How to Own Your Place at the Table as a Minority Leader

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I remember when I got a job at my first big tech company. Walking into my office on my first day, I was brimming with excitement and ideas. I was going to work directly with the CEO — amazing, right? But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the environment I had joined was vastly different from what I had anticipated.

First, I was the only minority woman in the boardroom, which made me feel like I had to accept the role I was given. Then, at a company led by an overpowering CEO whose mantra was “execute, don’t elaborate,” I often felt more like a parrot than a partner. I became really good at capturing my boss’s voice. I knew exactly the stories he wanted to tell and how he wanted to articulate them. But I didn’t own the role, and most of my ideas were left unsaid.

In my over 20 years of marketing leadership and management experience, I have learned to stand up for myself in rooms full of people who looked nothing like me. To minority women entrepreneurs and executives still establishing themselves, here are three steps to own your place at the table rather than be content to just be in the room.

Related: Don’t Just Sit At the Table, Flip It. A Reflection for Women Entrepreneurs.

1. Understand the landscape

Every workplace is like a little world, complete with its own secret codes and power players. If you take time to observe and learn the lay of the land, you will find yourself getting around way smoother.

Get social, ask many questions, and start building relationships with those around you. This is your chance to see where you fit in. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do your skills complement others’?

To truly own your place at the table, it’s crucial to grasp the immediate tasks at hand and the broader context in which your work sits. What are the industry trends? How competitive is the landscape? How does your individual role contribute to the organization’s long-term goals?

Remember, humility in the workplace means recognizing that there is always more to learn. It’s about being open to feedback, being willing to admit when you don’t have all the answers, and being eager to grow from each experience.

Related: How I Earned My Seat at the Table

2. Do your homework

Imagine if someone new came into your company and said: “I’ve been working for 25 years in this industry. We’re gonna do it my way or the highway.” Wouldn’t you be turned off?

So, take the time to research and understand your organization’s business model, history and culture. Studies show that “people-first” cultures can drive amazing outcomes. According to Gallup, companies that prioritize culture see a 33% increase in revenue.

This means understanding your company’s culture can make a massive difference in how your performance is graded. For one, this knowledge will help you do your job better and also enable you to make informed contributions during discussions. Then, you are showing that you are more than just a participant — but an invested and knowledgeable team member. I always tell my team that your product is going to be so much better if you have done your due diligence rather than if you go into meetings cold. Be prepared.

3. Approach what you know with confidence

Michelle Obama once said: “Whether you come from a council estate or a country estate, your success will be determined by your own confidence and fortitude.” Obama had to endure some of the most unfair criticisms as First Lady. She was called “strikingly ungracious,” not “classy enough,” and a “feminist nightmare” by people with half her talent. But did she let those words stop her? Of course not, because as she’s demonstrated time and time again, confidence starts with you.

Owning your achievements and standing tall in your space is crucial, but there is a magical balance between confidence and humility that makes interactions richer and more productive. Envision yourself walking into a room, head held high with the knowledge of your successes, yet your heart is open, ready to listen, learn and grow. This balance isn’t just about being approachable; it is a powerful leadership style that fosters a culture of respect, collaboration and mutual support.

Anybody can be a good soldier. Anybody can participate in the way they think is best for their boss. But in my experience, I had to ask myself: Am I really growing? What part of myself am I adding to this organization? My experience at the tech company was a glaring example of the nuanced barriers that minority women executives and leaders face in the corporate world.

But I want to take this opportunity to change this narrative a bit. Stereotypes exist, but the unfortunate reality is that they are not going anywhere anytime soon. So, we must protect our confidence as minority women by realizing that we are worthy and capable of overcoming these wrongful assumptions. If you are not believable, how do you expect anyone to value your words? Understanding the value you bring and having the confidence to do so is crucial.

Related: 3 Ways to Support Minority-Owned Businesses

Shaping your reality through mindset

Your mindset is more powerful than any list of stereotypes you can muster. It is the foundation upon which you construct your reality, break down barriers and redefine what is possible for yourself. To my fellow minority women leaders, you do know what you are talking about. You took the time to build those relationships. You do have the experience. So, leave the stereotypes at the door.

The journey towards owning your achievements and asserting your presence is as much about inner work as external actions. By committing to changing your mindset and dedicating yourself to thorough preparation, you lay down the stones on the path to building unwavering confidence, even amid the loudest naysayers’ objections.

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