Women In Business: Getting A Seat At The Table

Indian women business colleagues working around a laptop
Indian women business colleagues working around a laptop

I grew up with my mother telling me that I could do anything a man could do. She was a woman of the '60s: a feminist, a hippie, a college graduate, and a stay-at-home mom. In school I was a straight A student, I followed all of the rules (mostly), held a job since I was 16 years old and pursued a business degree in college and later an MBA. I work for an amazing technology company but haven't yet "broken through."

So here I am, I am "in the room" as I am reminded while attending the Simmon's Leadership Conference, Dare to Compete, in Boston. But do I have a seat at the table? Do you have a seat at the table? I realize that I do not, and I want one. After listening to the stories and advice from these amazing women leaders, I am inspired to develop my leadership style and capabilities and move myself forward. Here is what I took away.

Confidence: ACT, "DO," Take Risks

Claire Shipman exposes the gender confidence gap in her book The Confidence Code. Her research reveals that even women at the top question their worth and say they were "just lucky," that they somehow "slid through," or even worst felt like a "fraud." Further, she states that while women tend to underestimate their abilities, men overestimate their ability by 30%. She makes the point that as we prepare for life, women excel in school, that we graduate at a greater rate than men. But the rules change from school to work and the confidence gap is a big part of it.

Ms. Shipman defines confidence as the ability to put thoughts to action. She explains this gap by the fact that we women tend to over prepare, we are people pleasers, take fewer risks and tend to ruminate over decisions -- all preventing action. What we need to do instead is ACT! Practice good enough decision making. Celebrate your successes -- keep a successes journal. Don't listen to that negative voice in your head; create an opposite/positive voice no matter how seemingly trivial. Habituate small risks -- move yourself forward.

Sally Field gave a very transparent perspective of her successes and how she broke through multiple barriers in her career. She admits that she "felt scared to death all of the time." She failed often but kept on going. She demonstrated persistence, a thick skin, and a belief in her abilities. She does not accept the status quo and is always trying to reinvent herself.

FOCUS and Harness Your Creativity

Arianna Huffington reminded us that in our "always on" world, we can get bogged down by the waves of email, tweets, and posts that inundate our daily lives. She challenged us to make time to think and tap into our wisdom. Game changing ideas and actions only come from tapping into wisdom, not from a clean inbox. Dawn Hudson, CMO of the NFL shared that when work is crazy and seemingly overwhelming - don't try to do everything. Instead, focus on the one to two things that you need to do really well.

Be a Fan of Others and Take The Long View

Arianna Huffington asked us, "When you die, will you be remembered by how much you grew market share or will you be remembered by how you made an impact on the world and the people around you?" You don't need to begin by starting an international movement like Sally Field and Vital Voices. Start locally and start helping the women around you. As Mel Robbins said to us, be a fan of the women around you! Help her with that next promotion, vet out her upcoming business proposal, give her that push she needs to move forward.

Christy Haubegger founder of the Latina Magazine inspired and charmed us all with her witty, quick on her feet, sardonic humor. She reminded us to "take the long view." Change doesn't happen overnight. It happens in inches, but sometimes in surges. She championed that we could very well be in a surge. Change is happening everywhere around us and technology is especially enabling women and minority voices to be heard and published. She challenged us to "move the ball forward in the game we play."

Take Action

After reflecting on this advice, I commit to taking more risks in my day to day at work. I will speak up in that meeting with the VP even when my stomach churns and my heart races -- I will speak up and put my thoughts to words. I will find quiet time throughout my week to reflect and assure I am focusing on the one to two initiatives that really matter in my work. I will look out for the women around me and know that each of us wants the same thing -- to do work that matters and to make an impact.

Women have come a long way in living and thriving in our independent lives. We can do anything men can do and now it is up to us to be the role models our friends, peers, daughters, nieces, and grandchildren need. Do you have a seat at the table and if not, do you dare to get one? What kind of role model do you dare to be? In 50 years, what will you tell your grandchildren that you did to advance women?

What action will you take? Please share your ideas and commitments!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.