Ladies, Don’t Take a Seat at the Table. Own the Table.

seat at the table

As women, we’ve been encouraged to proudly and boldly take our seat at the table. But what happens when the door is locked, and we can’t enter the room with the table? What does it say when women take a seat at the table but aren’t given the chance to own that table? What does this say about women? And what does it say about our value?

It says that it’s up to us, as women, to redefine it.

Yes, the work starts with us. We must recognize our own value, set appropriate goals, and fight against policies that treat us as less than our male colleagues. Let’s begin.

Step 1: Assess your value.

Value propositions and mission statements set the standards and expectations for a company. Clients know what to expect when they do business with a company that proudly displays this information on its website. Employees know what’s expected from them and how their work contributes to the company’s overall goals. Competitors see how they can differentiate themselves and fill gaps in the industry. So, what is your value proposition?

Sit down, alone, and be honest about what you bring to a company, business, and the world. Who are you? What talents or traits set you apart from the person next to you? How can you use your skills and experience to move forward?

Mission statements and value props will help you decide what’s best for you and your career. When you find yourself feeling guilty, lost, or unsure of how to move forward, refer back to your mission statement and value props. Let them inform the strategy and tactics that will be most effective for you, your family, and your business.

Step 2: Fight for your value.

Understanding your value can help you fight back against microaggressions, closed doors, pay disparities, and the struggles our society has enabled for far too long.

Fighting for the pay you deserve is one way to fight for your value. So start there.

If you’ve achieved a salary you’re satisfied with, look for other ways to fight for equal pay. Consider working with organizations that are advocating for legislation and standardized pay. Support these groups with your time, money, or by connecting them to people who can offer these resources.

Then take your fight to local, state, and federal officials. If we accept the gender wage gap today, we can’t expect it to close tomorrow. States and cities have the ability to set minimum wages higher than the current federal minimum wage. Reach out to local officials about supporting equal pay legislation. There’s no reason women should still be making 82 cents for every man’s dollar (and the gap between minority women is even wider).

Step 3: Demand job responsibilities that reflect your skill sets.

Fighting for equal pay is one way to assert your value (and the value of other women) at work. But are your job responsibilities also reflecting your true value?

We already know that women are more likely to be assigned busywork that holds us back, rather than tasks that use the skills and knowledge we’ve developed in our fields. Assess how much time you’re spending on “busywork” versus how much time you’re spending on tasks that fall within your actual job responsibilities. Unless you’re a caterer, you shouldn’t be the only person in the office assigned to leave your desk and pick up the team’s lunch order. Unless you’re a secretary, you shouldn’t be the only person in the office taking minutes or recording calls.

Step 4: Define what success looks like for you.

When many people picture “success,” they think of rewards, monetary or otherwise. Recognitions, bonuses, and shout-outs in newsletters also come to mind. Yes, these external motivators are important, but they shouldn’t be the only affirmations of your worth.

What does success look like for you? One way to define this is by setting personal goals. These goals may be small, recurring goals, or they could be lofty and take years to complete. Do you want to start your own business? Earn a position in the C-suite? Start holding leaders within your organization accountable for reaching diversity initiatives?

These are goals you have to define for yourself. No one else should be tasked with assessing your value, setting goals, and sharing your ambitions with the world. The awakening process begins when you see your ability to advocate for yourself and rebuild what the world looks like for women.

Be patient and supportive as you define your goals and hold yourself accountable. Not all goals fit neatly into a one-month plan or one-year window. Success ebbs and flows. Some years will be better than others; that’s just life. Don’t give up. Just keep grinding.

glass ceiling

Step 5: Celebrate others and be celebrated.

We, as women, must work together toward the ultimate goal: creating a space where women are expected to succeed, and acknowledging when they do. Build a circle of people around you who will celebrate you. Ask yourself the following questions about the people you work with, live with, and converse with on a daily basis:

  • Do the people around you recognize your worth?
  • Are they willing to say it out loud?
  • Will they tell your boss, clients, or network that you bring value to your team?

If the answer is “yes,” you have a good group surrounding you. If the answer is “no,” ask yourself these questions:

  • Do these people tear you down before they lift you up?
  • Are they jealous of your success?
  • Do they have a habit of undermining your value or staying quiet when you need an advocate?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” you need to take a serious look at who is around you.

Being celebrated and celebrating others is a two-way street. Remember, we’re building a system where women are expected to succeed and are properly acknowledged when they reach that success. So send that ladder back down to help and mentor others once you achieve success.

Fighting together

A woman who knows what she brings to the table is not afraid to eat alone. Surround yourself with independent, determined women. Help each other out. Assess your value, define your success, and fight together. Together, we are much more powerful. And together, we can reflect on the world that raised us and reimagine one where our daughters and granddaughters do better.

This guest post was authored by Areva Martin

AREVA is one of the nation’s leading voices in the media. An award-winning attorney, advocate, legal and social issues commentator, talk show host, and producer. She is a CNN/HLN Legal Anaylst, former cohost of The Doctors and Face the Truth and regular contibutor on Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight and Dr. Phil. She currently hosts The Special Report with Areva Martin. A Harvard Law School graduate, Martin founded Martin & Martin, LLP, a Los Angeles–based civil rights firm, and is the CEO of Butterflly Health, Inc., a mental health technology company. A best-selling author, Martin has dedicated her fourth book, Awakening: Ladies, Leadership, and the Lies We’ve Been Told, to helping women worldwide recognize, own, and assert their limitless power. Learn more at

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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