Even if you don’t regularly follow political news, you’ve no doubt heard somebody talk about health care reform over the past few months. There are a lot of potential upheavals, and it’s okay that it feels a little scary. But the scariest part of the whole health care debate? Out of the small team that decided on the future of health care — which includes women’s health initiatives — there wasn’t a single female politician.
Unfortunately, we can’t say we’re surprised. Women regularly feel excluded at work, and to understand why all you have to do is look at the recent fiascos at Uber and Binary Capital. Add to that additional workplace concerns regarding equal pay and maternity leave, and it’s no wonder why many of us struggle to find a seat at the table.
Women aren’t more sensitive to workplace climates than men; they just have a lot more obstacles to jump over on their way to the top. If you’re struggling to keep yourself included at work — just like the female GOP senators excluded from reforming health care — here are a few ways you can establish for yourself a permanent seat at the table.
1. Always come prepared.
For every meeting and discussion you’re involved in, take an extra few minutes to review the material ahead of time. Not only will this save you time in the long run, but it will show your coworkers that you really know your stuff. By proving yourself to be a valuable asset outside of the boardroom, people will want to include you in those discussions.
2. Ask for more responsibility.
Take the initiative during one of your next sit downs to ask about any additional meetings and projects that you should be involved with. If there’s a meeting that you’d like to join, now’s the time to bring it up! Be ready to make a case for why you should participate and why you’d be an asset.
3. Get to know other attendees.
If you’re planning to join a significant meeting for the first time, ask a regular attendee out for a cup of coffee for a lowdown on the meeting. Learning any long-established “rules” in advance will help you relax on the day of, and you can spend your time prepping instead of worrying about how the meeting works.
4. Bring one comment and one question.
It’s not enough just to show up; you also have to speak up while you’re there. Be an active participant in the meeting by engaging in the discussion. At the same time, however, make sure that what you have to say is valuable. If somebody asks the question you’ve been preparing, don’t ask again. You can follow up to it or comment on the same topic, just make you’re that you’re providing a unique and well thought out perspective.
5. Keep your cool.
There’s a high chance that during this meeting, you’ll get talked over, interrupted, ignored, or some combination of the three. While that’s an infuriating position to be in, it’s important that you maintain your composure throughout the meeting. Remember that you’re trying to prove that you’re an asset, so even if it feels personal, don’t let your co-workers see that you’re taking it personally.
6. Sit down!
The easiest way to have a seat at the table? Take it. Arrive at the meeting early and well-prepared, and sit in your chair of choice. Literally sitting at the table makes you visible to others, and gives you an opportunity to be seen and heard as the talented individual you are. Don’t hesitate to speak up and to speak out — you have important ideas!
Taking the first step is hard, but it’s even harder to watch opportunities pass you by. With enough preparation and practice, you’ll become a major asset to your company and officemates. Before you know it, you won’t even have to ask to be included. They’ll just invite you.
Alex Wilson is a freelance writer dedicated to making the workplace work for women. Her writing has been featured in various digital and print publications, including USA Today and StyleFox. When not writing, Alex can be found testing new recipes, exploring new neighborhoods, and geeking out over resumes.
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