The Empty Seat at The Table

Updated: Jun 9

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.


This unspoken, yet understood rule deeply bothered me because I wasn't the smartest person in the room, I didn't have all the answers....yet I wasn't allowed to bring in an untapped or even a vetted professional to provide insight. There were so many wasted times when our SME wasn't in the room, but the next best person was a women leader across the hall that was able to provide insight - yet she was overlooked....this pattern plagued my meetings, and eventually it started to eat away at my moral compass.


Why wasn't I jumping up and down making a scene demanding on the behalf of ALL women to bring these women to the table???


Screaming from the corner office

"Pull up another SEAT!"


or


"BUILD A BIGGER TABLE!!"


or


just screaming?




Well, when diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts became more mainstream and Human Resources came banging on the door forcing corporate America to "Save a Seat" - I was excited for the opportunity of more women being part of the discussions I was in....

but where were the woman leaders when the invites were sent to them?

Why weren't they attending?

Why weren't they responding?

Why weren't they engaging?


Soon it became so obvious to me that although a seat was secured for women...

women weren't ready....

women didn't want a seat at the table....but I didn't want to jump to conclusions...




So I did what any rational person would do... I got as many of the women leaders together that were invited to these meetings, yet never showed up OR if they did show up, they gave their seat up after a few rounds at the table....and asked!


"Why aren't you showing up to the table that you have a seat at? You wanted the seat right? Why aren't you showing up?"

Here are the top 15 reasons why women professionals will leave the seat empty at the table they fought so hard to get to, along with my reasons why you should TAKE THE SEAT - just in case YOU or someone you know is feeling the same way.


If you've been invited to the table - my advice is to TAKE THE SEAT, it's OPEN for YOU!

  1. I didn't know it required this much preparation... (anything meaningful requires preparation)

  2. It's too stressful... (learn to meditate)

  3. I have conflicting priorities... (learn to prioritize)

  4. It's not what I thought it was going to be... (be open to new experiences)

  5. It adds to my workload... (learn how to manage or reset expectations of what's required of you)

  6. I feel like I have to prove myself over & over again... (at least you know the combat tactic they are using on you! This helps you prepare so you can shine!)

  7. Someone else smarter than me should take it... (don't ever doubt yourself!)

  8. I don't feel comfortable being the only woman... (learn to get comfortable, being uncomfortable)

  9. Why should I believe they would listen to me? (you have a seat at the table girl!)

  10. I don't have any opinion on it... (get an opinion then and figure out where you stand, along with supportive sources to back up your newly formed opinion!)

  11. I'm not as passionate about it as others... (learn your purpose - find your Ikigai)

  12. It doesn't impact me... (understand that you'll be impacted either directly or indirectly)

  13. I need more time to process this, I'm entering too late in the game... (learn to speed read + learn to evaluate + conduct a SWOT analysis + learn new critical thinking concepts)

  14. I feel like I'm being set up to fail... (you learn from failure)

  15. I don't want to go through it alone! (YOU won't be - we'll be rooting for you in that room and pumping you up by supporting you outside the room!)


Hopefully, by now, I've convinced you to TAKE THE SEAT...now what?

Here are some reminders in your moments of doubt, to prevent you from giving up the seat YOU fought so hard for!

• Leveraging our unique perspectives and experiences to contribute massive amounts of positive impact • Building inclusive environments that cultivate ideas and concepts to improve your industry is an everyday task • Raising the bar on our definition of ethical, moral and integrity standards is something that starts with us first and we have to hold others accountable to those standards • Aspire to be the ideal mentor you never had, the best version of you will bring out the best version of others • Re-frame your picture of "success" • Continue to build bridges with the mindset and mission of "Now that you see us, and recognize us, and respect our contributions let's continue to work together to promote a steady, strong partnership to maintain, rebuild, restore, create and develop this great nation and all nations together." • True change comes when you want to learn as much as you want to breathe, only then you'll reach your full potential. There will be no limits to your effectiveness. So....are you ready to reconsider?


Will you take that empty seat at the table

OR

are you ready to take over the entire room?




Dallas Professional Women is a SisterCity Initiative of
Houston Professional Women's Organization (HPW). 
To learn more about HPW, visit: www.houstonprofessionalwomen.org

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