Don’t hesitate to bring your chair, your smarts and your confidence if you want to have a seat at the table

“If you do not have a seat at the table, bring a chair.” I received this advice early in my career, and it continues to resonate with me today. The “table” in this analogy is the place—a boardroom, a conference room, a Zoom meeting—where discussions occur. The “chair” is the opportunity to participate in those discussions.

As a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, there have been times when I have had to not only earn my seat at the table but also bring my own chair. What does it look like to bring your own chair? For me, it means having confidence in the value you add and then having the courage to find ways to get involved in crucial conversations and business decisions, even when not initially invited.

Getting involved in these conversations requires that you have your finger on the pulse of what is happening in your organization. In an increasingly digital world, finding the “tables” to bring your “chair” to is more difficult. I have found that deliberate and intentional networking is critical to staying connected with colleagues across the organization and leaders across the industry. Often, I learn about a discussion, opportunity, or decision that is under consideration through networking. This opens the door to a conversation about how I can contribute. Whether framed as a development opportunity for me to grow, or an opportunity for me to add another perspective, I am then invited to the “table.”

To be at the table means holding yourself accountable for being fully present and being respectful of the opportunity offered. So once I pull up my “chair,” it is crucial to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion – even if it is to ask a thoughtful question. Over time, I have earned more “seats at the table” by asking to be included and then demonstrating my value once I am there.

Given these experiences over the course of my 34-year career, it’s important to me to help other women hone their confidence and courage as they work to earn seats at their own “tables.” I often share this advice as a co-executive sponsor of Lincoln Financial Group’s Women’s Business Resource Group, and I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity to share wisdom, given to me, with other leaders who want to maximize their impact and potential.

As women and leaders, we have a choice: We can either wait for a chair to be pulled out for us – or we can bring our own chair to the table.