Do you want to advance in your career but keep feeling blocked? Having a hard time being heard or getting promoted? Smart women today have figured out how to partner together to overcome workplace barriers and move up the ladder. The truth is, we women have created this advancement for ourselves, so we should celebrate our gains. But we are still far from having an equal share of leadership, opportunity, funding, and authority at work. I want to talk about ways we can harness our awesome power as women to gain more traction at work.
Diverse women need to work together in partnership towards equality because we will all benefit from using the power of our full numbers. (When I say women, I mean everyone who identifies as a woman no matter her gender expression or biological sex.) Anger can be a great motivator, and right now women have plenty of reasons to be angry and frustrated. However, we weaken our ability to make change if we allow ourselves to be derailed by our differences: ethnicity, socioeconomic status, race, national origin, gender identity, attitudes and more. I’m saddened to see the unraveling of the coalition that staged the Women’s Marches because it’s not reasonable to think all women are going to think alike.
We need to acknowledge our differences and, at the same time, focus on what we have in common and partner together for equality. If we’re lucky, men may help us, but women have to lead the way and ask for what we want. This is where our greatest strength lies.
Focus on How We Succeed, Not Barriers That Keep Us Down
We must support each other to overcome the barriers between us and create the changes that we want. The many chapters in the history of the oppression of women are truly horrifying, and the current state of politics and business is still far from our goal. But rather than focus on women’s suffering, I choose to focus on our vision of the future because that is where we can create change. Rather than focus on lack, I choose to focus on the abundance I’ve seen women create when we collaborate and share our power and resources to get things done.
Working together makes us successful because by coming together in groups, we can:
- Clarify our vision and goals
- Learn new ideas, skills, and approaches
- Strategize for success
- Overcome our fears
- Multiply our influence
- Encourage each other and keep our spirits up
- Overcome opposition and punishment
- Provide empathy, compassion, and comfort to one another
- Improve our health and longevity
- Experience the joy of connection with other human beings
With so many benefits to be had, let’s unite and partner together for an equal opportunity for all of us.
Women And Moms Everywhere Are Strong, Powerful Leaders
Women possess truly awesome strengths and power that are essential to the human race. As women we not only create babies, but we create families, communities, businesses, and nations. The truth is though, that despite all our contributions, we have been excluded from most power structures. Activist women have long worked to change that, and recent events show that millions of us are eagerly working for change. This is great because hundreds of studies have shown that the more women rise to power in business, politics, and culture, the better life becomes for everyone (women, men and children) in that community.
Brave and determined women are listening to and supporting each other as never before, standing together to demand equal opportunity and safety. Rather than being goaded into criticizing and undermining each other, women understand that supporting other women is a really, really good thing.
Stereotypes Train Us To Be “Feminine” – and Powerless
Women are rearranging the ways they view themselves. For thousands of years women have been trained to emphasize their traits considered to be “feminine,” such as submission, affection, sensitivity, and emotion. Around the world, such feminine traits are consistently assigned low status and diminished power.
Men on the other hand are stereotypically trained to be active and aggressive, set the goals, choose the path, execute the vision, and delegate authority. Worldwide, the vast majority of power positions are still filled by men: in the developed West the power players are mostly white men, while in the rest of the world men of color run the show. So, it’s natural that men have always been in charge, right? Wrong!
This stereotyping excludes women from leadership roles and even worse, women have internalized an unconscious bias against our own ability to lead. I cringe when I hear women say they don’t have any power. We make over 85 percent of purchasing decisions. We have the power of the purse and widespread influence over our families and communities. I want to help women see that their stereotypically “feminine” traits such as collaboration, inclusion, and relationship building are actually powerful tools, not cement shoes.
High-achieving women everywhere have broken that restrictive mold to organize their coworkers, develop successful businesses, and even govern nations. It’s obvious that we can exercise our power.
Women Leaders Command and Inspire
Women’s work and strengths are needed and used everywhere in business, in the home, in our communities, and across our nations. Even though those contributions are not always recognized and valued, all those institutions would collapse without our support.
The truth is, women lead every day in our families, schools, churches, businesses, neighborhoods, and communities. When we influence others and guide them to take action, we are exercising our leadership. So…if women are so essential to society and if we lead all the time, everywhere, how can we help more women rise into leadership?
Of course, we need to keep working to remove patriarchal barriers. Yet, our biggest opportunity for change right now is to change the way we think about ourselves as leaders. We can and must remove the psychological and emotional biases within ourselves that hold us back. Each woman who breaks through these barriers is more likely to make meaningful change.
Look at the 116th US Congress, elected in November 2018:
- Nearly one fourth are women compared to one fifth of the previous Congress
- 47 of them are women of color (up from 38 in the last Congress)
This is good progress, but leadership in business still lags behind:
- One twentieth (5 percent) of Fortune 500 CEOs are women
- Just 14 percent of executives and top managers at S&P 500 companies are women
Obviously, there’s a lot of room for growth here. Since modern business and political systems are slow to recognize the financial and other benefits of promoting women into leadership, what will it take to get more women at the top? Having just one woman in a company’s executive suite can triple the number of women promoted to managers. So, partnering together to advance just one woman in the C-suite will help every woman at that company.
What Is Your Definition of Power?
My friend Gloria Feldt, founder of Take The Lead, says many women shun leadership because they don’t want to have “power over” other people. We’ve been on the wrong end of that relationship too often ourselves and don’t want to lord it over others. But when Feldt re-frames leadership as the “power to” accomplish a goal, women feel differently.
Women love to find or build supportive communities of women. Whether the group is small or large, formal or casual, work related or community based, local or international, it’s where we can find reassurance, confidence, hope, ideas, and joyful connections.
We are learning to share scripts and strategies with other women to:
- Define ourselves by our strengths
- Stop undermining ourselves and others
- Effectively navigate “mean” office politics
- End sexual harassment and violence
- Cultivate a supportive workplace
- Recruit strong allies among women and men
When we do these things, we can make sure women’s voices are heard and that they get the credit for their accomplishments.
- Speak up when another woman is criticized or undermined and set the record straight.
- Counteract hurtful comments with support and facts.
- End harassment and violence and create safety for women.
- Ask for fair employment policies and evaluations that level the playing field.
Which of these things could you do today?
Successful Women Support Each Other
Together, we can explore why and how to use our numbers, our strengths, and our “power to” overcome the barriers to our own advancement. Won’t you join me? I honestly believe that by partnering together, we have the power to create fair and equal opportunities for all women, in every business and every country throughout the world.
This guest post was authored by Nancy D. O’Reilly
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an international philanthropist, licensed psychologist, founder of the Women Connect4Good foundation, and author of In This Together: How Successful Women Support Each Other in Work and Life (Simon & Schuster Adams Media, January 2019). She urges women to define themselves and each other as leaders to create an equitable world.