“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
– Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was an American politician and in 1968 became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress.
I recently re-watched the film, Hidden Figures, that told the story of Katherine (Goble) Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three pioneering black female mathematicians that worked for NASA from the 1950’s onwards.
Four women whose gender and ethnicity were considered by many at the time as unsuitable to sit at the table – and only suitable to polish it.
Their right to sit at the table came from their accomplishments, relevant knowledge, understanding and perspective of the subjects discussed around the table. They had the right skill-set, but at the time, the wrong gender and colour.
The lesson for all of us in our work today is that we should expect a seat at the table when our knowledge, skill set and perspective is relevant to the discussion. They should be the only criteria for an invite. And keep a folding chair handy, just in case.
(Katherine Johnson died 24 February 2020 aged 101.)