Lang Strategies LLC

Dash of Life Blog: Bringing Your Own Seat to the Table: Overcoming Bias and Advocating for Inclusion

In the realm of leadership and decision-making, the metaphorical “table” often represents spaces where critical discussions and decisions are made. However, access to this table isn’t always equal for everyone. The late Shirley Chisholm, a trailblazing figure in American politics, once famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This sentiment reflects the reality faced by many women and people of color who find themselves overlooked, undervalued and ignored in professional settings.

The issue of representation and inclusion at the table is complex. Often, there might be a seat available, but the person occupying it is dismissed or their contributions are diminished due to conscious or unconscious biases. Social stereotypes and ingrained perceptions can lead to the devaluation of certain individuals based on gender, race, or other characteristics.

I recall a personal experience during my time at Fannie Mae that exemplifies this challenge. In a meeting, I suggested an improvement to a process, only to receive a lukewarm response from my colleagues. However, when a white male colleague echoed the same idea later, it was suddenly praised as brilliant. This experience highlighted the disparities in how ideas are received based on the identity of the speaker.

Challenging the status quo and advocating for change requires a delicate balance. It’s essential to assert oneself respectfully to avoid being typecast while driving meaningful transformation. Shirley Chisholm, over 50 years ago, exemplified this by championing legislation that uplifted women, children, people of color and the underprivileged—voices that were crucial at decision-making tables.

To ensure genuine representation and inclusion at the table, several questions must be considered:

• Who currently occupies the seats at the table, and who holds the leadership positions?
• Is there diversity in perspectives and backgrounds among the decision-makers?
• What personal experiences influence your perspective and approach to discussions?
• What values and principles do you stand for, and how do they shape the outcomes of discussions?

Securing a permanent seat at the table, rather than a metaphorical folding chair, demands proactive efforts. It involves advocating for oneself and others, fostering inclusive environments and challenging biases constructively. Building alliances, mentoring others and demonstrating consistent competence and leadership are crucial steps toward establishing enduring representation.

In conclusion, the journey toward equitable representation and inclusive decision-making is ongoing. By embracing diversity of voices, challenging biases and advocating for meaningful change, individuals can not only secure their place at the table but also reshape the landscape for future generations. Shirley Chisholm’s legacy reminds us that every voice matters, and true progress is achieved through collective efforts to dismantle barriers and foster inclusivity.