The Empty Seat at The Table

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Written By: Irum Rashid - Jones, Global Programming DPW


The ugly side of the positive impact of diversity, inclusion & equity efforts leads to an empty seat at the table....I know that sounds counterproductive - I know it sounds controversial but let me explain...


Social media is plagued with women empowerment images like these leading women to think that being at the table is ENOUGH...



But today, I'll give you the view of this unpopular image... a reality for many women...like me.......


This image resonates with me and countless other women much more than the mainstream images presented at almost every Diversity & Inclusion panel across America.

For the women that have a seat at the table, we need additional voices and perspectives echoed...we're fearful of leaving our seats open because we can't find other women to fill our spots...


It's not enough to simply fight your way into the boardroom only to stay silent when it's your turn to shine.


Getting to the table is the EASY part...staying engaged, learning to negotiate, compromise, diffuse, defer and not take "No" personally is the HARD part.


Keeping your seat at the table is based on how well YOU perform in those areas and how effective YOUR decisions translate to either:

  • improving the bottom line

OR

  • saving lives


Throughout my career in corporate America, I was given the opportunity to participate in meaningful, action-oriented, budget-based meetings...you know those meetings that require you to prep at minimum 2 weeks in advance and live with your decisions for the next 10 years kind of meeting....you know....those meetings that will make you lose your appetite, meetings that would keep you awake at night and test your moral compass based on your decision and critical thinking skills because YOUR decision impacted lives as well as the standard of living for people outside of that room.... While my women-leader peers were invited to social celebration meetings, team building events, working lunches, think-tank sessions, and group training - I somehow would lose my invite to those upbeat meetings and instead get dragged down to the "roll up your sleeves and let's save the world" issues...


In those meetings I was either the:

  • ONLY woman

  • ONLY woman of color

  • ONLY South Asian person of decent

  • ONLY Middle Eastern - American

  • ONLY person of color

  • ONLY person that was hired based on merit vs. my connections

OR

  • YOUNGEST person in the room

AND... sometimes I was all of these!


Oddly enough, I never felt out of place. I knew my role and took my role seriously. My peers in the room respected my decisions, listened to my rationale, and provided healthy debates to think through concepts together. A mutual understanding by the team of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) was that we valued all perspectives of everyone that was in the room.


Regardless of how brilliant you were, how much funding you had access to or the hundreds of innovative solutions you had ready to implement at the drop of a dime - if you didn't have a seat at the table - you had no voice and no right to even propose a solution. Those were the tribal rules.