How to influence from any seat

How many of us have longed for a seat at the table? And how many of us view those seats as being limited only to those in leadership?

Now, more than ever, it’s critical for employees to speak up and help shape our new world of work.  Shifting priorities during the pandemic impacted all workers, and we all stand to be impacted as we move forward into a transformed workplace.

As we enter Women’s History Month, I’m encouraged to see companies embracing diversity, but there’s still work to be done. The pandemic led to women leaving the workforce in droves, and they aren’t returning.

From February 2020 to January 2022, 1.1 million women left the labor force, accounting for 63% of all jobs lost. In comparison, during that time, male workers regained all jobs they had lost due to the public health crisis, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center in the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

I’m disheartened by those facts but inspired by influential women who’ve come before me and used their voices to bring about change. One such woman we can all learn from is Shirley Chisholm, the first black U.S. congresswoman and the first black woman to make a bid for the presidency. Chisholm made a difference by being true to herself and challenging the status quo. Her advice to us? “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

How can you use your voice to make your organization better? You don’t have to be in the boardroom for your voice to be heard, but you do have to speak in a way that resonates with the business. Here are some strategies to increase your influence no matter what seat you are in.

1. Know the business

Do you know your organization’s top business priorities? What about the biggest challenges facing your industry? Take the time to learn the business. Understand the mission, vision and values of the organization. Know how the business operates and how your company makes money. Know who your customer is and what services you provide. And then take it one step further and seek to understand the market. Learning the business and its language is a critical first step to influencing the business.

2. Think about the whole

Now that you know the business, use that knowledge to focus on the bigger picture. Consider how an idea, decision or new initiative will impact other departments. Think beyond the best decision for you or your team and instead think about what’s best for the organization.

3. Contribute

Show up and do your best work every day. Look for opportunities where you can add value. Actively participate in meetings. Raise your hand to help with projects and work in partnership with other teams. Another good way to collaborate is to join a committee within your company. Attend optional company-sponsored events. Better yet, volunteer to help with those events. Increasing your visibility across the organization and solidifying your place as a valuable member of the team makes your voice more likely to be heard.

4. Speak up

Share your opinions and recommendations. Be direct and express yourself in a clear and concise manner. When you identify a problem, make sure to come to the table with a potential solution. Communicate authentically and show respect for yourself and others.

At Synergis, every employee has a seat at the table. We are regularly reminded of that fact and encouraged to bring forward ideas and share our opinions. We value the differences each team member brings to the organization and welcome a diversity of perspectives knowing it leads to better decisions and better outcomes for our business.

Encourage your business to do the same. Be an advocate for yourself and others. Have the courage to speak up and share your perspective. Balancing that courage with consideration and an openness to the opinion of others is the key to influencing from any seat.


About the author

As Director of Organizational Development, Ashley Harwell drives career development strategies that support business objectives while promoting an environment where employees can grow and succeed. With over 15 years of experience in the staffing industry, her background includes talent management, employee relations, compliance and total rewards. Ashley graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and holds an SHRM certification.

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