A major news source invited me to be part of a televised panel of government executives. The other panelists were men — not an uncommon scenario — and most of them brought assistants. These assistants prepared their talking points, carried their bags, and got them bottles of water. And they were all young women. It seemed silly to me to bring an assistant — this was less than an hour long. You don’t need help preparing talking points or getting a bottle of water… well, at least I didn’t.
When it was time to air, the executives all sat at the table on set. The assistants all sat in the audience. The host noted that since the segment would be aired on radio, too, he would refer to the men by name when asking a question so their voices could be distinguished. He wouldn’t need to say my name each time, though, because I was the only woman at the table.
I looked out at the young women in the audience. And my mind started to go there. “How sad. What does this say about our society and the treatment of genders — except for me, all the women in the room are in the audience…”
But then I caught myself. “How did I get at the table?” I remembered all the times I was the “young lady in the audience.” I was there because a successful person far more senior than me — and usually a man — brought me along as an unnecessary assistant. And in doing so, I learned how to interface with the media, members of Congress, and other senior leaders of the government. I learned how to prepare for interviews and hearings, master talking points, and respond wisely to unexpected questions. Some of the people who brought me along did it to purposefully mentor me. Others didn’t. But regardless of their intent, I took the opportunity to learn.
I got to the table because other people brought me along.
And then I looked around — who did I bring along? Nobody. I had thought it was “unnecessary.” But it wasn’t. I may not have needed someone to carry my bag or get my water. But it was absolutely necessary to give someone the opportunity to learn how to be “at the table.” Otherwise, how would they ever get there?
At my next televised interview, I brought along an unnecessary assistant. And she happened to be a woman.