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Bring your own chair: how to occupy spaces in the work environment that were not assigned to you

Turkey's leader met two European Union presidents in April. The woman among them did not get a chair. In this article we explore ways other women do not get the same kind of treatment.

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Ursula Von der Leyen is left standing in a meeting with Turkish president.
Ursula Von der Leyen is left standing in a meeting with Turkish president.

A few days ago, this peace of news made many people uncomfortable, especially women: European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, in a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, found herself without a chair. Upon arriving at the meeting with Charles Michel, from the European Council, she realized that there were only two chairs in the space, intended for the two men. She, surprised and extremely embarrassed, found herself forced to sit on a sofa next to the chairs.

The questions that arise, after thinking about the theme for a few moments, are: how many chairs do we miss every day at work? How long do we have to “wait standing up” to be heard? How many times do we leave the “room of opportunities” because we refuse to sit on the couch or do not know how to “win a chair”?

The situation of exclusion that Ursula experienced is repeated daily, openly or not, in the corporate environment. Managers who organize lunches and other occasions only with their male partners, that “soft body” when it comes to defending the bonus of a woman professional on the team, the exploitation of female operational work to promote weak and unskilled managers.

To corrupt this logic that, little by little, takes away the power of women in the environments of creation and decision-making in business, academia or arts, it is important women begin to:

Question situations of embarrassment or annulment. Some actions, after being carried out to exhaustion, may seem “normal”. Ask simple questions about why a particular attitude. The question can make the individual reflect on his behavior and understand that what he does may no longer be accepted in the same way that it has always been.

Encourage female colleagues and friends. By reinforcing the talents and skills of women around them, it is possible to strengthen their self-confidence and self-esteem, essential elements for questioning the status quo.

Create your own spaces of influence. If something does not work the way you agree in the professional environment, try to create alliances with other people who share your worldview, whether inside or outside companies. When discussing women’s equal rights collectively, there is a possibility to influence the environment and think about actions more effectively than if you did them in isolation.

The awareness that all of us, women and men, deserve chairs equally distributed in the spaces of power is urgent. Only this way will we be able to progress in business and in society, in a more just and prosperous way.

If you are not given a well-deserved chair, be willing to find and use yours.

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Co-authored with Sandra Milena Acosta

Sandra has worked for more than 12 years in the strategic planning and risk management of global financial institutions. Master in Economics from UFPR, graduated in Economics from UNICAMP and post-graduated in Digital Marketing from Kellogg Executive Education, she recently went through a career transition and is now a Writer of Chronicles, Children’s Literature and Poems. All of her work is available on her Instagram page (@sandramtca) and on Medium.

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