Please Have A Seat

By Sheree Winslow

As is so often the case, my path to positive change began with bad decisions.  Last year I got engaged to a Parisian man and thought I had to find a “good wife” job.  My career was the better of the two and with his immigration complication, I would be the bread winner.  But I knew our relationship would falter if I continued in a job where I could only be successful working 15 hours a day.  Instead of continuing in executive management and simply finding a job that was a better fit, I downshifted.

I found a new job in which I was still a vice president at one of the country’s largest marketing conglomerates but my work as a strategist was low key, had little chance of advancement, and allowed me to spend more time with my fiancé.  I would leave work at a reasonable hour each day hurrying home to my future husband so we could enjoy a dinner of homemade crepes and watch the TV programs of his choosing.  In a week’s time I watched more History TV than I had seen in the previous five years.  This was the balance I needed, right?  The only problem was that 6 months later after uncovering a series of lies and experiencing his controlling behavior, I realized I didn’t have the right fiancé.  And I wasn’t in the right job either.

The good news is that two wrongs definitely set me right.  Realizing I needed to make changes in the way I was managing my career and life, I sought the help of an executive coach.  He gave me a set of exercises that caused me to think about my greater mission while we did a deep dive into my strengths and past accomplishments.  On a regular basis my coach also gave me articles about high profile executive women and how they were managing their work life equation.

During this time of exploration and self-discovery, I watched Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s TEDTalk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.”  For months I had been berating myself for taking a backwards step in my career.  But Sandberg’s words gave me comfort as I realized I had merely done what so many women do.  We step away from boardroom tables and sit on the side of the room.  We come to believe that there can be no true blending of family and leadership and decide we must choose one path or the other.

My Indian name is Many Trails Many Roads Woman.  My red-hair, blue eyes, and freckled fair complexion obscures the fact that I am mixed race—both Caucasian and Northern Cheyenne Indian.  What may not be seen on the exterior, however, was seen by the medicine man that named me.  During my naming ceremony while I stood in the middle of a circle of family wearing paint on my face, he looked into my soul and gave me a name reflective of my spirit as he called on my ancestors to watch over me throughout my life.  I do seek many trails.  For me, there isn’t just one path.  And there isn’t just one role either.  I’m a leader and a writer.  I’m an auntie, a sister, a daughter, a lover, a friend.

When a new child is born into a family, conventional wisdom suggests that moms explain to their first-born children their capacity to love in this way, “Mommy doesn’t have less love for you now that there is a new baby.  Instead, she has twice as much love in her life.”  Shouldn’t we also use this additive formula to explain our quest for fulfillment in more than one way?  Would our lives be better if we were able to care deeply at work and away from the office?  Can we take a seat at the table and nurture our organizations and communities while we also nurture our families and friends?

I say yes, yes, and yes!  However, I am not so naïve as to ignore the challenges this poses.  In Sandberg’s talk she describes the difficulty of having to leave on a business trip while her pre-school daughter grabs her legs not wanting her to go.   I have struggled, and I have watched up close as colleagues and friends struggled with how to juggle their jobs, holiday school programs, little league games, managing households, and maintaining romantic relationships.

But I am an idealist and a woman, a natural born collaborator.  I know that when we honestly discuss the problems we face, we open ourselves for epiphanies and new solutions.

This brings me to why I am starting a site called Women At The Tables.

For many reasons ranging from economic development to our basic human rights, we need more women in leadership roles in corporations, as entrepreneurs, in classrooms, in politics, and in community organizations.  As proven through research at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College, a balance of men and women on a team increases the intelligence of group output.   Our world needs more smart thinking.  And this means women need more seats at the table.

Women At The Tables will work to support this mission.  We’ll celebrate women as leaders, provide inspiration for leadership, and curate content from around the web on women and careers.  We’ll also openly discuss the challenges we face and suggest strategies for supporting one another.  We won’t deny the complications of leading and balancing our lives but through honest discourse, I am hopeful that some solutions will float to the surface.

Women leaders inspiring women leaders.  We will use examples of women leaders as a way of learning and thinking about our own paths and aspirations.  Women all over the world are making positive changes as they lead and we will spotlight their greatness.

There are things we won’t do or allow, too.  Since one of the problems we need to overcome is the fact that women are too often cursed when using their power, we will not allow hate toward women. This does not mean we will remove criticism or conflict that create important debate, but personal attacks against women are not allowed.

The same goes for how we talk about men.  I love my father and my nephew and my brother-in-law, all smart men who enrich my life and teach me lessons in leadership.  Additionally, some of my closest friends and co-workers in my career have been named Harry, Matt, Gary and Sean.  And my former coach provided support and wisdom that have created profound change in my life.  So again, no hating on men.  It’s a balance of both men and women on teams that drives higher intelligence.

This is also not a partisan space.  While I do have strong political opinions myself, I recognize that women are underrepresented in leadership in all parties, in all countries, and in all governments.  For anyone seeking a political women’s organization, there are already niche groups catering to a variety of ideology.  So on this site we seek to support and inspire all women who want to lead regardless of political thought.

Beyond this community, I keep busy with consulting, writing, and a lot of wonderful relationships in my life.  I welcome other contributors and partners.  Please email me at sheree@womenatthetables.com if you would like to contribute content, resources, or ideas.  Specifically, I’m looking for inspirational quotations from female leaders, profiles in leadership, guest blogs, and web development help.  I am just getting started and a series of features and new material will be added shortly.

And with a most grateful heart, I thank all of you who have visited this page and join me on the mission.  I’m excited and honored to have a seat next to you.

References:

Sheryl Sanberg’s TEDtalk entitled, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”

Harvard Business Review article regarding the MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College research on groups which showed a balance of men and women lead to better thinking