Grabbing Your Seat at the Table
By Cara Hergenroether
Since the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the first woman presidential candidate from a major party last week, the phrase “breaking the glass ceiling” has been big news around the world. So how do women break that ceiling in their own professional lives?
Whether a woman wants to take her seat at her employer’s boardroom table or bang the gavel for a local nonprofit, Che Watkins, CEO and president of The Center for Working Families (TCFWF), and Lisa Proctor, an executive search consultant and president of Sanford Rose Associates – Lake Lanier Islands, offer bold and valuable advice to those women.
Don’t Wait For An Invitation
When asked what advice she would give to a woman seeking a seat at the metaphorical table, Watkins says she wasn’t particularly patient herself.
“I figured out who was at the table and invited myself,” she admitted. “Of course, I had to have the experience to back it up.
“Once you get to a couple of tables, you get invited to others,” she noted. “But you have to be passionate about what’s happening there and the end result.”
Proctor agreed with Watkins’ approach and encourages women to reach out to those they don’t know.
“There’s not six degrees of separation between people. It’s about 2 ½ degrees of separation,” Proctor laughs. “Find the common themes between the person you want and yourself and take the action you need to get to them.”
Build A Network
Atlanta is a community built on relationships, according to Watkins.
“Start building that network. It takes time, but it can be done,” she says. “Get involved in groups like JLA or the Beltline. Put yourself out there. There are so many different options in Atlanta.”
Watkins also encourages other women to stretch outside their comfort zones.
“I was deliberate about getting involved and meeting people who weren’t just like me,” she says.
“Great mentors can help educate you,” says Proctor, who relayed a story about uncovering some unethical behavior by a manager and being dismayed by the knowledge. She credits her mentor with helping her adjust to the working world with the harsh but true advice: “There’s what you learned in school and the real world. Welcome to it.”
That being said, when an employer expresses opinions or has policies that you disagree with, remember that you aren’t tied down to that company.
“I have a choice not to work or be around companies that work that way,” says Proctor, noting that the experience will still give a women a tougher skin that will serve her well in the long run.
Don’t Doubt the Value of a Woman’s Voice
Finally, remember the value of a woman’s opinions, viewpoint and expertise in a boardroom.
“You’ve got to have a diverse voice, know how to lead, push things forward, how to engage people to face the issues in the community,” says Watkins. “I can’t imagine where we would be without women at the tables in Atlanta.”