By Teresa Snow, MU Health Care, Women’s Network Chair
Do you have rules for who sits where at your kitchen table? When sitting down together for a rare family meal, my husband and I always got the comfortable padded chairs with wheels. Our four kids, now young adults, sat in the hard, straight-backed ones. Our main goal was to keep the kids from rolling across the floor in the “good” chairs. The rules were clear, and this routine started early and continued as they grew up.
I never considered where to sit at work until moving to a large organization and attending my first meeting in a large boardroom. If you haven’t attended a meeting in a room like this, you can picture the common setup: a large table with the “good” chairs is in the middle surrounded by the “gallery” seats lining the rest of the room.
This brings me to the title of this blog, Finding a Seat at the Table. When Women’s Network began forty years ago, it was rare to see a woman at the table when executives were meeting. Now, the makeup of boardrooms in many industries looks much different. Women are well represented in senior leadership at MU Health Care, where I am the executive director for strategic communications and media relations.
But here is my concern for women today: we wait to be asked to take a seat at the table or, when we do have a seat, question whether we should have one. We may consider it an unwritten rule that we sit on the sidelines in a meeting room and in business leadership in general. My experience when making the move to leadership in a large organization was a similar story. When attending my first senior leadership meetings, I happily entered the meeting room and found a seat at the table, in the nice chairs. But quickly, doubt crept in. Was I supposed to be “at” the table or just be a “listener” in the conversation? Did I belong there? Would I have anything meaningful to say? I wondered about the unwritten “rules” of the meeting.
Today, seven years later, I am more confident in my role and try to deliberately be bold in taking a seat at the table and speaking in meetings and with other leaders. (Thanks to former Women’s Network Chair Michele Curry for that yearlong reminder! #WNBold)
Here’s one thing to take away from this advice: I urge you to step up and take that seat at the table. Leadership does not require a title but the will, preparation and boldness to contribute. If you are a leader, make room at the table for others and mentor them. When I lead a meeting, it is my job to ensure there are no secret rules. I tell my team it is first come, first served to sit at the table when seats are limited. I’m known to go around the table and ask for everyone’s voice to be heard and to call on others to draw out their opinions. I know sometimes speaking up takes some encouragement and support.
In 2022, I hope you consider Women’s Network as a valuable place to learn these skills through our professional development opportunities and to raise your hand for leadership positions this spring.
Chair, Women’s Network 2021-2022