Women And The Paradox Of Power: 8 Keys For Transforming Business Culture

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“The success police will not come and find you.”

By Anne Perschel & Jane Perdue (Authors, WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER)

A new paper “Women And The Paradox Of Power” reports that corporations are leaving money on the table and forgoing future success by failing to move more women into senior leadership roles. Businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on these executive roles by understanding and using power more effectively.

In the study, which involved hundreds of senior level businesswomen, many women relate to power in ways that prevent them from attaining senior level positions, be it lack of confidence; cultural conditioning; or simply not understanding what power is. In-depth interviews with women who have attained the highest-level positions of influence reveal that they understood and used different approaches to gain power and make important changes to business culture and leadership practices.

Reshaping a male-dominated business culture, changing the ratio of women to men, and thereby improving bottom line results, requires a very specific set of actions by those currently in leadership positions as well as by women themselves. Key issues and solutions include:

What Women Must Do

#1 – KNOW POWER AND BE POWERFUL.

In the study, power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change. Many of the research participants who think of power as “being in control at all times,” or “deciding and announcing,” among other misconceptions.

61% of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves). Wwomen must study power, understand power and use their power to change the culture of business.

#2 – DITCH CINDERELLA

Over 60% of the participants preferred passive approaches to gaining power, opting to be granted access, rather than actively taking it. Unlike Cinderella, women cannot passively wait on the business sidelines, hoping business culture will change and hand them the most powerful decision making positions.

Instead, women must seek power, advancing both the change agenda and their careers. As one executive vice-president who heads a $300 million dollar business advised, “The success police will not come and find you.”

#3 – SHOW UP. STAND UP. VOICE UP.

52% of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., “what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence.”

Women comprise nearly 47% percent of the entire workforce, hold 40% of all management jobs and earn 61% of all master’s degrees. We are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.

#4 – FORGE STRATEGIC CONNECTIONS.

Relationships are the currency of the workplace, yet 67% of the women in the study are not taking charge of building their networks. To fill more than the 3% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.

#5 – UNSTICK THEIR THINKING.

38% of participants opted for being well-liked rather than powerful. This need not be a choice.

Based on research conducted at Stanford University, women are uniquely capable of moving beyond such an either/or mindset.

Leaders, both male and female, too often limit solutions by framing problems as a choice between two mutually exclusive options.

What Corporations Must Do

#6 – MAKE GENDER BALANCE REAL.

Having more women in senior leadership roles is correlated with a substantial increase in total return to shareholders, which is a performance metric for most CEOs. Why, then, do so many heads of companies fail to hire, develop, and promote women for clout positions on senior leadership teams?

Executives at the highest levels must move beyond positioning gender balance as politically correct and giving it perfunctory lip service on the corporate agenda. If they are serious about gender balance, they must position it as a business imperative.

#7 – REMAKE LEADERSHIP.

Despite decades of efforts to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the needle on this corporate metric has barely moved. Gender bias is prevalent in the very way leadership is defined – a take charge, have all the answers, aggressive style.

Corporate leaders must change both the definitions and practices of leadership. Women will help them do so.

#8 – WALK THE TALK. DEVELOP WOMEN LEADERS.

71% of firms responding to a survey conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consultancy, do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy to develop women for leadership roles. As some of the approaches that work for men do not work as well for women, corporate leaders must invest in modifying these programs to develop women and then follow up with promotional opportunities.

Utilizing our research and relative corporate experience, we lead and advance aspiring professional women through mentoring, sponsorships, coaching and development programs. By identifying key obstacles such as those uncovered in WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, we help women and organization leaders identify the issues we must resolve to ensure cultural change and enable women to reach the highest pinnacles of success.

Editor’s note: Got a question or answer for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Dr. Anne Perschel is Founder and President of Germane Consulting, an executive coaching and organization development consultancy. She is a leadership and organizational psychologist with over 15 years experience. She is a coach, consultant and trusted adviser to leaders in local, national and global companies. Altera Corporation, Philips Medical, CVS, University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Girl Scouts of America are among her clients.

About the guest blogger: Jane Perdue is the Principal and CEO of Braithwaite Innovation Group, a female-owned professional development and consulting firm focused on inspiring 7C performance at the intersection of the art of leadership and the science of business. She is the creator of the Center for Women’s Leadership Institute. Follow her on Twitter at @thehrgoddess.