I walk into the room with my notebook and pen in hand. In the center is a large mahogany table. A quick scan of the room confirms my assumption that there more people in attendance than there are chairs around the table. I’m wearing 4-inch heels. This meeting is likely to last at least an hour. Standing is not an option. Against the walls are chairs. I take seat. At the table.
Before reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I gave little thought to what impression I was giving when I entered a meeting with my colleagues and immediately grabbed a seat on the peripheral. It was common practice for the directors to occupy the seats at the table. However, the day after reading the chapter titled “Sit at the Table” I was determined to abrogate the Division’s unwritten rule.
In this chapter, Sandberg continues to expound on her belief that women hold themselves back by personally choosing to watch from the sidelines. Sandberg explains that it isn’t a lack of seating at the table that draws a woman to the side of the room and glued to her chair, it is a woman’s sense of her insecurities. Despite her accolades, a woman is oftentimes plagued with self-doubt—this is characterized as the imposter syndrome.
When I began my new job, it was important for me to learn my environment by observing the behaviors of my peers. I quickly observed that when meeting in a conference room, only senior staff sat at the table. The rest of the staff sat on the periphery while glancing at the unoccupied seats around the table. On the day I walked into the meeting wearing my 4-inch heels, I remembered Sandberg’s story about Tim Geitner’s staff when he served as Treasury Secretary.
Sandberg recounted a time when Secretary Geitner arrived at Facebook’s office with four members of his staff (all female) to discuss the state of the economy. Despite her coaxing to have the women sit at the large conference table, they sat off to the side of the room. To emphasize the purpose of the story, Sandberg noted that sitting on the side makes you a participant a spectator rather than a participant.
Despite my colleagues’ apprehension to have a seat at the table, I know I earned my right to be there and I wasn’t going to wait for an invitation–so I decided to lean in. After taking a seat and reassuring myself that I wasn’t a fraud sitting at the table, my confidence began to increase and I decided to also give my opinion on a topic that was discussed in the meeting. I am still a victim of self-doubt from time to time but I remind myself that if I don’t recognize my value, I can’t be disappointed when no one else does.
Sitting at the table is symbolic to having self-assurance and knowing you have a right to be acknowledged. In order to reach for opportunities we have to feel confident or pretend that we do until it becomes our reality. I have adopted Tina Fey’s mantra of how she overcomes her lack of self confidence: “seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”
Never miss an opportunity to sit at the table and eventually we’ll have more boardroom meetings that look like these: