Are You Sitting at the Table: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Aug 3, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Speaking, WIT  //  No Comments

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  I first saw Sheryl talk on a Women in IT (WIT) panel that happened during the recent Facebook Townhall.  Steve Jones (blog | Twitter) sent me this link as he knows I have a passion for WIT topics and discussions. I found myself nodding with agreement to what Ms. Sandberg addresses in this 15 minute video.  In one of the points, she shares stories of women who don’t "sit at the table".  I noticed behaviour throughout my career.  You’ve all been to large meetings where there weren’t enough seats at the conference table, so some people have to sit along the wall or at the back of the room.  In most cases, women will choose to sit away from the table in one of the "wallflower" seats.  I’m not sure why this happens.  I suspect it’s how we were raised to be nice, take the burnt cookie, choose the least comfortable chair, or otherwise put someone else’s needs ahead of our own.  There’s nothing wrong with giving up your seat for someone who needs it more than you do, but we ladies need to stop deferring our power to others because we aren’t thinking like the men are. 

I’ve heard that the most powerful seat in a room is one that faces the main entrance.  I almost never see my female co-workers take that seat.  Maybe they don’t know where the power seats are.  Maybe they don’t care to play the game.  Maybe they don’t feel they are worthy of it.  I can assure you that there are people in the room playing that game and they are keeping score.  It’s not just this one small behaviour, either.  We females spend too much time as wallflowers in all kinds of situations:  not submitting to speak at events and conferences, giving others credit for our own work, letting people in meetings shut down our comments.  I’ve seen all of them. 

In the Facebook Townhall, President Obama first spoke with Mark Zuckerberg, then after all that was done, a panel of women in tech discussed diversity and gender issues. What I found odd about this set up was that it almost sent the same message that Sheryl addresses in the above TED Talk: Sitting at the table. When I first read the agenda for the townhall, I was thrilled that the President of the United States was going to discuss a topic that was near and dear to my heart. Instead, the WIT panel was held as separate event on a different set. I was thrilled that such a high profile event covered the topic of gender issues in technology, though, and I look forward to future events where this issue can be addressed with the widest possible audiences.

Watch the video.  In 15 minutes Sheryl gives 3 pieces of advice that can benefit you in your career.  Keep asking yourself, "am I sitting at the table"? 

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