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Vicki Donlan Headshot

Women Must Have a Seat at the Table

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In 2013, the talk of getting a seat at the table for young women in business is often considered absurd. For some reason, many young women believe that the seat will be theirs when their turn comes. Yet, a week doesn't go by that an article or book isn't published crying out for this injustice to be rectified. Should women be screaming for their rights to have such a seat? And, what's so all important about sitting at a table anyway?

One would think that with women earning 57% of all undergraduate degrees and 60% of all Master's Degrees, every table would be surrounded with women. But, perhaps, the table we are referencing is not populated by the most educated. Could it be that there is other criteria necessary to get a seat?

With all the problems that plague our society, one would think the discussions at these tables would include issues such as better education policies, more equitable healthcare, more productive work-life balance, greater profitability and customer service and a more peaceful world. But, that leads back to the question of why women don't have a seat and should have many seats at the table.

Could it be that the obstacle in the way of getting more seats around the table for women is the fact only women get pregnant and can give birth? There, I said it. Men and women ARE different. As of this moment, ONLY women give birth. Many things in our society do change as R&D is advancing our way of life every day. Just recently Jeff Bezos of Amazon reported the startling idea of being able to deliver packages by drones in the next four or five years. I wonder if Mr. Bezos could start working on a miracle in order for men to give birth. The commercial opportunities for this innovation would be limitless. Think of the clothes and sports gear designs just for starters.

Seriously, the current political atmosphere in America where no woman has ever become President suggests we have a long way to go. (Are you listening, Hillary? But I digress.) Some places around the globe women at the table and in power is a completely different story. Research demonstrates that women bring a more congenial, egalitarian approach to their work in government, business and everywhere else they have an opportunity to share an opinion. Getting a seat at the table means having an opportunity to share a different perspective, one that is based on experiences. Therefore, the greater diversity of perspective, the more likelihood of finding solutions.

Back to my beginning question as to why it is important to impress upon young women that a seat at the table is not theirs for the asking -- it is theirs only if taken. Women may start off equal to their male counterparts, but within a few years on the job, they lag behind in influence and salary. It is critical to make the point that just because women reach likely childbearing age doesn't mean that their opinions don't have value. As a matter of fact, it just may be that women's ideas at childbearing age have greater value.

Ask yourself, are you sitting at the tables where key decisions are being made? Are you part of the process or just part of the landscape?

I work with some women in business who are content to stand back and keep their opinions to themselves as long as their position is not compromised. But, what they don't understand is that their unwillingness to speak up, and stir things up if necessary, keeps women's voices mute. In other words, when one woman speaks up women's voices are represented. Of course, one woman does not speak for all women, but one woman can, and often does, open the door for the next woman.

So, the next time you walk in a room and see a table, please walk right to the head of the table and sit down. Give yourself plenty of room and don't move no matter who walks in the room. Once the meeting begins, watch carefully to how the dynamics change from the the times you sat at the side of the table -- or worse in the back corner.

A seat at the table is more than a cute saying describing women's rights to be heard and accepted. It is a place where influence and power is wielded and every woman must take it seriously if she wants to participate.

Think of it a little like a game of musical chairs -- focus on the chair and make it yours before the music in your head stops. Then speak your mind. Every time one more woman takes a seat the next seat at the table will be that much closer for the next woman.