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Women's Pathway to Power

Women can't walk into top executive suite jobs without taking certain steps.

That's the view of  Jane Perdue of Braithwaite Innovation Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting, who recently completed a study, Women and the Paradox of Power. It proves, they believe that businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on executive roles by understanding and using power more efficiently.

And how do they do that?


 Perdue and Perschel find that 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. Perschel and Perdue identify the key issues and solutions:
 
What Women Must Do
• Know power and be powerful:  Perdue and Perschel define power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change.  Not so for many of the research participants who think of power as "being in control at all times," or "deciding and announcing," among other misconceptions.  Sixty-one percent of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves).  The authors emphasize that women must study power, understand power, and use their power to change the culture of business.
 
• Ditch Cinderella:  Over sixty percent 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, they 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."
 
• Show up.  Stand Up.  Voice Up:  Fifty-two percent of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., "what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence."  With women comprising nearly forty-seven percent of the entire workforce, holding forty percent of all management jobs, and earning sixty-one percent of all master's degrees, they are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.
 
• Forge strategic connections:  Relationships are the currency of the workplace, yet sixty-seven percent of the women in Perschel and Perdue's study are not taking charge of building their networks.  To fill more than the three percent of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.
 
• Unstick their thinking:  Thirty-eight percent of participants opted for being well liked rather than powerful.  Perdue and Perschel contend 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.
 
To make that change possible, Perschel and Perdue believe corporations must change too. Here are some suggestions:

• 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.
 
• 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.
 
• Walk the talk.  Develop women leaders:  Seventy-one percent 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.
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