It’s true. Women don’t need to be empowered, women need to USE THE POWER they have.
The difference? Empowerment means being given power or authority. Women already have power, they need to use it and use it well. Empowerment implies being given permission to use their strength. Why do they need permission?
Women have lots of strength. The problem is they don’t use it for fear of being silenced or they choose to silence it them themselves. It’s time to stop talking about women having to be empowered. If women are empowered it means that the men and other woman are accepting of the way the women are showing strength. That’s not always the case. That’s not always the culture. Women need to know how to use their power in any culture and in any situation. There are obstacles to overcome and they need to know how to overcome those obstacles.
But before we even focus on that, there is some good news. There are more women in the workforce and more working mothers. There are more women in leadership positions and the gender pay gap is smaller than in the past. According to Pew Research women now make 83 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job. This is an improvement and it is up from the the pay in 1980 where women made 64 cents for every dollar that men were making. There are also many more women executives. As of 2017, there are 32 women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies (Fortune Magazine). While this number is still very small (a little over 6%), it is higher than before. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back just yet, these numbers are an improvement but there is still a way to go before we can say we are truly treated as equals.
And let’s be clear about another thing. There are plenty of men who appreciate a strong woman. These are men who are comfortable and secure with themselves. On the other hand, not all women support other women. It’s sad but true. Instead of building up other women, many women try to break them down. The way in which people react to a woman’s power has less to do with the gender of the person reacting and more about how they were raised (culturally) or their own insecurities.
Why don’t women always use their power? There are two primary reasons for this. The first is cultural. Many women have been taught throughout their lives that they have a place and it is not acceptable to be strong or to speak up. The second is experience. Many women start out strong and confident and have enough bad experiences over time that they just give up.
At a recent talk, I asked the women in the room to raise their hands if they could answer yes to any of the following questions:
- Are you hesitant to fight for what you believe?
- Are you hesitant to look too strong?
- Has anyone ever called you emotional or irrational when simply expressing a non-emotional point of view?
- Has anyone ever told you you’re overreacting or to calm down when you weren’t upset?
- Have you had other women call you names because you’re strong woman?
The response was overwhelming. Hands went up when I asked each one of these questions. Then I asked them to share some of the reactions they have experienced when they showed some strength. Here are some of the more common reactions they mentioned:
- Women were ignored.
- When women voiced suggestions, someone else was given the credit for the idea.
- Women were backstabbed by other women.
- People spread rumors or other lies about women and/or their management style.
- People made up nicknames (wicked witch, her highness, etc.) about strong women.
When I asked them how they react when this happens, they consistently said they: back off, stay quiet, move onto something else. Many women accept defeat. They are NOT using their power.
If you are a woman who wants to use or regain power, here are a few things that may help:
- Know your worth and ask for it. If you are looking at a new job, know your market value before going to the interview. Don’t accept being paid below your worth.
- Don’t be afraid to show your strength. You are in your role because someone believes you are qualified to do it. Remind yourself of that when you start to doubt yourself.
- Don’t belittle or negate yourself when you speak. Don’t undermine your own message.
- Don’t try to please everyone at the cost of being effective. Not all decisions will make people happy. Not everyone is going to like you and it’s ok.
- Create allies and use them to help promote your cause. Allies can be men or women. Sell your ideas to your allies BEFORE you walk into a meeting, so you walk in knowing other people are there to support you.
- Defend other women sincerely. You don’t need to be a champion for all women and all women’s causes. But if you are there for them, support them, listen to them, guide them and coach them, they will be there for you as well. Do this because you care, not as a means to an end. Your sincerity will create trust and loyalty.
- Squelch your inner critic. Many people are harder on themselves than on anyone else. Don’t doubt yourself because someone else has given you a hard time.
- Speak up when you can add value to the conversation. Use facts to back up your proposals.
It is time for women to claim and use our power. We all have it, let’s use it.
If you like this article, take a look at other articles that relate to this topic: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Critic and Know Your Job’s Market Value and Get Paid What You Are Worth.
Photo Credits: Pixabay