A Seat At The Table
The following is a guest post by Shonda Scott. Her bio follows.
In business and in life, I have a mantra that has given me the courage to succeed in a world that was not initially inclusive. And that mantra is: Take (or make) a seat at the table.
Being an African-American woman who is also a single mother puts me into the category of a multiple-minority business owner. And let’s be honest, the business world has a difficult enough time accepting singular minorities; so having to face numerous levels of judgment upon entering a room has never come as a surprise to me. But it has never sat well with me either, which is why I amended my mantra to: Always take a seat at the table, even if you do not believe you belong.
Who Will Define You?
Half the battle here is not allowing others to define what you should be, who you should be, what you should do, where you should go, etc. and to move beyond the barriers, beyond the mental noise that blocks your progress. Having a spirit-filled mind as well as a commitment beyond your own agenda is what will ultimately allow you to soar. In order to be heard and respected, you have to learn to be comfortable taking your seat at the table. You have to own it, believe it – even when others don’t.
The first time you are at the table it may be okay and, often times, best, to just sit and listen. Allow yourself to take in enough about the situation to be able to speak intelligently about it. By listening and absorbing, you’re able to then speak with confidence and assurance. You do not need to know everything before you speak; but you should speak on that which you do know, so that you know what you’re talking about is accurate.
Claiming Your Place
Now, in the interest of total transparency, I didn’t initially follow my own advice. When I first started in business and would walk into a boardroom or meeting, if there were three seats available – one at the table and two in the row behind the table – I would always take a seat away from table thinking I would have better vantage to view the entire meeting. But, thankfully, my mentors taught me a very powerful lesson early in my business life: When you’re sitting separate from them, you may very well notice everyone at the table, but that doesn’t mean they will notice you.
For example, time and again we see men like Donald Trump who, despite having limited qualifications or experience in an area, nevertheless take their seat at the table and prevail. This is because they claim their place and own it, and by doing so allow others to see them in the same fashion. This is powerful and definitely effective. The more often others see you at the table, the more they start to believe you belong there too, and even begin to make room for you and all that you represent. And it has the added advantage of making you believe it too. Since learning this lesson, I always look for my seat at the table and encourage my team to sit at it with me.
The Ripples Of Your Actions
I also believe that by taking a seat at the table, you’re not only claiming it for yourself, but also for the generations who preceded you and for those who will follow. If you don’t take a seat, they may not either. Taking a seat claims a spot for others as well. Taking a seat breaks barriers and lets others know you belong.
When my team and I walk into a meeting, be it for a tech or construction company or even media outlets, we are poised, educated, confidential, kind, and successful. Those who don’t know me – or my role and track record for implementing change in the name of inclusivity – are forced to get over every stereotype that they bring to the table. And by the time we leave, we have broken each and every one of those stereotypes. As a matter of fact, we smash them into little pieces!
Owning Your Place At The Table
These days it’s about me defining my own life, career and path. I always say that, when I initially walk into a room, you may see me as my demographics – woman, African-American, single-mom. But by the time I leave, your view will have changed: you’ll now see an intelligent woman of integrity who happens to be African American, and a successful mother full of love, passion, and commitment to her well-adjusted son.
So, wake up each day with a positive affirmation about yourself. Walk the walk, take control of your destiny, and always reach back. And be sure to always take your well-deserved seat at the table.