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How do women get a seat at the table?

Updated: Feb 4

When aiming to reach higher levels in business, women look up to inspiring and successful people, just like many men would do. However, one of the genders is more likely to be presented as a role model in almost every area. In terms of gender parity, influential leaders have come a long way since they started addressing the gender gap. It may even seem like the progress until now is good enough. Yet, only facts give a clear picture of the situation, let’s take a look!


On an economic standpoint, meaning same pay for the same work (including compensation and benefits), we would need 170 years to close the gap if the current rate of progress is maintained.[1] Moreover, the same study shows that women average workday is 8 hours and 39 minutes, which is longer than the opposite sex at 7 hours 47 minutes. If every hour was charged, it wouldn’t be deceiving to know that almost 5 hours out of women average workday is unpaid, compared to 1.5 hours for men.

In terms of education, post-secondary levels have the biggest gap (7%). Nonetheless, there are still more men employed and there is a 34% gap remaining. This is even more concerning when considering leadership roles as the gap is 64%![2]


Women should have equal chances to land any position within an organisation, specifically in management. In 2018, they made up just 53 (10%) of the 532 C-level executives among Canada’s 100 largest publicly traded corporations. Which means, men continue to hold 90% of C-Level Executive roles.[3] There’s more, only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a female CEO.[4]


The facts above give a better idea of the progress and what remains to be improved. Society and regulation have changed to make it fair to women, which allowed many barriers to be broken. However, did women changed their mindset? The perception of having a “seat at the table” is key in getting there in the first place. A job title doesn’t make a leader but being a leader might score women that job title they’re after! Achieving this requires thinking differently.


What does “sitting at the table” mean? In a business context it means being part of conversations and meetings, it’s about being involved in things that matter. Be a player on the field and avoid sitting on the bench. Let’s take the soccer analogy; a team is allowed to have as many players as they want, but only 11 can be on the field. Even the best players don’t keep the ball for an entire match. Likewise, women don’t need to know everything, just enough to favor a win!


For some, this may seem hard to achieve, or a little overwhelming. However, it’s important to be strategic when it comes to picking meetings and any other activities to get involved in. It’s okay to skip the ones where there is nothing to get out of. Even then, the meeting agenda might not be rewarding but networking with the participants is. At one point everything needs to be put in balance to make sure there is no time wasting.


Sometimes, women think they have nothing to bring to the table. That’s a negative thought preventing them from taking a seat at the table! It might not be clear at first but participating and getting involved will give them a better picture of the value they have to offer. Moreover, others will see it too.


Then, it’s time to start thinking about becoming the head of the table. The sooner women can start in their career, the more they increase their chances of leading. It will also give them higher chances of getting promoted to different levels. On the contrary, previous avoidance behaviour might make it harder to score management position.

As mentioned, women are underrepresented in higher levels of management. Women represent 56% of bachelor’s degree graduates and they obtain 51% of master’s degrees.[5] Even if executive levels of management are male predominant, there are many women academically prepared and most likely they have the right experience for the job. What’s preventing them from getting there? Simple, a biased mind. Conscious or unconscious gendered perceptions that may or may not be verbalized.


Consequently, stereotypes that have an impact on women role or status at work are reinforced. Moreover, women can discriminate women, because they’re somehow wired to think of men as more competent. Not talking about it doesn’t mean it has not effect.


On another note, when looking at America’s Richest Self-Made Women of 2019, published by Forbes, the only women under 35 years old are celebrities! This means that, except for women gifted with the talent to be in the show business, it will take time to get to the top. For example, Marian Ilitch, made it to the Forbes top 3 at the age of 86. She started working very young, just cleaning tables at her father’s restaurant. Now, Ilitch Holdings Inc. consists of restaurants, entertainment, sports and gaming businesses. Oh, and she also raised 7 kids! Her story shows how the right mindset can enable better opportunities. At the time she cofounded Little Caesar’s Pizza with her husband, in 1959, she was a stay-at-home mother with three children. Not getting involved in the business would have been the normal thing to do as only 38% of women worked in 1960. Instead, she dedicated herself to growing the restaurant into a franchise and, eventually, branching out into other business areas and opportunities.


Speaking of which, Carol Leaman, one of Canada’s most influential businesswomen, turned down a job at Google! She had been working more than 20 years in the corporate world, with CEO positions at various companies throughout her career. Many would think she’d go for that job at Google, but she declined the offer and founded Axonify. Her company is the world’s first employee knowledge platform and it ranked among Deloitte’s 2018 Fastest Growing Company in North America.


There are many other women out there that make a difference and have a very interesting biography. There’s much to read about it, but it wouldn’t translate into achievements for anyone who’s not willing to change or fix what is preventing them from reaching other levels. This is why women need to re-think about the limits they set to their own leadership style.

This blog is based on a presentation given by Svetlana Sidenko at the Project Management Institue published on SlideShare at the link below:

https://www.slideshare.net/itchapter/how-women-get-seat-at-the-table

[1] World Economic Forum http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Accelerating%20Gender%20Parity.pdf


[2] Global Gender Gap Report 2016, World Economic Forum: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/


[3] https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-management/


[4] https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-management/


[5] https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-management/