Women ask a single question

This was a week I’ll never forget, even though it was a whirlwind. I attended the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s annual conference, the 68th Annual Boule’. On Tuesday, I spoke to 2,500 sorority sisters at the South Central Regional Luncheon on behalf of my employer, the American Heart Association. One day later, I participated in a panel with some of my closest friends, including Eboni Williams, an anchor on Fox News, Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards, and best-selling book author Sophia Nelson. The panel was my dear friend Heather Woodard’s idea. It was so much fun that I wrote a blog article about the experience and some common themes. During the panel, a single question consistently surfaced: “How do we get a seat at the table?”

On Saturday, I’ll speak at the 4th Annual Georgia United Conference which brings together Junior League leaders from across the state for a full day of training. I am on the board of The Association of Junior Leagues International, so it’s quite an honor for me to present this week. It’s not hard to guess the topic…”Creating Your Seat at the Table.” I’m humbly pinching myself for all these experiences.

Women are ideal leaders

Women across the globe are realizing their full potential and strength. They want the opportunity to lead their communities, sectors and quite frankly, the world. And why shouldn’t they? Women are built to lead, in fact, with a quick Google search I found dozens of articles on this very subject. Here is one of them that you should consider reading. If you don’t want to read the article, here are the cliff notes: women are strategic, compassionate and innovative–they’re ideal leaders.

In my short life, I’ve been fortunate to hold several positions that have allowed me to shape my community. I was appointed by the Mayor of Austin, Texas to the Austin-Travis County Integral Care Board of Trustees and had the privilege of serving as Vice Chair. I sat on the board of Leadership Austin for two years and chaired Best Party Ever, their largest fundraiser.

But one of the volunteer leadership roles I’m most proud of is my work with The Junior League. I’ve served the boards of local chapters in Austin and Lafayette, and for two years I was the youngest and only African-American on the board of The Association of Junior Leagues International The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI) is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. This past June, three other women of color joined the board table- what a moment to celebrate!

Download this worksheet that will help you map out your plan to create a seat at the table!

Create your seat at the table

In each of these roles, I had to create my place at the table. No one handed anything to me,  and I want to share my personal formula with you for creating these opportunities because I know many of you are hungry to take on leadership roles that will help you make a difference.

  1. Show up with a good heart, good intentions and do good work:  Do earn your place at the table with an organization you want a leadership opportunity, you must do more than just show up. You must show up with a good heart, good intentions and do good work. Your efforts must be authentic and transparent. This will earn trust and show people you’re there for the right reasons.
  2. Find a sponsor: Finding a sponsor is critical to your success because you’ll want an experienced member of the board to speak up for you. You’ll also want to spend time with them to learn about their work. It’s so very important that you understand internal politics and the history of the organization. This will guide you along your journey. Once you know these things, ask your sponsor to amplify your voice by telling board members what your expertise is and how you can add value to the board.
  3. Hit the accelerator, never coast and ask for a parking spot: Consider taking a volunteer role that isn’t board related. When you get it, put your foot on the accelerator and give it your all. Never coast. Give your committee or role everything you have. Think of it like a proof of concept- a huge opportunity to show people what you can do. Once your task is complete, ask for a parking spot in the most humble manner. I usually say, “That was fun and rewarding. What can I do to help in a different way?” At that point, you’ve demonstrated the value you bring to the organization,  so you’re on your way.

Here’s a quick and dirty list of opportunities you might want to consider:

  • Running for office
  • Appointments to city, county or state commissions
  • Parent-teacher organizations
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Organizations like Leadership Austin or Leadership Louisiana
  • Neighborhood organizations
  • Political parties
  • Fundraisers
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Community non-profits

There are so many opportunities out there, more than I can possibly list! If you know of more, comment below so that others can see them. And share your own tips on creating a seat at the table. Comment below with your questions, and I’ll work to answer them.

#Firestarter, most important of all is to remember that it’s your time. Own it! Women are leaders who turn moments into movements.

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