.... Know your place

RADA in Business Tutor Lisa Åkesson

August 2014

It is gratifying to witness the promotion of more women to the cabinet following the reshuffle this summer. And even more reason to cheer is the recent news that Glencore, a bastion of male industry became the final FTSE company to appoint a female director. All signs that we are ever moving nearer to the government target of 25% female board representation by 2015. Whilst we still fall short of the target, the fact remains that there are significant cracks appearing in the ceiling. And every reason, as a woman, to push through to grab those top jobs.

So, leaving aside the debate around the pros and cons of positive discrimination, there is a definite and positive move to improved gender balance at senior leadership levels. Yet there is still some further need for adjusting attitudes from both male and female perspectives to drive this through and pick up the pace of change. On the one hand there remains the unconscious bias from male-dominated board rooms, and on the other it appears that women are sometimes reluctant to move into these roles, because of self-limiting beliefs and lack of confidence to really ‘own' those board room seats. Recently we were lucky to interview Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, founding partner of executive search company Fidelio, about her own experience on her journey to the board. Up until 2007 she was Group Head of Investor Relations for Volkwagen, and significantly the most senior female senior executive. Consequently, Gillian has a double perspective - her personal journey to a Group Executive position, in a very male dominated environment, and now her present position as a recruiter and advisor for women seeking senior leadership roles.

Looking back, Gillian’s advice to women who want to reach board level is,“Be confident, indeed as confident as your male peers. Learn about the career paths that successful executives take to get to the top of their profession and be prepared to follow it. Take career decisions that give you the relevant exposure and credentials to get you there.” A key factor to Gillian’s own success is her evident self–belief. She recalls how on graduating from Cambridge, her tutor stated, “She looks as if a puff of wind would blow her over but intellectually she is very tough”. Not an appraisal you would imagine her male peers would have ever received! And yet bizarrely complimentary. Gillian has always achieved an effective balance between femininity and firmness. A question many women in similar positions face is how to portray toughness and resilience in a boardroom full of testosterone, whilst keeping true to their own personality and femininity. In order to achieve a successful balance, it is important to understand these behaviours and how they can maximise personal impact in different situations.

RADA in business has developed a course aimed at exploring and developing influencing skills for women who are interested in maximising their career. The course looks at the specific challenges faced by women when navigating this new business environment, and how to find, then use to best effect their voice and personal impact. This learning environment for women provides a safe, open and honest forum for discussion and sharing of experience and challenges. Moreover it is a course designed support women to assert their right to ask for things, proceed with greater confidence, and challenge self-limiting beliefs to take occupy their space at the boardroom table.

You can find out more about this course here or please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 0207 908 4810.

Puppet on a Shoe String

August 2014

This month some of the RADA in Business team, along with RADA staff were treated to a workshop in puppetry – led by the remarkable Finn Caldwell, whose credits include War Horse and recently the unique children’s show Elephantom – in which the central character is a mystical floating elephant spirit. Whilst we weren’t afforded the luxuries of such sophisticated ‘ripstop’ materials and elaborately molded heads, we proved that all you need is a roll of brown paper, masking tape and flexible knees to instantly create a believable puppet.

In three hours, and starting from a blank canvas, Finn managed to get us all to produce a mini saga of our own, in which our central character was a paper doll. There are five golden rules to ensuring your puppet is realistic and more engaging than the three puppeteers who operate it. Rhythm, Weight, Focus and Stillness are all headlined by Breath. This latter is the starting point – in order to give life to your inanimate object, you must give it breath, and visible breathing. This is where the magic starts. But then, we in RADA in Business already know that breath is the crucial element to all communication. Think, Breathe, Speak is the principle that underpins our training – and applying the technique of proper, effective breathing to the operation of a puppet is the crucial source of presence. By practising it in this context, it was a stark demonstration of how such a seemingly incidental human action, can create such a significant impact on the audience.

The workshop was a brilliant team activity. The success of the group work relies on the level of awareness of other team members, and how our actions would impact on one another – quite literally in making the puppet coordinate. At best we were communicating without talking – and three separate actions, behaviours and intentions were to meld in one being – the puppet!

Finn’s puppetry skills and puppets are mesmorising. Elephantom - though aimed at children aged 3+, was actually created with all ages in mind, and is currently appearing the New London Theatre.

Why finding the "right" word isn't so important

RADA in Business Tutor Sandra Miller

May 2014

As the geographical reach of our work continues to expand, I seem to have been working in Europe a great deal recently. This means I am working with delegates for whom English is not their first language. As ever it makes me feel embarrassed about my meagre attempts to speak anything other than my mother tongue and the issues it can throw up are interesting.

For me the most interesting of these is the lack of confidence in people when it comes to their perceived necessity to "find the right word". As far as I am concerned I am so in awe of anyone who can stand up and communicate articulately in a language that is not their own that I am totally prepared to forgive the odd howler. In fact I would go so far as to say that the use of language is entirely personal at the best of times. Of course clarity (of both delivery and meaning) is essential but I am questioning my previous fixation on the need to encourage delegates to express themselves in precise terms. Providing speakers are crystal clear about their objective for speaking and assuming they have prepared and rehearsed, I would rather people presented in their own way than get hung up on finding the "right" word.

Having spent seven fairly fruitless years studying French in school, I only achieved any real success at conversation following a couple of terms at the Sorbonne. This was not as a result of the grammar I was encouraged to study daily, but because I was living in a hall of residence and needed to communicate with my peers. I remember the howls of laughter at my mispronunciations and mistakes but as an adolescent I was not deterred - silence was not an option - so I was forced to speak my version of the language. Eventually this began to resemble something that the odd Frenchman might vaguely recognise.

I am hoping that our work in Europe will develop and thrive and that we continue to give confidence to delegates who are less certain about their version of English. As Rumi (13th century poet) said "Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.”

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