Stories of women who have created their own tables abound. There’s Issa Rae, American actress, writer, director and producer, who after her inability to break into Hollywood decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own Youtube web series; Awkward Black Girl. The web series went viral through word of mouth, blog posts, and social media, resulting in mainstream media coverage and attention. Since then, Issa Rae has gained further recognition for creating, co-writing, and starring in the HBO television series Insecure. She has gone ahead to win several awards, including two Golden Globe Award nominations. There’s also the story of Nicole Amarteifio, who created and executive produced a widely popular and successful web series; The African City. She created her own web series because she felt that her ideas would be changed and it wouldn’t be the story she was trying to tell had she made it a television series.
The discussion surrounding whether you should drag your own chair to the table or create your own table came up during a recent speaking engagement at a museum in Germany. On the panel, I talked about how I had worked hard to get a seat at the table only to realize that we needed more women and minorities at the table. A fellow panelist insisted that he’d rather reject the seat and go ahead to create his own table.
The table is where there is influence and decisions are made, regardless of what the industry or sector is, and where access is had in general.
When people say that if you can’t find a seat at the table bring your own chair, it usually means that you find an innovative way to access that influence or power. By this, you go out of your own way and create something so remarkable, such that they can’t help but invite you to join the table.
The second way you can access influence is to go out and create your own table if there isn’t a space for you at the table. An example of that will be what we did at Women in Tech Africa. Women in Tech Africa is the largest tech group on the continent, with membership across 30 countries, and a network of about 5,000 women who are supporting each other. The tech sector was very male dominated with what could essentially be described as a boys’ club. We thought of creating a girls’ club where women can pass each other opportunities and grow, while creating wealth and longevity among the women.
The question of which one is better lingers; finding your chair and enabling it to find space at the table or creating your own table. I think that there may be situations that call for either of these approaches. If you absolutely need to access the influence, then there may be a need to find a chair and drag it to the table.
On the other hand, if you can create that influence on your own with a designated group of people, then that is the way to go. What you should do is to create a plan, and ask yourself if it is more beneficial to grab a seat and force a place for yourself at the table, or go out on your own and create your own table.