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Ditch the Like Button to be Powerful?

Ladies: Does this scare you?

The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.” ~Shirley Chisholm

The photo to the right highlights on some of the most polarizing images of women of the 1970’s equal rights movement. Images of powerful woman tend to make many in American society uneasy and unfortunately, those most ill-at-ease are women. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Women and the Uneasy Embrace of Power,” the power gap between men and women in the U.S. is wide and deep.

Why is it so? Research shows that women equal or outpace men in attaining college degrees and made considerable strides in earning advanced or professional degree. But a few years after the walk across the stage with diploma in hand, most are settling for a smaller check and an even smaller title. Many, according to Jeffrey Pfeffer’s research, just give up, thinking that they have to make too many trade-offs or concessions to make it to the upper deck of their chosen profession.

Pfeffer puts forth that part of the reason for the power disparity is a woman’s concern with being “liked.” According the article, the desire to be considered a likable person often trumps the female professional’s desire to be on top. What do we do to be liked? From wardrobe to writing style, women are quick to tame themselves in order to be more palatable. Those who don’t often move far to the other side, declaring “I don’t care if you like me,” loudly and boldly, bordering on actual abrasiveness. The image of the quiet, forceful woman leader is a rarity. Once you do find them, there are whispers as they walk past — as if those women are keeping secrets.

Rosie the Riveter

The point at which I disagree with the author is when he says women need to “get tougher.”  I know many women professionals – in the home and outside – and the last thing we need to do is get tougher. Perhaps we need to show our tough side more, but to suggest that we don’t have one is a big mistake. Strength is not the issue.

Embracing power is an exercise in commitment. In the same way we decide to learn to speak a new language or run a marathon, we can choose to be powerful. It begins with a plan. That plan is then broken down into measurable steps and finally you strike out on the path.  

What women encounter along the way is where the male and female paths diverge. Shirley Chisholm’s assertion that our training starts the minute we’re born is real.  Women are are given limited choices as to what will make them happy. Why there’s no version of the confirmed bachelor for women, I don’t know – she’s simply a spinster. Perhaps, we’re taught early  that power won’t satisfy us, that the quest for greatness will keep true happiness away from us. Ultimately, the answer is too complex to find in one study but maybe researchers will locate the answer soon. Until then, I prefer to think that I can powerful and likable at once.

ARTICLE: “Women and the Uneasy Embrace of Power” by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Harvard Business Review.

Tell me what you think of the article – can you be liked AND powerful? Are the two mutually exclusive for women?

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One comment on “Ditch the Like Button to be Powerful?

  1. alice
    08/19/2010

    Thank you for putting out such a powerful article. It’s very insightful to know that embracing power is an exercise.

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