Taking Your Seat at the Table and What to do Once You’re There

Kimberly Ramalho, Vice President, Communications & Public Affairs, Lockheed Martin, Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS)

As women, particularly those of us navigating the corporate landscape, it’s near impossible not to stress over our place in the boardroom. After all, less than 20 percent of senior management across all industries are women. Yes, after all the progress that’s been made in gender equality over the last few decades, we’re still fighting for a seat at the table.

I could write for days about why that is, unpacking all the nuances of myriad issues at play. But I’m not in the business of talking about problems; I’m working to help solve them. Here is my best advice, proven to move the needle on professional careers – and personal lives, mine included:

  1. If you’ve earned your seat, actually take it.

At one of my first jobs as a senior leader, I remember attending a meeting of significant importance. I entered the boardroom and took a seat – in a chair along the side wall. My boss walked in, saw me and asked, “Why are you sitting there?” I didn’t think anything of it; I was saving room for my (male) colleagues. Pure instinct. I see women do this all the time.

When I first joined my current company, I participated in an all-day executive meeting. When I arrived, most of the (predominately male) team was already gathered. There was one seat left around the center conference table and I almost didn’t take it. Are you crazy!? My inner dialogue shrieked. To this day, as a respected vice president, after 30 years of nose-to the-grindstone work, I often need to remind myself – force myself – to physically take a seat at the table. It’s hard, but critical.

  1. Once you’re there, use your voice.

Having a seat at the table isn’t the same as having a voice. Having the confidence to sit down is only a partial win. To be an influencer, to evolve as a leader, to be viewed and respected, you must participate. It can be a struggle; it’s often easier to give up or “take it off line” when others’ voices are louder or combative. Nobody wants to battle others for the floor, and I get that. I recommend asking yourself a simple question, “Is what I am about to contribute beneficial to the group?”  If the answer is yes, you must join the conversation.

  1. Advocate for others.

If you have a seat at the table, there’s a reason. Not only did you earn it, but more than likely someone advocated for you to be there. Remember this. I never forget that along my journey, countless colleagues believed in me, championed me and supported me.  Interestingly, most of them were men. Unfortunately, women aren’t great at making room or advocating for other women at the table.  I’ve learned on my journey it’s because women see limited “spots” at the top for themselves.

My experiences have led me to be a vocal advocate – for women and men – because people have done the same for me. Simple suggestions include creating a break in the discussion so others can ask a question or make a point. Repeating an idea that appeared not to be heard.  Advocating promotion for a deserving colleague. I hope you will consider how you can become an advocate for others in the workplace.

The issue of gender equality in the workplace is complex, and the truth is, we may never perfectly achieve it. But as women in the workplace, we can do our part by showing up in our roles, advocating for ourselves and helping others to do the same.

About the Author: Kimberly Ramalho is vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS) Communications and Public Affairs organization. In this role, Ms. Ramalho is responsible for creating integrated communications strategies that support RMS’ business objectives and strengthen the business’s relationships with customers, policymakers, partners, employees and the communities in which we live and work. She oversees public affairs, media relations, marketing communications, advertising, employee communications, executive communications, community relations and digital/multimedia communications. Ms. Ramalho has nearly 25 years of communications experience and is credited with developing programs that deliver a high return on investment, motivate employees and increase awareness of the business. Prior to joining Lockheed Martin, she served as the global communications director for General Electric’s Water & Process Technologies business where she developed and executed global communications strategies. Ms. Ramalho has also held leadership positions of increasing responsibility with American Water, the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company, and Siemens Corp., a technology provider in a number of industries including energy and healthcare.