BY TRACY HARRIS
A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak at a Women in Workforce conference. Not knowing what I should speak about, I asked the conference coordinator why he asked me to be the keynote speaker and what message he wanted me to touch on. He immediately said to talk about being fearless in the workforce. Fearless? Me??? I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that he admires how I don’t mind taking risks and to talk about how I am comfortable doing that.
I went home that day unsure of what he meant, but I had a couple of months until the conference for something to come to me. Fast forward a few weeks and I was in an Air Force Auxiliary Officers Staff Meeting. At that time I was a First Lieutenant in a meeting with Commanders and Generals. Needless to say, I was the low one on the totem pole.
The room was set up with tables forming a circle and additional chairs along the wall. When I walked into the room there was a couple of women sitting against the wall talking to each other. One was of my rank and the other was ranked higher. My instinct was to go over and sit with the only other females in the room, but that’s not what I did that day. Instead, I grabbed my stuff and plopped my behind in one of the chairs at the main table. Now, I did get some looks when people walked in as I was the only female at the table, but here is the thing, when there was a discussion, I was included. The other women in the room sitting against the wall were not. Why was that? It was simple. I had placed myself as an equal to those at the main table. I believed I belonged there and because I believed it, I exuded confidence which made them confident in me.
Was I at times uncomfortable? Yes. Did I wonder if I deserved to be there? Yes. But the simple act of sitting at the table immediately changed the perception others had of me. Before that meeting, many didn’t know who I was, but after that meeting, I would be asked my opinion or advice on important topics.
Fast forward to the Women in Workforce conference. I talked about that day when I sat at the table. Where the simple act of believing that I belonged at the table instead of against the wall made an impact on the opportunities I would later receive in the Air Force Auxiliary. I wasn’t comfortable taking risks like the conference coordinator said, but I wasn’t comfortable sitting against the wall either. I had to choose my path. Sit in the back and hope I gained respect, or put myself at the table and show them why they should respect me.
For months after that talk, I would receive messages from some of the attendees about how they told themselves to sit at the table and what opportunities that afforded them. I believe that “Sit at the table” is a metaphor for what we, as women, need to do. We need to believe we deserve what we want out of life. That could relate to your job or even a personal situation. Do me a favor… the next time you find yourself in a situation where you want something but are unsure if you should go for it, tell yourself to “sit at the table.” I promise it will make a difference.
As an aside, when my daughter was very young and we were at a family Thanksgiving dinner, she walked up to the adult table and sat down. My aunt told her that there was a kids table and that she should sit there. My daughter stood tall and told her, “I am going to sit at the big table because my mom always tells me to…”