Stop Waiting for Permission: Take Your Seat at the Table

Stop Waiting for Permission: Take Your Seat at the Table

March 12, 2020 0 Comments
Progress for Her: Maximizing Your Seat at the Table

A diverse business is a strong one, which is why companies need to embrace multiple points of view and ensure they are bringing a variety of voices to the forefront.

Diversity of expertise has long been a critical component of every successful business. Running a restaurant without a talented head chef is obviously impossible, but it also takes a friendly waitstaff and effective manager to bring it all together. It’s hard to imagine a company of any size achieving long-term success without a cross-functional team that covers a wide breadth of different skills and aptitudes.

However, the importance of diversity extends far beyond expertise. Diversity of perspective is just as important, with the strength of multiple points of view enhancing the way organizations perceive different challenges, solve problems and drive innovation. Failure to embrace a variety of perspectives leads to homogeneity, creating precarious blind spots that can easily undermine everything from product design to customer service.

Women’s leadership executive consultant Kim Meninger speaks at a Progress for Her event at the Burlington office of Progress in March.

Women’s leadership executive consultant Kim Meninger speaks at a Progress for Her event in Burlington, Massachusetts.

In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, our Progress for Her employee resource group (ERG) recently brought women’s leadership executive consultant Kim Meninger into our Burlington office to conduct a lunch-and-learn workshop. Titled “Maximizing Your Seat at the Table,” her session dove into how women can gain more influence in the workplace and how to leverage this influence more effectively.

Getting a Seat at the Table

While most people have their own interpretation of what it means to “have a seat at the table,” it quickly became clear that there were three common threads among the workshop attendees:

  • Having your voice heard and opinions respected
  • Being able to make a meaningful impact at your company
  • Feeling like a valued member of the team

So, how do you get your seat at the table?

According to Kim, it starts with a deep understanding of yourself and what you want to achieve. If you want others to understand the value you bring to the table, you need to be acutely aware of the skills you have to share, the impact you want to have at your organization and the type of leader you want to be. This enables you to effectively communicate your goals and align with the right people to accomplish them.

This transitioned into a challenge that many women face: “imposter syndrome.” This is a psychological phenomenon where people doubt their validity of their own accomplishments and feel like they are frauds. Managing this fear is tricky, especially because it is often difficult to recognize in the heat of them moment, which can lead to self-doubt spiraling out of control.

However, Kim noted that imposter syndrome actually has a hidden benefit: it’s most prevalent among women who are high achievers. The key is learning to trust yourself and your skills fully while also realizing it’s OK to not know everything, and that there is no shame in asking for help. 

“We have to get better at unapologetically embracing the fact that we already have great value to offer,” Kim added.

Using Your Seat and Leveraging Your Network

Getting your seat at the table is only the first step—leveraging your seat effectively is just as important. Once again, it starts by having a plan and being clear about what you want from your seat at the table. You need to be identifying top priorities and setting clear goals with specific action steps to take. Above all, you must be proactive—and that often means taking the time to get out of the weeds of your day-to-day work to get a better understanding of your company as a whole.

Progress for Her: Maximizing Your Seat at the Table“Come from a place of curiosity, it’s how we get to know the business, it’s how we get to know the opportunities,” Kim said.

Making connections within your company and learning how to leverage your network are also critical pieces of the puzzle. While we all understand this on some level, there is also a stigma around office politics—that they are dirty and manipulative, and something you want to steer clear from.

Kim stressed the importance of not getting deterred by these preconceptions. To use your seat effectively, you need to be involved in conversations early on and make your opinions known, both in formal and informal discussions. You also need to be aware of power structures, both formal (department hierarchies) and informal (friendships), so you can navigate them successfully.

“If you choose to remove yourself from [office] politics, you choose to remove yourself from the influence loop,” Kim concluded.

Here at Progress, we’ve spent the better part of the past year looking at how we can foster an even more inclusive and diverse environment that brings a variety of voices to the forefront. In the midst of Women’s History Month, workshops like this one are a great reminder of the importance of these efforts. The session was a huge success, with nearly 40 employees joining in, and we give our sincerest thanks to all those who attended for the insightful discussion.

For more information about our corporate social responsibility program, check out the Progress for Tomorrow page on our website.

Danielle Sutherby

Danielle Sutherby

Danielle is a Communications Specialist at Progress, where she is also on the leadership team of the employee resource group, Progress for Her, and an Advisory Committee member on Progress’ Inclusion & Diversity Committee. When she’s not at work, you can find her writing, reading, or acting like a tourist in her own city.

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