For decades, women have fought for the right to be taken seriously in business. They have literally shed blood, sweat and tears to earn an equal right to lead at the executive level and sit at the boardroom table. And, when they do finally sit down, it’s a hard fought, hard won victory. They made it. Sigh. Yawn. Grin. They are part of a very exclusive club.
Over time they meet another fellow conqueror who sits at another boardroom table miles away, and they bond, become friends, take walks together and are generally fabulous and kind to one another. They are role models; they share their insights at women conferences, pump their fists in the air and tell other businesswomen to fight for their dreams, to reach out to other young women and mentor.
Then one day, they return to their executive office and are introduced to young Ms. Lightning Brain, who was just hired because she is brilliant and energetic and has fabulously creative new ideas. All of a sudden, their spine straightens, their shoulders pull back and their chin dips as they look disparagingly over the rim of their glasses, and they think, Who is this young upstart with her edgy, cool clothing, her skinny body and her advanced degree? Well, I’ve got news for you little girl, you’re going to have to earn your seat, just like I did, no fast-track for you…because there is only one seat at the table.
Too dramatic? Maybe. Maybe not. It happens a lot. But what if the belief changed? What if women shifted from, there is only one seat at the table, to, there needs to be and can be several seats at the table. What if women stopped defending the one seat and started creating more seats for these young women, even showing them how to fill them?
I was in Chicago last week when a woman shared her personal story with me of how she revolutionized the dress code for women at her former corporate headquarters. She had been the rebel of her day, and now, years later, any woman wearing pants could thank her. This woman shared some great advice with me about how she had handled difficult experiences in the early days of breaking into a male dominated industry. She offered up some witty responses, insightful perspective and empowering comebacks to several scenarios, scenarios that unfortunately, too many women still encounter today…with other women. This woman is a gift, a treasure, and she gets that women have a choice…we can fight to the death for a single seat, or we can invite other women to fill the chairs beside us. Personally, I think if we focused on inviting other women to the table, it would be a lot more fun to sit there.
Women will often spend more time creating a whole new table for women to sit at than carving out another seat at their own. They’ll start women’s leadership groups, women’s entrepreneurial groups, women’s executive philanthropic groups, women’s political groups. Great, fabulous, rock-on. But…what if we also truly embraced that as women, one of our greatest gifts to other women would be to shift our beliefs and pull out another chair, and graciously offer it to the leaders of the next generation?
Photo credit iStockphoto
AmyK Hutchens, Founder and Intelligence Activist, AmyK International, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and business strategist. Follow AmyK on Twitter @AmyKinc or visit www.amyk.com .