Being an African American female in my 40’s, I’ve found that the higher up the corporate ladder I go the less I see faces that look like me. I also find that I’m at a point in my career that I tend to have a seat at the table more times than not. What does having a seat at the table mean? Having a seat at a table doesn’t always mean you will be sitting down. In fact, there are going to be plenty of times where you will be standing up both figuratively and literally. You know, standing up for issues that are important to you, standing up for people who need help, guidance and support etc… Having a seat at the table is your reservation to exhibit both your power and influence to make decisions to effect change. Sitting at the table also means that you have credibility, it is your opportunity to be heard and make a difference.
So why am I talking about having a seat at the table? Here it goes. One day I found myself in a position to be “sitting at the table” in my boss’s office. Joining us in her office, were some peers of mine who also report to her. Now, all of these ladies were not of color. Anyway, we all just finished conducting a panel interview with a potential new hire, and we were in the process of having a debrief about the candidate. During the course of our conversation, we touched on what we liked and what we didn’t like about the potential candidate. As we were discussing the dynamics on our team we talked about past consultants who previously held this position on our team . One of the former consultants was a sistah, yes, I said it, a sistha. Not only was she an African American woman, but she was also a friend of mine who left the position and the company about two months ago. We also talked about the person who is currently in the role at least until their contract expires.
My boss and the other two ladies, felt like this was a great place in the conversation to make negative statements of the past consultants and the current one – who might I add was not getting his contract renewed to stay on as a consultant on our team.
As it relates to my friend, they were saying that while she was good at her job, she had a bad attitude. When it came to talking about the man who currently has the role, they said that he never got his work done on time, that he would avoid doing work and he was a “good worker” in disguised. Meaning, that he walked around portraying like he was actually getting work completed. Additionally, they mentioned that he had a very harsh way of speaking to managers and sometimes his responses would be short and hostile. Now, I need to be clear that these conversations were not racially biased. You see all of these consultants who held this role were a mixture of African Americans and White Americans.
Sitting at the table in the midst of these women who were being very immature and unprofessional, the thing that tripped me out the most is that that none of them seemed like they had minds of their own. These women were like some Stepford Wives. They all just agreed with each other. No one seemed to feel like this conversation was not right at all. In addition, the guy who currently has this role on our team is moving on to another project because my manager did not want to renew his contract. Now, because of this these women felt that it would be a good idea to give his new manager heads up about his work-style and behavior while he was on our team. They felt like his new manager needed to know this information. (Quick note, while he will no longer be on our team, he is moving on to another project but still with our company.) . Wow…I mean this guy has already been hired to be on this other project so now would not be the time to tell the new manager about this particular consultant.
Because I don’t take having a seat at the table lightly, I just couldn’t sit there and not say anything. As it relates to my friend who they were talking about, I told them that she was super intelligent and she exhibited the skillsets that we needed for our team. Then I went on to say that her attitude at times was a little too direct . However, once she and I had a conversation about the culture of the company and how the women on the team operate, she adjusted her attitude. She did an impeccable job. Once I said that, they were like “Oh yeah she did do good work. You are right Kim.” As it relates to the man on our team, I told them that I don’t think it is a good idea for my boss to contact his next boss about the mans’ work style and behavior. I told them that this would not be right, that if my boss did this she could potentially impact his lively hood in terms of finding future employment. I went on to say that this man has a family. He has a child in college and one on the way to college. I also mentioned that perhaps his experience on our team just wasn’t a good fit for him. And perhaps his experience on the next project will be different. They all looked at me as though I had fallen on my head. They all said, that they understood where I was coming from but that they don’t care that he has a family. They said that this is about business. I was in shock at that comments. I couldn’t believe my ears. After they made those statements, I told them that ultimately it is up to my boss to decide if she wants to contact the other manager, but I want to put on record that I don’t agree with this tactic. My boss said that she was going to make a phone call to his boss in spite of what I just said. Wow!!!
You see while what I said didn’t change their mindset, I needed them to hear me. I needed to put my thoughts and comments on record. I wanted to send them a message, that just because I have a seat at the table does not mean that I will always agree with them. I refuse to be a Stepford Wife. I do indeed have a mind of my own. And sometimes my thoughts and ideas may not be popular but there is no way that I can ever just sit at the table and not speak my mind.
I will tell you one thing though…it made me really think about what do they say about me behind close doors? Keep in mind that I realize that while they may tolerate me having a seat at the table, they can’t always handle what I bring to the table. Food for thought!