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A Place at the Table: The hidden power of leadership diversity

When I was beginning my career, I had an incredible male boss whose advice and words of wisdom still echo in my mind today when I make important decisions. When leadership is done well by others, it carries over and inspires the way you lead yourself. 

While this male boss provided me with a solid foundation to build my career, I will never forget the fact that I was just one of the few women on my floor that worked in technology. I could count the other ladies in that department on two hands. At the young age of 25, I didn’t fully understand the power and weight of my leadership and example; I didn't understand that I was shattering glass ceilings for the women that would come after me.

I was, and still am, incredibly grateful to have had many mentors along my journey, but it’s important to acknowledge they were all men. Even though they taught me countless lessons regarding my work, not one of them could speak to me from the unique perspective I have as a female minority in technology. 

Sometimes we are so happy to have a seat at the table that we forget to pay it forward and help others reach the table as well. The older we get, the more grounded we are in our faith. There’s a quiet confidence that rises up, causing us to realize the importance of reaching back out and helping other women arrive. But when we help others arrive, the work isn’t done; we must then help them thrive in the roles and the seats they are called to occupy. We must empower them to set themselves apart and bring their unique perspectives to the table. Are you OK being unique? Different from everyone else?

First Peter 2:9 states it well: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” It is in this uniqueness that we as believers understand that we are called to walk with a renewed mindset. This mindset is often a shift from the competitive, aggressive nature that many operate in, preventing them from truly leading from a place of confidence and peace.

When I first truly felt like I had a seat at the table, I remember feeling elated. In all my excitement, it never crossed my mind at the age of 25 to then figure out how to add more diversity to the table or, better yet, get a bigger table. Being fully transparent, it was easier to be the only woman at most of those tables. In my mind, I had convinced myself that there was only one spot for a woman and I had filled it. Isn’t it interesting what we tell ourselves when the only leaders above us are people who don’t look like us? We start to believe the absurd lies that there really might only be one seat for a minority at the table. 

Later in my career, I was approached by Colleen Rouse, founding pastor of Victory Church and founder of Thrive Today. She asked me to sit at the table and identify other women who should be there, too. In these instances, when the table presents itself, we have three mindsets that can arise: apathy, scarcity or abundance.

Apathy says: I’m here and I don’t care who else is here. I am not concerned with who is around or at the table—I have my seat.

Scarcity says: There are not enough seats at this table. I am grateful to have gotten one and now I must protect it and hoard it. I will defend this seat at all costs.

Abundance says: This table is way too small. I am not the only one who should be sitting at it. I am going to search for a bigger table and find others that should join me.

It’s this very idea that launches the around-the-table conversations that we have at Thrive Today. We take difficult topics and put them on the table for discussion. We call out our own fears and insecurities; moments of vulnerability allow us to not take ourselves so seriously and laugh as we reflect on how far we’ve come as leaders.

Thrive Today is a community of women that aims to empower fellow women. It’s a community that I wish I had in my corner when I was younger, trying to navigate the ins and outs of my career. The foundation of Thrive Today focuses on three core values: leadership, community and strength.

LEADERSHIP

While we are leaders, we have a timespan of impact and influence on the lives of those we lead. That impact echoes for years and years to come. When we make the decision to lead, we must first take a close look at who we’ve placed at the table and who we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with. If everyone looks the same and shares the exact same mindset as you, we have a serious opportunity to break the mold and create space for diversity.

We have the opportunity to include a diverse set of leaders, while simultaneously expanding the seats at the table. Anna Powers writes in a June 27, 2018, article in Forbes online, “Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation.”

Not only is building a more diverse team beneficial for the workers, but it also yields a greater return for the company. When we achieve greater diversity at the table, we want to ensure that people feel comfortable and confident enough to bring their whole selves to the table as well. It’s not enough to bring people to the table just to act as you do. Instead, we must welcome others to the table and create an environment where everyone can bring their true selves.

As leaders, when we make a visible commitment to follow through on this pillar, our teams will follow suit. The questions I’m constantly asking myself are: Have I built a diverse team? Have I brought the right people to the table? Do I have diversity of gender, culture, thought and background?

As a leader, I aim to disrupt myself before I am disrupted. I am constantly challenging the way I think about building teams and tables. I have to choose:

  • Collaboration over silos
  • Information sharing over information hoarding
  • Diversity over similarity
  • Vulnerability over pride   

The list goes on. When we lead from a place of love and peace, we become a leader that leads with eternal legacy in mind.  

COMMUNITY

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top”? If it truly is, you may be on the wrong mountain. Leadership will not be lonely if you have surrounded yourself with the right people. In my leadership journey, it took some time to build the right team, but I eventually found people who mourn my losses and celebrate my wins. If you find it’s the other way around, it may be time to evaluate who’s sitting at the table with you. Leading alone is the fastest way to burn out and it’s the quickest way for failure to turn fatal.

When our leadership isn’t evaluated or examined, we can become someone who we don’t like, or even recognize. The simple antidote to this is community. Having people in your life that share your values is the greatest test of accountability and transparency. Is there anyone in your life who can tell you no? More importantly, is that person in your personal or professional life? 

As employees, it’s easy to become engrossed in the status of our jobs and race toward the next promotion without thinking through how it will impact our quality of life or our family. It’s important to have someone in our corner to do one of two things: slow us down and ask us the hard questions; or recognize that we’ve become too comfortable and stopped challenging the status quo. Both can be harmful to our long-term development.

Community helps us put our short-term and long-term goals into perspective. It’s easy to hide from ourselves, but it’s difficult to do the same in front of others. Being a part of a community prevents us from hiding our struggles and forces us to face our truth. A solid community speaks up when we become out of balance and gently guides us back toward our North Star.

STRENGTH

There’s a difference between being a strong woman and a woman of strength. A strong woman thinks the world expects them to have it all figured out. They say things like, “Never let anyone see you sweat,” and, “Don’t let them know they got to you.” In contrast, a woman of strength acknowledges that their vulnerability and femininity are not a disadvantage in the workplace, but instead an advantage and something to be celebrated.

Women of strength realize that the people they’re surrounded by are allies and not enemies. We are the feminine expression of Jesus on earth. We don’t have to constantly try to prove a point or fight for a position; instead, we should focus our energy on standing for matters that are meaningful and important to us. 

According to CNBC, only 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women as their CEOs. This proves we need more women in leadership and more role models for women entering the workforce. We will get there only by collaborating with our peers to find more women of strength, people who understand their value and worth and operate from a place of peace and confidence.

When I sat at the Thrive Today table years ago, I saw a movement of women empowering other women to lead—doctors, lawyers, pastors, consultants, entrepreneurs and businesswomen hoping to connect, hoping to grow and hoping to be heard. I heard the collective sigh of relief when everyone realized we didn’t have to sit at the table alone.

This community helped me believe that the journey can be fun and allowed me to understand that vulnerability is a necessity if we want to grow as leaders. We’re normalizing that, as leaders, we can be who we are called to be, without fear of judgment or retribution; that we have the ability to call out where we are in life unapologetically; and how to recognize whether it’s time for us to grow or remain steady.

Many are familiar with the Google Team Study that was conducted over a two-year span, leveraging more than 200 interviews to find out what it takes to make a great team. Five attributes emerged during this interview:

  1. Dependability—Can we count on you?
  2. Structure and Clarity—Are the goals and roles on the team clear?
  3. Meaning of Work—Are we working on things that matter to us?
  4. Impact of Work—Do we believe that our work matters to others?
  5. Psychological Safety—Can we take risks and put our ideas out there, free of insecurity or embarrassment?

 

I strongly believe that the fifth attribute is the most important to focus on because it is the attribute that is the hardest to acquire on a team or in a community. When working with a team, I always take a close look to see whether or not psychological safety exists. Psychological safety says: I can be myself without fear of reprisal. When this exists, teams and communities can take risks, share ideas and collaborate without fear of insecurity or judgment.  

When you gather leaders in a healthy community, it strengthens them to continue to run the race. That’s why so many women are drawn to Thrive Today. The mantra of leadership, community and strength is a great reminder that we don’t have to run this race alone. Our strength comes from our faith community. As an African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

 

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