To Have a Seat at the Table, You have to Have Actual Seats – at the Actual Table (a reflection from Lean In)

Lean InI graduated from college in 1991 and from business school in 1995.
But with each passing year, fewer and fewer of my colleagues were women. More and more often, I was the only woman in the room.

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead


This is a short, simple post.  Call this a blinding flash of the obvious.

If a group is underrepresented (and, women are; Hispanics are; African Americans are; and others…) in the key decision-making bodies within organizations, it is time to enlarge the circle of candidates as decisions are made regarding who will have the next seats at the table.

Because, the table is where the discussions happen, and progress is made. And, those discussions provide the over-time experiences that build understanding, knowledge, “value” in having that person at the table.  In other words, sitting at the table makes you more valuable the next times you sit at the table.

Every person now with a seat at the table was once new at the table. We just need to expand the group which is invited to those new places at the table.

tableSo, in order for them to have more seats at the table, they have to have, you know, actual seats — at the actual table. They have to be in the room, sitting at the table, to have a seat at the table.

Again, from Lean In:

Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s. Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade.
A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
Women hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials.
…even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats.

In other words, there are not enough seats at the table made available for women in our country…

Or, to put it another way, to be in the know, on the “inside track,” you have to be “inside.” Being outside makes it impossible to be in the know. You can’t have the “inside track” from the outside.

This really does need to change. And, by the way, the research does in fact support that such change would be good for all.

More women with seats at the table. More Hispanics with seats at the table. More African Americans with seats at the table. Because the seats at the table is what inclusion is all about.

You can’t practice diversity without having diversity among the participants in the discussions at the table.


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