I recently had the opportunity to be a presenter at a wonderful women’s leadership program co-hosted by the Offices of Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Bullock. The program was part of Councilwoman Brown’s Women’s Leadership and Development Initiative. A tireless advocate for children and youth, arts and culture, education and many other endeavors, she has made significant inroads in legislation impacting gender diversity and inclusion. One of Councilwoman Brown’s hallmark accomplishments is the passage of her Women on Corporate Boards Bill in 2013 (Bill No. 130457) requiring contractors seeking to do business with the City of Philadelphia to disclose certain demographic information including gender, race and geographic data of those serving as board members and executive staff. The passage of this bill was groundbreaking in moving the city in the right direction, “allowing the transparency needed to determine if a contractor values diversity in the workplace and in leadership positions . . . encouraging companies to increase the number of women seated at those tables where major decisions are made. . . .”
Consistent with the need clearly articulated by Councilwoman Brown’s work and the Women on Boards report compiled annually by the Forum of Executive Women and PwC, the focus of the interactive program that I presented was how to get a seat at the table – where ever that table might be – whether in a meeting, a boardroom, or a client pitch. Topics discussed included how women develop and utilize effective leadership traits and skills to be successful, raise their profile and be viewed as someone within their organization that has what it takes to be an innovative trailblazer.
While there are many effective leadership traits, studies have identified seven key characteristics of successful leaders: confidence, taking and inspiring action, communication, supporting and facilitating your team, being decisive, optimism and integrity. Good leaders are flexible, have courage, tenacity, patience, humility and a sense of responsibility. They have vision. Effective leaders also listen. Often we are so focused on thinking about what we want to say that we forget to listen to what other people at the table are interested in hearing. And if you have the ability to help other women get their seat at the table, it is certainly a group effort to get the numbers where they need to be.
While I shared many take-aways from this session, my favorite is the simplest to execute. The next time you are in big meeting – you know the kind with a huge, long conference table where everyone is milling around, jostling for where to sit – pick the seat that is directly in the middle and immediately place your things down. That way you can look left, look right and look across, and you are directly in the center of the action. Take your seat at the table because if you are sitting there, you deserve it.