Getting A Seat At The Table: The What, Why and How


More than half the workforce is women, yet there are more men in leadership positions. Here are the demographics related to women at the C-Level. Just 25% of senior level positions globally are held by women. Only a small percentage of worldwide businesses have a woman as their CEO. Even though 50% of law school graduates are women, only 4% of the top 200 U.S law firms have women as managing partners. Currently 13 out of 196 countries have elected women to serve as their country’s leader. The question is: WHY aren’t there more women at the table?


One reason is women tend to be less confident than their male counterparts, even when they are just as qualified. They tend to question their own ability. An example of a woman being less self-assured is Virginia Rometty, CEO of I.B.M. Early in her career when offered a big promotion, she questioned whether she should take it. When discussing her concerns with her husband, he reminded her that a man wouldn’t feel the need to think about the offer. He would seize the opportunity! Heeding his advice, Virginia took the promotion; taking a step up the corporate ladder.

Many highly qualified women are reluctant to take coveted seats ‘at the table;’ they think those seats are for the men. Countless women tend to wait until someone recognizes their accomplishments rather than being self-promoters. Unlike men, women are less likely to advocate for themselves. The data shows women are more apt to be promoted based on their accomplishments; men based on what others believe they can do.

Frequently women are reluctant to speak-up and give their opinion; acting like spectators rather than participants. Data shows in meetings men will raise their hands more often than women; they are also more prone to interrupt a speaker. Women communicate to develop relationships and want to be liked by their colleagues. When being assertive, women worry they will be seen as aggressive and ‘a bitch.’

Of course conscious and unconscious gender bias also contributes to women having fewer seats at the table. Even though the data shows a positive relationship between profitability and female board members, most companies still do not have diverse boards. Women are expected to jump higher hurdles and are held to higher standards in order to obtain C-Level positions. The question is: HOW can women get a seat at the table?


Let’s begin by listening to the words of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! She offers this advice when reflecting on her success. “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”

Women must seize opportunities, demonstrate their confidence and show they believe in themselves. When you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to believe in you? As a young girl I questioned how others would view me if I voted for myself. My mother asked me if I thought the President of the United States voted for his opponent? I laughed but realized then and now if I don’t think I can do the job, how can I expect others to trust me with the responsibility? Always send a can-do message.

In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, ‘Lean In.’ Demonstrate you are confident; you aren’t afraid to speak-up. When giving your opinion, back up what you are saying with data. As Mary Sue Coleman, past president of the University of Michigan recommends: ‘Act relentlessly pleasant; always smile even if you’re asking for a raise.’ 93% of what you say is non-verbal, which means your actions must match your words.

Here are a few pointers that will help: Walk with your shoulders back and your head held high. When having a conversation, maintain eye contact. If you are seated, lean forward so that you are pitching your energy into the group. Keep your hands on the table; demonstrate your engagement in the conversation. Most important be a great listener; it’s as important as being a powerful speaker. Think of yourself as a leader; not a ‘female leader.’ Make sure your actions and words match; they both should be effectively communicating you are ready, willing and able to get a seat at the table.