Let’s Talk About the Literal Seat at the Table

The last two years I found myself in an interesting position.

I had a seat at the table.

And for most of those two years, I was the only woman with a seat at the table.

I was initially fairly baffled at how I wound up in this position. I was hired as the Performance Director for a recently bought, previously bankrupt company in entertainment and, as I saw it, my job was mostly – make sure the show happens.

Make sure the artists show up and have what they need. Make sure the technicians show up and have what they need. Make sure any changes and last minute decisions during the show are made and executed as needed. Make schedules. Fill out forms. Stick to budgets. Sometimes develop budgets.

Somehow, along the way, the Chairman of the company and I found we got on quite well. And when he started talking with me about the actual business of the company, I was interested and engaged, and frankly shocked when he listened to my occasional opinions on the state of things.

After a few months, I was suddenly invited to all of the big decision making meetings. It wasn’t crazy as I was arguably one of, if not the, highest positions in our Artistic department (until we hired a Creative Director later in the year,) but I sat in on some absolutely insane meetings.

And when we had to hire a new CEO, I was one of the people whose opinion was listened to.

I vividly remember sitting around that table with a bunch of men in their forties, fifties and sixties thinking, “What the actual eff am I doing in this room?”

Here’s the nice thing about a stage management background though – if you’re successful in this field, you know a little about how to fake it until you make it. How to always remain calm even if you currently feel like that cartoon with the funny dog sitting in the room on fire saying, “This is fine.”

I’ve read a lot about how men approach job searches and their business relationships. I pretty much just decided to pretend to be some entitled dude and get on with things.

While I was at the table, I watched these men. And I read the brilliant and sometimes irritating book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and I was amazed over the dumb things we do that shoot ourselves in the foot in the workplace. And I was pissed off that these are actions that shoot us in the foot in the workplace, because they shouldn’t be. But they are and I watched them in action.

Here are the biggest things I learned:

No one will just give you a seat at the table. And you can’t really even ask for a seat at the table. You take it. And you don’t apologize.

Now, don’t be some entry level temp trying to sit in on upper management meetings, but here’s a very literal interpretation:

When I enter a meeting, a large part of me wants to make sure everyone has a seat. Are there enough chairs? Do we need anything?

As the Performance Director, that wasn’t my job. There were office assistants who worked at our company. Despite this, we were regularly short chairs at meetings. Now, knowing this, I could perch on a desk corner or stand against the wall.

Or I could walk in there like a department head and sit my butt in a chair – just like every single man in the company does, and let me tell you, the majority of them are not thinking about chairs for anyone else at that moment.

If you walked into a crowded meeting at our company with a slightly larger group – do you want to know who 90% of the people perched on desks and around the walls were? It was the women.

You start each meeting from a position of less authority by positioning yourself in one of those spots and you have to exert more effort to get attention and be heard  during a meeting from there.

So take the actual, literal seat next time. Sit right next to your boss who is one step higher than you. Be prepared, speak up, and show the younger women in the room how it’s done.

Mel blogs at brokeGIRLrich where she chronicles her journey to avoid becoming a starving artist. She works as a touring stage manager most of the year and is studying accounting in her free time. Mel has very strong opinions about side hustles, candles, and roadside attractions.