It was the movie that changed my career.
Growing up as one of five kids, I never had trouble finding my voice. And this has held true throughout my career — but not always.
A number of years ago, my boss at the time mentioned a new position was being created. It sounded like my dream job and one I knew I could do well. As he cited potential candidates, I hoped to hear my name. But it never crossed his lips. I could feel myself shrinking, thinking, “I have to say something.” I managed to squeak out, “Wow, sounds like an interesting opportunity. Any chance you’d consider me?” Then I held my breath. And nearly a decade later, I still remember his response: “No, I don’t see you as a good fit for this role.”
My first thought was, “Maybe he’s right.” However, as I sat there digesting his comment, I started to consider some of my accomplishments and thought; I “can” do this. I was also a bit disappointed that he didn’t think I’d be a good fit. I realized I had to say something. By not speaking up, I was letting him define who I was and what I could bring to the table. The line from the classic ‘80s movie “Dirty Dancing” came to mind: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” In that moment, I sat up, found my voice and told him the role was something I’d be interested in and that he should consider me. I then outlined what I thought I could bring to the table. And to my surprise, he listened carefully and recommended that we discuss it further. It took courage to speak up and ask for what I wanted, but it paid off: I eventually landed the role. I had secured my seat “at the table,” as many like to say, and had set myself down a new and exciting career path.
But getting that seat was only half the battle. Often I was the only woman in the room, the youngest, the most junior or the only one without a PhD. And, in the beginning, I had many more questions than answers. In time, I realized the very fact that my experience and perspective were different, was the value I brought. What I thought was my greatest weakness turned out to be one of my greatest strengths.
Finding your voice is the first step towards getting and keeping a seat at the table. It isn’t always easy, but here’s how I’d break down what it takes:
- Ask for what you want. Raise your hand and let your voice be heard.
- Believe in yourself. If you don’t know what value you bring to the table, no one else will.
- Contribute with purpose and confidence.
- Do Your Homework and come to the table with an opinion that you can back up with reliable data and insight.
Upon reflection, I realized “Nobody puts baby in the corner” but … baby! Had I not spoken up during that meeting with my boss all those years ago, I might not have the job I enjoy today.
Sometimes it takes standing up to secure a seat.
Jeanne Thompson leads a team at Fidelity Investments that develops ideas and insights to help Americans plan and save for retirement. Recognized for her knowledge on 401(k) plans, Jeanne helps educate and inform employers, employees, advisors, policymakers, as well as personal finance editors and writers.
Before being named vice president of Thought Leadership at Fidelity, Jeanne held several leadership positions at Fidelity, including oversight of the design and implementation of 401(k) plans for many Fortune 100 companies. This deep understanding of 401(k) plan design, combined with robust analysis of more than 13 million American savers, enables her to consistently offer innovative insights about retirement readiness.
Jeanne is often tapped for commentary and insight by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CNN Money, among other media outlets.
For more information on careers at Fidelity, please visit WomenInFinance.fidelitycareers.com.
Views expressed are as of the date indicated and may change based on market and other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments.
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