A Seat at the Table

During my time at the architecture firm, I sat in many meetings. Many, many meetings. I usually was tasked with running the PowerPoint I'd designed for the occasion, and rarely had reason to speak or even make eye contact with anyone at the table; I just needed to pay attention to my cues. 

On one occasion, this was put to the test.

My creative director had asked me to design a deck for a proposal he planned to present to a large real estate developer in the city. The plan was to turn a struggling neighborhood into retail and mixed-use space, and it was a big deal for the firm. I put the deck together and sat in the meeting, which looked and sounded like a scene from House of Cards. As I clicked through the deck, I'd be asked to stop the presentation here and there to make time for discussion. I was addressed as "honey" and "sweetheart," and one man asked smugly if this was my first day at my job.

Throughout the meeting, I was disgusted by the vaguely sinister racist and misogynist language that was casually sprinkled into the conversation. My CD was silent when he wasn't presenting, and looked annoyed but resigned, as it would have been a huge coup to land this contract. At 23, I assumed that people in positions of power and influence possessed some sort of wisdom that verged on mystical, and were uniquely qualified to draw on their vast knowledge and use it for the greater good. I realized after this meeting that this was simply not the case. There is no moral test one must take before taking on heavy responsibility; often an important last name is all someone needs to be in a position to make far-reaching decisions that would affect generations of people and communities.

My brief foray into the world of DC real estate development hardened me and made me somewhat cynical, but I learned from it one thing: I liked having a seat at that table.