Five Reasons Why You Should Fight For a Seat at the Table

A few days ago, I had the luxury of traveling for work to attend a small conference where I served on the planning committee as well as on a panel. This was the second year of the conference and I was proud of how much it had evolved in the short time span. This year my team (which included my supervisor and our board chair) attended as well. During this time, I could highlight my authority and expertise around our new strategic direction Furthermore, because I had been with our organization for five years I could provide a different aspect that would elevate the conversation. 

Let’s just say I was excited to finally have a leader’s seat at the table.

But I wasn’t ready for what was being served. 

As soon as we landed the politics of the good old boys club hit me as hard as the Las Vegas heat. At some point, we had agreed to have breakfast with a key leader from our national office and our state team to discuss some strategies. I wasn’t thrilled about an additional but I firmly believe that

“if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.”

The next day I texted my boss to confirm the meeting time. He provided his response and planned to be there at that time. 

I arrive at the restaurant promptly only to see that the boys club were sitting at a 4-top table coffee in hand. 

Surprise filled the room. Everyone seemed rather perplexed to see me and my board chair confirmed the bafflement by stating “I didn’t know that you were joining us.” With that comment, I gave my boss space to interject and say “she confirmed last night or we communicated this morning.”

That never happened! 

And while everyone looked very comfortable and cozy and eager to sip their coffee-- I came for a seat at the table. Even if it meant pulling up a chair.

A few moments passed (it felt like an eternity) and someone brilliantly suggested we move to a larger table. With that, we began our vital conversation around strategy. 

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I learned five valuable lessons about the importance of having a seat at the table. 

Don’t Take It Personal. 

People are flawed and when they exhibit behavior that doesn’t align with your personal mission or values you have to be fine with that. Take solace in knowing that you would never operate in that manner. Don’t perceive their behavior as a personal attack against you. That person is just showing you who they are and their value system or lack thereof. I was shocked when my boss didn’t speak up on my behalf but I instantly recalled a time when there was an opportunity to advocate for another coworker and there was also radio silence from him. He wasn’t acting out of character he was just being him. 

Visibility is major key. 

People need to see you! More importantly, they need to see you in the same space as key leaders, influencers, and change agents. While I felt my presence in this situation wasn’t exactly welcomed, from a visibility perspective it was significant for me to be seen alongside CEOs and VPs from our state. At that moment, I was part of that echelon.

Punctuality is key.

It’s not enough to be on time, it’s important to be early! If I arrived at the meeting a few minutes earlier than the agreed upon time (like the others) I could have potentially avoided this situation of feeling unwelcomed. And while I wasn’t late, as a professional I should have known that people would arrive early to network, build rapport and talk about sports. By getting the banter out of the way early, the team was able to commence the meeting promptly and move forward with the agenda. 

Diversity & Inclusion is just a concept.

Many organization both large and small always tout that “diversity and inclusion” is a guiding principle to their company’s success and mission advancement. However, if you look at their board of directors, C Suite or senior level staff it doesn’t actually reflect that concept. Diversity can be defined in many ways but inclusion means being part of a group. It’s the act of feeling welcomed and valued in those spaces. I did not feel embraced by any means but I knew if I walked away from the situation there might not be another opportunity. I would not be a trailblazer for others and the cycle would continue to perpetuate the status quo. Nah! 

Discomfort is part of the process.

This journey is not easy. It pains me to know that I’m fighting similar battles as Rosa Parks or Ruby Bridges in 2018!!! Yes, I acknowledge that things have changed for the better by there is still plenty of room for improvement as it relates to women in the workplace (and the world for that matter). There will be times when battling adversity feels like an actual fist fight. And times when men pretend that you don’t exist. Or even times when you feel humiliated. Use that discomfort as fuel. Your sacrifice will make it a bit easier for generations to come.

--Ar'Sheill Monsanto 

 

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