When you think of a well-known, respected, and influential executive in corporate America, what is the image that comes to mind? Does this person fit a certain mold in terms of gender, race, experience, or personality? Now imagine a boardroom and multiply the image of that person by 10, 15, or 20. For a lack of a better word, how boring does that room look? People who have similar backgrounds tend to bring similar perspectives to the table.
Now imagine that same boardroom, but this time, that group of 20 people consists of an equal ratio of different genders, races, experiences, and personalities. Just imagine the rich conversations and ideas that can spark from this diverse group of people. They each bring their own background and perspective to the table. Now that makes for a much more fascinating and meaningful collaboration!
In Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller, Lean In, she proposes the idea that there needs to be more women in power. Although the kind of feminism that she suggests is arguably one-dimensional, she makes a valid point based on statistics. According to Catalyst, women currently hold 21 (4.2%) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. To quote Sandberg, “Women hold about 25 percent of senior executive positions, 19 percent of board seats, and constitute 19 percent of our elected congressional officials. The gap is even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 4 percent of board seats, and 6 percent of congressional seats.” It is evident that more women in leadership are needed. People of color and of different sexual orientations deserve to have the same opportunities as well. Sandberg talks about how men get promoted based on potential, whereas women get promoted based on past accomplishments; we need to generate and foster a respectful and productive discourse on this topic.
After reading Sandberg’s book, I was inspired to share my learnings with my boss, Jeff Black, and specifically asked him for opportunities to “sit at the table.” He was very receptive to my request and even decided to read Lean In himself! Since then, I have been able to sit at the table on multiple occasions, and my confidence has sky-rocketed. As the saying goes, if you don’t ask for what you want, the answer will always be “no.”
I share this snippet of my professional and personal development in the hopes to inspire others to also step up and ask for what they want, within reason of course. It is also important to note that requests are only granted if the person in authority is capable of being open-minded. To my fellow young professionals out there, if you are not satisfied with the status quo, take action to change it. And to the leaders who have the power to make the big decisions, I humbly request that you empower your employees to achieve their fullest potential and allow a safe space for that to happen, so that one day, your boardroom can be as powerful as it can be.