Boss Lady

Getting a seat at the table: 3 Things women need to know


In 2018, the New York Times reported that already small number of women leading the largest companies became even 25 percent smaller. Many hypothesize women’s struggles with work-life balance may be to blame, but as someone who has experienced the trials and tribulations of senior leadership from a female perspective, I believe the problems lie much deeper than that.

Professional women of today continue to struggle with issues that have been plaguing them for decades, only now they do so in silent protest as others claim equality has been obtained. This delusion makes it harder for females to sustain senior level positions and attain the guidance and support needed to successfully navigate their way up the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, the lack of programs that cater to educating and mentoring women, coupled with women’s nature to be competitive amongst ourselves, prevents us from earning our seat at the table. For true progress towards equality to ensue, we need to first acknowledge that men and women are different, begin embracing our strengths, and start supporting one another.

Below are three learnings I’ve encountered throughout my career that women everywhere might benefit from:

1. Stop the Self-sabotage:

During many meetings I’ve noticed women, including myself, tend to be more outspoken and emotional. It wasn’t until one such meeting, where I observed three women engage in a heated debate that derailed the agenda, that it occurred to me what was playing out in front of me. The women were fighting against each other, while the men were sitting back watching. One of the men even had a smirk on his face. After the meeting was over, I approached the ‘smirker,’ curious about his impression of what occurred, and I’ll never forget his response. He said that he loved working with women because they tended to attack each other to make themselves look better, which actually made all of them look worse, which in turn made him look better. A lightbulb went off! How are women supposed to progress if we are in a constant loop of self-sabotage? When you find yourself in a situation where you are trying to one-up someone else, simply make your point once, step back, breathe, and rethink your approach. Doing so will demonstrate your knowledge while earning you the respect you deserve and earned.

2. Know who you are:

For years I’ve struggled with communicating effectively. I knew what I wanted to say, but often came across as a “know it all” or “bossy” — which are common terms applied to females in the workplace. I had seen men approach things the exact same way I had, and they were referred to as “aggressive” or “decisive,” which I felt was unfair. The gambit of behavioral analysis programs (I’m red, a lion, INTJ, participative-innovator, etc.), 360 reviews or performance evaluations I was thrown into did a great job of telling me things I already knew about myself, but none of them helped me understand how to improve upon the things I didn’t know. Then, one day, a true leader recognized my potential and sent me to a leadership coaching program that changed my life! Instead of focusing on what I already knew, this program helped me understand why I am who I am and provided me with tangible tools that allowed me to help understand and inspire others. How can we expect to communicate with others in ways they can relate to if we don’t know who we are and why we are who we are first? I learned that trying to be like the men was actually portraying a false façade that was hindering my ability to communicate successfully. Once I began to communicate from a place of honesty, people’s perceptions of me shifted almost immediately, opening up possibilities I never even imagined would be within reach.

3. Listen with your eyes:

Human behavior has been a fascination of mine since childhood; however, I didn’t realize the value of observing body language until a few years ago. After binge watching “Lie to Me” on FOX and attending a few magnificent presentations on body language, I started to test out some of the tips in real life. The results have been life-changing! There are far too many to go into here, but I’ll share the one that has helped me the most. It’s the bird! No, not the one with wings, but the one that occurs when all fingers on one hand curl inward except for the middle one. In the US, to put it lightly, this is a derogatory hand gesture that means the deliverer would like the intended party to harm themselves or go away. In the world of body language, it means roughly the same thing, but is often used subconsciously. Someone rubbing their eye with, resting their chin on or cleaning their ear out with their middle finger is subconsciously making a statement that you are, well, upsetting them. As a female working in mostly male-dominated environments, I quickly realized the middle finger came out a lot!  Before understanding this little “tell,” I would continue pressing issues until my point was made, completely unaware of the negative impression I was making. Now, I use this “tell” to my benefit. Whenever I see the bird take flight, I step back and assess the situation to understand what triggered the angry response, revise my approach to defuse the current situation and then attempt to land the bird. Learning to listen with your eyes, as well as your ears, will provide you with the information necessary for success.

In addition to the three learnings above, there are quite a few books available that provide valuable guidance on the challenges women face. I personally recommend all professional women read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and “For Women Only in the Workplace” by Shaunti Feldhahn. Once we understand the many inherent strengths of our gender, we can impact positive changes and begin building better cultures of success!

About Tabitha Laser

Tabitha Laser is a multi-faceted professional with over 25 years of leadership experience in a variety of industries ranging from oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, agriculture, construction and more. Her diverse background has provided her opportunities to work with government agencies and some of the world’s largest companies, including Fortune 500 companies, BP, 3M, and General Mills. Her expertise has fueled her passion to help shape the next generation of leaders, especially millennials, to help avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors and lead beyond best. Tabitha is the author of Organization Culture Killers. The first book in a series of leadership books she calls, “The Deadly Practices.” Follow Tabitha.

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