Wooden Tables & Glass Ceilings

My classmate Ethan, the talented joiner, is making headway on his hexagonal table. The top is largely complete, with inlay of oak trimming pine slats, so now he turns to the base.

Having insinuated myself into the carpentry enterprise as Ethan’s unofficial apprentice, I have a lot of questions for my patient young mentor. For example, how will he attach the top to the pedestal? More fundamentally, how tall should the table be?

The internet says tables should be 30 inches. Then again, the internet says a lot of things, so we decided to go on walkabout across the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus to test-drive some tables.

After ascertaining that picnic tables outside the Building Construction Technology classroom measure almost 29 inches and that cafe tables in the break room rise a hair taller, we took our tape measure to the director’s office, where his administrative support associate Ms. Glavin unlocked the conference room to let us kick the tires on the conference table.

“Do you like this table?” I asked Ms. Glavin.

It’s a nice table, she allowed, but it’s too tall for her to type comfortably on.

I took a seat in a swivel chair at the head of the table and tried to simulate what it would be like if I had my laptop. Sure enough, my elbows sagged well below my fingers–a familiar ergonometric recipe for carpal-tunnel distress.

Ethan and I measured the table: just under 31 inches. That settled it for me. I would prefer a table at 30 inches or shorter, I announced.

As the tape measure snapped back into its housing, Ms. Glavin reminded me of something painfully obvious: “Conference tables are built for men.”

Heavy sigh.

Yes, conference room tables are built for men. In fact, as many as 80 percent of company board members in the U.S. are men, while that number is even higher globally. And only five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. 

This is not the first time I’ve thought there should be more women at the table, but it’s the first time I’ve thought more women should be making the table in the first place.



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